What Pastors should know about Music
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 1996 15:54:45 -0500
From: mdola02(a)emory.edu (Dr. Marian E. Dolan)
Subject: Pastor/musician - reposting the compilation (long)
The recently posted topic of "pastor/music director and what the
latter wished the former knew of a musician's job" garnered some 30+
replies! I have edited carefully to include each respondant's core
comments (and yes, the choralist powers-to-be know that this is a long
posting!). A huge thank you to all of the experienced colleagues who took
time to reply. Nota bene: ** Many, many ** colleagues are writing about
experiences in PAST church positions, not the present ones notated in their
titles. (A "..." means a longer editing)
To the many folks who asked about the course ... Candler is the
largest United Methodist seminary in the US and the large majority of
M.Div. students will eventually pastor churches (yes, those ordained men
and women out on the "firing line"!). There is no requrement for a music
course, but there is a 1 semester, 2 or 3 hour course called "Music for
Pastors". I'm scripting the topics in this course to be as practical as
possible - how to decode the hymnal & hymnal companions, exegeting the
theology in a hymn, organ crawls, pastor/clergy relations, finances for
music ministry, analyzing the theology of a congregation by examining their
hymns (theology and chronology), contemporary vs traditional church music,
writing a job description for a music ministry position, etc, etc. All
this said, the thoughts and suggestions presented below are an informative
I will suggest that any further conversation continue on choraltalk (to
which this list will also be posted).
grace and peace,
Dr. Marian E. Dolan Ass't. Prof. of Choral Conducting and Church Music
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
=============From: Michael R Barker
Duncan Memorial UMC; Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA
After a "few" years experience, number one for me is a need to develop a
sense of trust among the church staff. A pastor who is willing to trust,
and a similarly-gifted musician can teach one another the other things each
needs to know. But when there is no trust, there's little hope for
anything else. Be willing to visit with one another, be willing to engage
in training to develop an understanding of each other's ways, etc.
Another issue is the notion of authority. Plenty of pastors take their
authority by virture of their office. True authority exudes from the
person, though (see Matthew 7.28-29). If Jesus is an example of authority,
then pastors (and musicians) should reflect his compassion, his
emptying-of-self, his sensitivity. Authority grows out of _who_ one is, a
pastor, not _what_ one is ie. the minister-in-charge.
Finally, a willingness to acknowledge and utilize different ways of
operating. Pastors and musicians generally have different personality
types, as it were. To acknowledge this, and ultimately draw upon the
differences is the best hope for creatively leading a congregation, and
resolving any conflicts that arise.
=====================From: Margarete Thomsen
Ann Arbor, Michigan www:
- I wish my pastor knew something of liturgy, that he understood the role of
the assembly, and the role of the presider.
- I wish he didn't think that he had to bellow through a microphone.
- I wish he knew that music is both a discipline and an art in the service
of the liturgy, that it takes time and money.
- I wish my pastor understood that musicians have to eat too! (my last
pastor believed in irregular paychecks; unfortunately, my bank did
==========================================================From: tgc(a)unb.ca Dr. Timothy G. Cooper, Professor;
University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, NB. Canada. E3B 6E3
I wish that pastors realized there was more to a hymn than just a text.
The music can be as moving in its own right as the most profound text, but
if the music is trite, even the most profound text sounds trite.
==========================From: Dan Golden
Dan Golden; Baritone, San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Organist, St. Bede's Episcopal Church, Menlo Park
1. The first thought that came bounding into my head at this hour was (and
I'll let you cushion this for your class) that not everyone can sing!
Unfortunately, more times than I care to recall, I have been to a church
(I'm speaking Episcopal and Catholic here) where Priests insist on singing
parts of the service even though they simply cannot carry a tune! There is
nothing worse than listening to a Priest try to intone the Eucharistic
Prayer when he/she is a monotone.
2. Rather than carrying on about priests/pastors/clergy-du-
current-house-of-worship who don't let congregations learn more than 25
hymns, or insist on singing Christmas hymns beginning Thanksgiving weekend
(I'm sure others will jump on those bandwagons), I would simply ask that
you encourage these folks to use their musicians as the professionals that
they are (or should be).
3. Ask for their musician's advice, and heed it.
4. Respect their credentials as they respect yours.
5. Remember that we are in church to worship God, NOT the preacher or the
organist or choir director or the collection plate.
6. Make sure that everyone is a team player and that everyone knows what
the rules are up front. The clergy is the team captain AND the team's
biggest cheerleader (and not necessarily in that order). Cheer for the
team and they will cheer for you. Remember that, without the team, there
is little use for a captain. Staffs (and in time, parishes) find little
use for dictators.
7. C O M M U N I C A T E . . . . frequently and openly.
I must confess...I am VERY fortunate at present. I am serving as Organist
in a parish with a wonderful Rector and a very fine liturgist, an excellent
Assistant Rector and a Director of Music who insists that she and I are NOT
boss/underling, but are equals in the selection and preparation of the
music for the services (realizing that music must ENHANCE the liturgy, not
==========================From: MLycanclef(a)aol.com Mary Lycan
Right now I have the best boss in the world, but previous ones have not
understood that doing choral music well requires lots of rehearsal, and
therefore LEAD TIME in liturgical planning.
