Friday, November 4, 2016

Canned music. . . we have gotten used to it. . .

While conversing with parishioners of a congregation without an organist or other parish musician, I was struck by several things.  The first was that the folks were relatively oblivious to the role of music in worship -- except to sound out a melody.  It was not merely that they did not have any sort of parish musician but that they were not necessarily looking for one, either.  They were content with music that was "canned" and saw it not as a make shift or make do circumstance but an objective choice.

This parish had long used the CD versions of hymns and liturgy provided by our church body for those who find themselves without a suitable organist or parish musician.  They were by and large content with someone pressing a button to fire up the music to support chant, song, and hymn.  They did not miss the presence of a live person on the organ or piano bench.  In fact, they found this choice salutary and effective for them.  They did not have a choir or instrumentalists but were wholly satisfied with these CDs.

Second was that this was not only a choice but a reflection of their values -- especially when it comes to money.  They were happy to spend money that might have supported a parish musician on other things they valued more than a live person to lead their Sunday morning liturgy and hymns.  They found a person costly, not always reliable, and too much trouble.  The CDs were, in comparison, easy, cheap, and reliable (unless technology or electricity failed them).

They were shocked and surprised when I mentioned that a parish musician was one of our highest priorities -- both in staffing and in financial values.  We paid the price not as a cost but as a reflection of our desire to have the best "live music" we could have on Sunday morning.  Although they equated this choice with size (we are three times larger than this parish), it was not at all related to size in our minds.  When we were much smaller, we spent even more effort to find a parish musician.  Although we have come to enjoy the blessed musical gifts of a cantor for many years now, it was not always so.  We advertised and searched for someone when none was readily or easily available to us.

In addition, they were not sure that this congregation was paying any price by not have a parish musician or choir or music program of any kind.  They figured that if the new people visiting them wanted that kind of thing, they would go somewhere else and it was a consequence of their decision they were willing to live with. 

Finally, I was struck at how much their choice stood out against the backdrop of music that typically plays a very large role in church today -- even contemporary services using music that mirrors the sound of pop songs their folks listen to on the radio.  What these folks were saying is, in effect, that music played little or no role at all in their Sunday morning services -- except the obvious role of providing a melody to support their singing.  As is no surprise, they were not what I would call a "singing" congregation.  Even if they were, the abundance of carpet, low ceilings, and sound absorbent materials was working against a good atmosphere to support congregational singing.

In the end I was sad that this congregation was content with something designed as a last resort.  They had a university in town and student musicians should have been available to them.  They were not too small to employ a parish music nor did they lack a recent vintage electronic organ and a fair upright piano.  They would have focused their energy and some of their financial resources into the pursuit of a parish musician.  They choose not to do this.  I wonder how many other smaller parishes have given up and decided that hitting play is an equal value to having a parish musician lead them.  More than I want to know, I guess.

Is it no wonder that interest in and appreciation of the liturgical services of the church has waned when we no longer value the musical component of the whole experience?  Is it no wonder that we find ourselves left with only a canned music option when we are unwilling to give music or a musician budget priority?  Is it no wonder worship music that sounds like Christian muzak has become popular since we cannot count on strong liturgical leadership from the organ bench?  Let me be blunt.  How much of the shortage of organists is due to our own neglect of the music of the liturgy, budget priority to honor the place of music Luther once affirmed without question, and of the cause of congregational singing?  Maybe some of us had better get even more accustomed to canned music on Sunday morning if we remain uncommitted to the value of a good parish musician and the role of music as handmaiden to theology. 


Anonymous said...

Finding a musician is no problem; finding one who believes his role to be supporting congregational singing rather than being the center of attention with the congregation supporting him is another matter completely.

Canned music may not be ideal, but neither is a "worship director (read: public nuisance)" who views the liturgy as a blank canvas awaiting his artistry, or a liturgist (read: egomaniacal buffoon) who revels and specializes in fixing what was never broken (eg you-know-who.

Pr P, if none of the above applies to you then you may consider yourself and your congregation to be truly blessed.

David Gray said...

I've never worshiped in a church with canned music but neither have I worshiped in one large enough to be able to afford paying a musician.

Papa Joe said...

