Beyond the preparation involved in being a liturgical church music director, I have three simple rules for survival after nearly 44 years on the bench:
- You can’t please everyone.
- Don’t tick off a plurality of the congregation at the same time.
- Always follow the chain of command.
Simple, right? Easy? Not so much.
Today’s installment is one that – sooner or later – shows up in most every Protestant church that does not emphasize liturgy.
Kent: That’s a fine idea. Perhaps you’d like to ask our minister.
C: But you’re the organist. Can’t you just do that?
KB: I serve at the pleasure of our minister. That would be his decision.
C: We used to do it with the person before you.
KB: The minister and I haven’t had this discussion. I serve at the pleasure of the minister. That would be his decision.
C: Can’t you just ask him?
KB: I think it would be great if you would ask him.
(Exit miffed congregant.)
Again, I’ve been on the bench for the lion’s share of nearly 44 years. I’ve seen this go down several ways:
- Play it immediately for each announced birthday.
- Play it after all possible birthdays are announced, on the minister’s direction.
- Play it only on the minister’s direction.
- Announce all birthdays for the month on the first Sunday of the month and play it on the minister’s direction.
- Don’t ever play it during the worship service.
From past experience, you want – and need – to follow chain of command.
Every minister is different. Some have the music director choose hymns and service music. Some don’t. As music director, you find out what to do – once – and do it. Period. It’s the musical equivalent of bringing the coffee – you don’t freestyle that, either.
I really enjoy the minister, choir, and congregants – but even more, I enjoy my job.
At every church position, I seem to end up explaining Happy Birthday, why we can’t sing Kum Ba Yah every week, etc. It’s never a winner of an explanation.
But it beats being replaced.
I subbed in my first professional band while in high school. One night, playing a private party, the leader is on the dance floor with an eligible bachelorette. Some guy comes up and asks to hear Elvira. Vocalist, drummer and I launch into it. (…My heart’s on fire, Elvira…Giddy up oom poppa oom poppa mow mow….) Last gig I ever played with him. (Heigh-ho Silver, away.)
If you’re not the leader, you don’t decide.
I still remember the night that I saw Buddy Rich in concert. Steve Marcus, the featured soloist, took a solo that blew the roof off (and our minds). It was a moment. 500-plus jumped to their feet as one. And Marcus bowed. Without looking at Buddy first. Buddy turned shades of red that I’d only seen on Looney Tunes. The big band shorted their first set. For their second set, the Buddy Rich Big Band Featuring Steve Marcus never featured Steve Marcus. Not once. Not one note. They probably played every B-tune in their book. The oblivious college reporter who was refused an interview with Buddy must have been fortunate to retain their teeth.
Chain of command.