If only…a church musician’s lament

The two words “if only…” are some of the most frustrating and sad words in the language to me. Often they are used when looking back with regret…wondering how life might have been different if only different choices had been made. While I believe there can be value in looking back in order to gain lessons for the future, the “if only…” way of looking back too often seems to lead into a pity-party kind of mentality. The past is what it is; it can’t be changed, and dwelling on what might have been only keeps us from seeing both what is and what still can be.

The other use of these two words that frustrates me is when I hear congregational members make comments like “If only our music was better in our services, our services would be so much more spiritual”…or “…we would have more people”…or  something else along those lines.

While I agree that good music in a service can definitely help the service (I am an organist, after all, and have been playing for church services for over 50 years), what often comes out in further discussion is that while congregational members want better music, they are not willing to respect the musicians! Seems to me there’s a significant disconnect there!!

What do I mean by respect? It really is fairly simple:

  • Give the musician the information about the service in sufficient time for them to be able to practice and be prepared.
  • Don’t tell the musician that you need them to play / sing something in the service–and then the morning of the service, tell them, “Oops…sorry…we decided not to use that after all.” Would you do that to the preacher?
  • By the same token, don’t come to them just before the service and say, “We need you to play / sing [insert song title] here in the service.” Some musicians might be comfortable with this, but it’s not fair to put them on the spot like that.
  • See the musicians as ministers of music. For most of us, we don’t offer our gifts simply as a job. We do see what we share as ministry.
  • If the offering is through being collected before the music is finished, don’t expect the musician to suddenly rewrite the music in order to immediately bring it to an end. Allow the piece to be finished.
  • Don’t talk during what we’ve prepared to offer. The music we have selected for a prelude has usually been carefully chosen–and practiced–to help bring the congregation into God’s presence. It is not simply music to provide a background for your visit with your neighbor. There is plenty of time for that after the service.
  • Be willing to mentor young musicians who want to bring ministry. Yes, they may not be perfect quality–but neither was your favorite preacher when they started. If they are not given opportunities to learn and to share, you might find yourself without any musicians one day in the not-too-distant future.
  • Yes, sometimes it’s easier to simply pop in a CD…but then we all miss something. We miss the opportunity of hearing someone share from their hearts…we miss the person-to-person connection, the intimacy and the ways that music can draw us together.

Every church musician I know recognizes that sometimes a last-minute change can’t be helped and is willing to work with that. But when / if that happens frequently, then it’s easy to become discouraged and cynical and feel that what you provide is simply filler (religious Muzak, if you will).

If we want music in our worships that will help us go deeper in our spiritual journey, then we have to do more than simply value music. We also have to value the musicians who provide it.

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