Having worshiped in the past at a church that had "canned" music and presently at one with a paid organist I will tell you that the canned music was the much better experience. It was nice to be able to hear the people singing (with enthusiasm) hymns that they obviously knew and loved. I attend the "traditional" service at my church, the one which the "minister of music" feels is a waste of her time and talent. She doesn't so much play the organ as attack it and likes to pick songs that are unfamiliar and difficult to sing (not that you can hear yourself over the organ).

Anonymous said...

The continuing Anglican church I attend recently went to the "canned" music option. Someone pushes buttons on a machine and we have organ music. We had an elderly organist for several years. Her playing was fair at best and she clashed with our priest. But she was a faithful member. She finally had a blow up with our priest, was removed, and left the church.

But I must say I don't really mind the canned music. The quality is far better than our prior organist. And no personality conflicts. Likewise, our church is very small and the cost or an organist was difficult to manage. Pastor Peters, I think you're being too harsh on those you use canned music. For many churches, that is the only realistic option.

Lastly, I think of the Orthodox church. No music in most of their churches. They typically have wonderful cantors and choirs which sing without music. Some of the most beautiful liturgies and music I've experienced have been in Orthodox churches.


Anonymous said...

>> They figured that if the new people visiting them wanted that kind of thing, they would go somewhere else and it was a consequence of their decision they were willing to live with.

For Aaron's sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty. (Exodus 28)

Music to coats and sashes and caps, not too much of a stretch I hope!

Pastor Peters said...

This from the Church of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Gottfried Walter, Johann Pachelbel, etc...????? This from the heirs of him who said "music was handmaiden to the Word" -- a very high place, indeed???

Come on. You mean to tell me that you had experience with an organist who was a problem that has cast aside a whole Lutheran identity and heritage of music in service to the Word and in praise to God and left us with a CD you turn on and turn off? I do not believe it. I do not believe that what might be serviceable as an option in necessity could or should be the norm for the Church of Luther and Bach and so many other cantors, parish musicians, composers, etc...

By the same kind of logic you would swear off beef cause you got a tough steak or women because you had a bad experience with one (or men for women), or cars for one that did not serve you well. Or, going to church because you got a dud for a pastor once! Read through the Scriptures at all the notations for music in service to the Lord and tell me that God meant that the ultimate expression of this would be a machine with a recording?!?

There are great musicians out there. I have served with several over many years who are exemplary musicians and better, they are exemplary leaders of the people's song from the organ console. I understand the struggle to find one but I challenge the wisdom that it is not worth the struggle and the parish musician is not worth having. It does not accord with Scripture's words or example, with the history of the churches called Lutheran, or the great power of music to serve the Word for the good of hearer, singer, and church.

Pastor Peters said...

BTW, when I said "several" musicians I meant we kept them, paid them commensurate with their service and ability, and nurtured a strong and fruitful relationship with them -- not that there were but a few who we good among the many. I have seldom encountered a parish musician like the problem ones claimed above. I have encountered many churches unwilling to honor their service or pay them. The laborers are worthy of their wages.

The Levites had no land but they were cared for by those who did. Do we expect the HVAC man to put in furnace or air conditioner for free and service it? Do we expect the plumber to do the same? Do we expect the insurance man to cover the cost of the church's insurance? Do we expect the pastor to serve us because he loves serving?

I am not trying to offend but to ask why we would settle for canned music, with no chance of a choir or other instruments, all presumably because we had problems with one along the way. I believe that the choice to settle for canned music is driven by other factors and not many of them good, right, or salutary.

David Gray said...

Okay, here's a question.

What level does giving in a church need to reach to be able to afford paying a musician? $150,000 annually? I really don't know. And it would depend at least in part, I suppose, on the maintenance needs of the building.

David Gray said...

Actually, by this rationale, shouldn't we pay Sunday School teachers? Should their educational skills be unrewarded? And people who prepare food for the church? What about their culinary skills? Etc.

Papa Joe said...

Oh Pastor, do you really believe that the root of the problem is money? In many ways you are right, but not how you might think.

We pay our organist well. If you break down her salary by the length of our two services as well as figuring in her practice time, she makes about $44 an hour.

Meanwhile she is antagonistic towards the pastor, going so far as to complain to the bishop about him because he did not run an idea for service past her first, and openly hostile to many of the members, all because she is supported by several of the wealthy members of the church and she feels that she is untouchable.

To have canned music would be a blessing at this point.

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