A major religious holiday is coming up. That’s a good clue that it’s time for my semi-annual Musical Rant. I’m pretty sure that Satan knows that this is the best way to get to me. Feel free to tune out if you’re not a church musician.
To the Music Director and Pastor at my parish:
I came home from church tonight to find the forwarded email notifying me that, despite the fact that the Folk Group was assigned to sing the noon Mass on Easter at least two months ago, we’ve been reassigned to a different time and location, two weeks before Easter itself.
It’s nice that you “hope this is not a problem.”
People do make holiday plans, and in the Folk Group, you’ve got a very dedicated bunch of musicians and singers whose family holiday plans revolve around our church schedule. That schedule is already variable because we have been asked to sing that once-a-month Saturday-evening Mass rather than our traditional Sunday noon time slot. On Christmas and Easter, we do our best to be there at different-than-usual times because of the nature of the Mass schedule on those days. Two weeks before Easter, most of us have made our holiday plans.
Reassigning us two weeks before the most important event in the Church year tells us exactly where we fit on the musical totem pole (as if we didn’t already know.) It’s disrespectful to us personally and professionally. I feel like the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to heal her child, only to be refused because of her nationality. She replied to Jesus, “But Teacher, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” We are the dogs and you are giving us crumbs. We’re expected, I guess, to be happy with whatever crumbs come our way.
And because we’re not proud (or tired) we’ll take those crumbs. We’ll rearrange family plans. The musician who works into the wee hours on a Saturday night will drag himself into church because he–as the rest of us do–believes that singing and playing for the glory of God are what matter.
We are not the world’s best musicians. But we more than make up, in attitude and enthusiasm, for the polish and finesse we lack. We view our role at Mass as being leaders of song, not performers in a show. Our goal is to help people sing along, to help them feel comfortable enough to sing along, because singing at Mass is a huge part of prayer. Most of the time, we achieve that goal.
In the several years since the parish merger, we have made many, many accommodations. We have learned an entirely new repertoire. We have used chant settings for psalms and other Mass parts as required, even through chant is extremely challenging with only guitar accompaniment. We have bent over backwards to follow the “once-a-month Saturday night” schedule, even when it means that most of us can’t be there because of work and other obligations. (That’s why we had the late Sunday Mass to begin with.) We have learned and used the Mass settings we were told to use, again, even though guitar is not the best accompaniment for some of these settings. We’ve enjoyed learning some of this new music and tolerated other pieces, but we have always learned and used what we were asked to do.
We are not there to put on a show. We are there to help people to pray through music, to help them give honor and glory to God through music. We do this by keeping it simple, approachable, and in a key that’s in a comfortable range for most people. We welcome beginners, teenagers, and our own children; that’s our investment in the future (and as a parent, I know very well how much such an investment pays off.)
Being a part of the folk group in this parish is an exercise in humility. I have to say, it gets old finding humble pie under the Christmas tree and in the Easter basket year after year after year. My husband says that I should just be thankful that we’re being reassigned rather than cancelled altogether. Any way you slice it, though, it still hurts.
I’m sure we’ll take the crumbs and we’ll be happy to have them. And we’ll sing our hearts out because it’s what we do. But you should know that it hurts to be treated this way, and that I have carried around this unspoken burden for far too long.