Friday, November 12, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Named "Marty?"

This is in response to a new poster over at the Musica Sacra Forum who's taken a DM position and is definitely a Reform of the Reform kind of director, as is his pastor that recently hired him. He has a a program that includes a small, but proficient traditional choir, cantors and.....

However, there is a small group in the choir that forms an "ensemble" that performs once a month at mass. This is a group of four people...three guitars and one bass guitar. They play Haugen and other songs in the same style and only want a piano as an embellishment (sic) to their guitars.

What is the best approach to begin "converting" this group over to more traditional forms of music and get them to accept my wishes for the music program without offending them and having them leave the choir? The prior music coordinator was there for over 20 years and was very loose with her ensembles and allowed questionable practices. I don't want to be the big bad new director who is trying to create emenies.

Has anyone else experienced this problem, and what have you done to slowly move away from this kind of polarization?

Could you provide some additional information? Some questions will follow this response.

I would suggest that the notion of “conversion” is a misnomer. People do “convert” by persuasion or coercion, but mostly people “evolve” as they survive and/or thrive. I also would ask whether you mean to accept your influence and leadership by your credentials as the “coordinator,” or by your taking the time to integrate (take it or leave it, you are now part of the “body” that is your parish and its ministerial groups) your talents as musician, leader and liturgical resource? Two things indicate that your influence might be welcomed, your skills as a keyboardist, and that the pastor supports and shares your “vision.” Whatever you’ve heard inferred about the previous coordinator’s legacy remains a moot point; you are simply on track if you really want not to emerge onto the scene like Moses with some smokin’ new commandments. First of all, you’ll need to remember that these four people likely regard themselves as just as much family, or fellow travelers than just a long-lived ensemble. Whether their musical chops are decent, great, static or insufficient is irrelevant to what your job is: you’re called to help them evolve in their skills of choosing, preparing, leading and performing worship music that is in concert with the mind and laws of the Church, and to lives as prayerful and faithful Christians. So, are you prepared to greet and meet them at their level, and then offer your skills to augment their modalities successfully, and gain their trust, respect and interest in your influence?


*Has either the former coordinator or the leader of the ensemble kept a decent catalog of their “Orders of Music” for whatever number of years? You must have a much more thorough knowledge of their repertoire choices for Ordinaries, Psalters and (presumably) songs/hymns that have comprised the majority and preferences of that repertoire. Typifying this aspect as “Haugen” isn’t beneficial. You might find that certain pieces performed regularly are musically, liturgically and textually a cut above, and be able to show them appreciation for those choices with some sort of “attaboy.”

*If there are no such records easily accessible, make the time to meet with the ensemble (leader) and do a thorough inventory of what they have “in stock” based upon the hymnal or worship aide that is used.

*What is that primary music source? GIA Ritualsong, Gather; OCP MI/BB?.....

*Informally assess if they’ve ever ventured, as Kathy suggested, beyond the genre of the sacropop song? Have they interpreted hymns, or even chants with their plucked/strummed guitars and bass?

*Are they first and foremost, competent and capable vocalists and leaders of the sung text? Do they work on basic skills of blend, balance, good tessitura choices for the congregations they lead, etc. Do they insure that the melody voice is pre-eminently necessary without being over bearing? Do they obscure the melody by an inclination towards incessant harmonization or vocal improvisation?

*Are their performance skills relatively similar? Do they all strum? Do they arpeggiate either with flat picks or finger picking? Do they obviously demonstrate that notated chord inversions are observed, if not understood? Does the bass player also understand that such note movement is important towards the artful rendition of such songs; a.k.a. not always playing the root of a given chord? Do the guitarists prepare each song with a variety of interpretive methods: transposition via capoing that adds to the sonorities that support the song melody in wider registers?

*Have they demonstrated interest in expanding their repertoire and modalities, even if only for their own benefit, if not the parish’s?

*Can they read new material off the page, or are they dependent upon recordings?

*Have they attended any skills improvement events sponsored by their diocese or NPM or such?

These sorts of “information gathering” tasks might provide this group and other musicians the notion that you don’t regard “them,” prima facie, as a “problem” but an opportunity. Polarization is a problem, but not a normal state of being. It is a human reaction to conflict between intractable parties. There is nothing inherently wrong with allotting sufficient time to the task called “getting to know you, getting to know ALL about you.” And that works two ways.

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