by Kari Miller Magg
Music or ministry? Finding a satisfying balance can be one of the more daunting challenges in the life of a church musician. Sometimes our musical and ministerial ideals work together in perfect harmony, but they can also clash in dissonances which cry out for resolution. There will never be a shortage of voices (including the ones in our own heads) telling us what we ought to do in a given situation, but in the end we have to work it out for our- selves. It can be a tight-rope task of small shifts and readjustments, fraught with anxiety and offering plenty of potential for missteps and misunderstandings.
What sort of ministry should be required of a church musician?
The music ministry that most of us signed up for is a noble and beautiful thing. To lead congregational singing during worship and to offer the best in organ and choral music is a powerful, engaging ministry. Most of us are grateful and happy to be musicians, to be where we are, doing what we are doing. Even so, things sometimes go sour, and we may feel we are stuck in posi- tions which require us to be therapists, baby-sitters, cheerleaders, or activity directors, with music taking a distant back seat. We suffer, as the musician pulls one way and the compassionate, loving person we wish to be pulls another.
Most of us work with volunteer choirs, and conflicts can arise. Given the prevailing attitude in churches today, that any and all should be invited to sing, these choirs are comprised of singers coming from widely varying back- grounds in terms of education, ex- perience, vocal quality and musical ability. Some may never have sung in a choir before, some may barely read music. To mold these disparate elements into something that sounds good is often a trying task. But we have to work with what we have, and some of us quite enjoy the particular challenge of educating these ensembles and making them sound their best. We need to accept, however, that sometimes their best will still fall short. For our own sake we should realize that there is only so much we can do about it, and if our choir doesn’t always measure up to our highest standards it doesn’t mean we are bad musicians, or that our small successes shouldn’t be celebrated.
On the other hand, insisting on good attendance and punctuality, pushing our singers hard to get the right notes, decent diction and good tone does not make us heart- less tyrants with unreasonable expectations, as some would have us believe. We have every right to call for that tenor sectional or early warm-up if we deem it necessary. We must be kind but honest with our choir, and while we all want to enjoy our music-making, choir members need to understand there is a difference between a choir rehearsal and a sing-along. Respect and tolerance are two-way streets, and we should never have to apologize for asking as much from our choir members as they are able to give.