Grapes & Gripes – an Evening Review

by Meg Smith, CAGO

Eighteen Chapter members gathered in fellowship at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford on Friday, January 24th, despite the cold temperatures. Wine and snacks (crackers, cheese, sausages, hummus), along with soft drinks, were provided before we settled into a circle of seats for “Grapes and Gripes.”

John Coghill started us off with two stories of his
own, and opened up the conversation generally. My perception is that each person there contributed at one time or another, although some confined their contributions to nodding or shaking heads, others spoke some, a few spoke quite a bit. Our topics ranged from funeral fees that failed to rise over time (and the awkwardness about how to address such a situation) to members of one’s congregation or choir who exhibit controlling and attention-seeking behaviors that interfere with our ability to proceed with rehearsal or liturgy.

The binds one could be put in regarding change to the worship space or stewardship of instruments, whether that involved getting the organ covered during a paint job, or avoiding flower arrangements on the organ or piano, laying down carpet, or even protecting a piano from sugar covered fingers, were agreed to be further challenges, especially if one were not brought into the conversation with the aspiring committee.

Most people identified with the importance of educating congregation or choir members about the organ and its differences from pianos, acoustics and the advantages of padding as little as possible, and other aspects of the music director’s job.

Several general questions were put: what are some of the web-sites or ways to search online for assisting one’s choir to learn particular parts for an upcoming piece? How do we help today’s congregation (for to- morrow, as well) to know how a hymn is read in a hymnal – even following line by line and verse by verse? What is the best balance between natural acoustic and amplified sound, including for readers and speakers? How do we see churches and our jobs in 2014?

One member related an interventionist style of greeting particularly attendees who seemed to be other- wise invisible, or going to the aid of someone who
fell or of two sharing a pew who came into dispute. Another member preferred to be anonymous and NOT be greeted when visiting at an unfamiliar church. Many questions of boundaries and interaction that fell between those were discussed, including how the ex- ample of clergy intervention or lack of could influence one’s own decisions about handling a situation.

Reflective and even self-revealing comments were made through the course of the evening; as a Board member, I was much cheered that we trusted one another enough for such sharing.

At the end, we seemed to break up reluctantly, being in general agreement that the evening had been a good experience, and was worth trying again. I even heard one person remark to me that she was glad of an opportunity to socialize that really allowed some exchange and getting to know one’s fellow members. That had been one of my own hopes for the evening, as well.