========================From: David Griggs-Janower
Albany Pro Musica, Schenectady, NY
How much $*&%^(#& WORK it is to choose GOOD music week after week to fit
=========================From: Dean McIntyre
1. ...that it is reprehensible to schedule children's choirs on Sunday
morning just so the parents will be there also. This is especially
reprehensible when done so on the big annual church budget-push Sunday.
2. ...that moments of silence or non-musical noise in the service are OK.
The organist is not there to provide "traveling music" while the children
make their way to the front for children's sermons, or to provide mood
music for silent prayer, etc.
3. ...that it's OK to depart from the lectionary when it seems appropriate
to do so. Sometimes there are events of national, local or congregational
significance that seem to merit our attention in worship. The lectionary
was never intended to be an absolute determiner of what we preach, read,
pray and sing about in worship.
4. ...that it is more than a little disingenuous for one who is paid a
livable wage, health benefits, travel allowance, housing, continuing
education and retirement to work so hard to control non-pastoral staff
=========================From: Meg Hulley
Beloit College, and Nativity of St. Mary Parish, Janesville, WI
1. Choirs with more highly trained musicians for the most part dislike
singing in a more "popular" style. Some pastors feel that music that is
more upbeat and modern will appeal to their congregations more than a more
"classical" style of music, but that's only part of the story. The choir
member's enthusiasm and appreciation of the music sung will mean a
HUGE difference in the quality of performance, and hence, in the beauty of
the entire worship experience, which everyone in the congregation can
2. Music is expensive. Copying is illegal. If ministers want a certain
"big" choir work at Christmas and Easter, it would be wise to budget for
it, with the early input of the choir director. A cantata could easily run
ten dollars per copy- multiply by number of choristers plus
organist/pianist and conductor, and you see why it's important to plan
ahead financially as well as liturgically.
3. Hymns can really enhance the message of the worship service if they are
thoughtfully chosen. Allow your choir director some input as to hymn
selection, and then abide by his/her choice. There's nothing quite so
demoralizing as for a choir director to spend long hours planning a
liturgically cohesive service of music, only to have different hymns
substituted by the pastor because he/she "likes" them better. The
congregation certainly has their favorites, which should be used often, but
new hymns every so often are also a great way of introducing more potential
4. Good musicians aren't cheap. Wages for most music ministers/choir
directors/organists are pretty pitiful. Especially if these folks are
going to be asked to contribute additional time and expertise for weddings,
funerals, special services, etc. please pay them a decent amount. Think
about the time and energy they spend in preparation; contacting choir
members, arranging for guest instrumentalists, planning the music, ordering
the music, learning and thinking about how the music is to be performed,
and then finally working with the singers to make it happen and presenting
it beautifully at the worship service.
Meg Hulley, Beloit College, and Nativity of St. Mary Parish, Janesville, WI
===================From: Tom Jordan
Mixing styles are awfully distracting and pastors seem notorious for taking
a day of special music, like Bach with strings and popping in a few verses
Surrender All." Each is fine unto itself, but mixed seem odd. I have
described it as serving hotdogs and caviar together. In fact, thinking of a
menu may help to explain what is objectionable.
=========================From: "WELLS, WALTER"
1. He/she doesn't know everything about music.
2. It's important to communicate DIRECTLY with the professionals on staff.
3. It's important to thank, periodically, your musicians - don't take for
granted the good work they do every week of the year, whether healthy or
running a fever of 103 degrees!
4. Trust the professionals you have working for you, and respect them as
they respect you.
5. If you want to chant in a service, make sure you (a) can sing and (b)
ask for help.
6. Be clear in what you want. Do not make a casual comment in passing in
hall, and later say "You didn't do what I asked you to do."
If I could sum it all up in one word, that would be "communicate"!
=======================From: "Jonathan Veenker"
[regarding a similar topic discussed at a contemporary music seminar . . .
wishing the following topic had been discussed] I wish my pastor knew he is
"aesthetically challenged" and how do I tell him that without coming off
sounding like a snob.
============================From: Richard D Mathey
College of Music, BGSU; Bowling Green, Ohio 43402
Since Methodists move their ministers every 5 or 6 years, I am now on
pastor number 6. They all have different thoughts on how music is to fit
into the worship service. It has always been my good pleasure to bend to
every wish a pastor requests. The only exception is when they ask me to
coordinate the anthem of the "day" with their sermon topic. If they have a
special sermon needing this type coordination, I always conform. When
pastors make this request, it stifles creativity.
===================From: Mark Gresham
* Mark Gresham, composer President, Norcross Music Associates, Inc. *
There is much that is far, far more urgent than these practical issues that
must be addressed when it comes to music and worship, worship in general,
worship in relationship to church growth, and worship in relationship to
theological bent and church governance. . .
The combatants are on the one hand the "traditional" church (for lack of a
better name) and the so-called "contemporary church" . . . While much is
said about issues of "style" in this war, it is not really about style at
all, but of theology and worship--a sort of "pentacostal, charismatic" (in
the prejorative sense) theology waging guerilla warfare on a more
traditional "God centered" theology and worship in order to remove the
latter from existing "traditional" churches and preventing in from taking
hold in "development" churches, all the while crying "inclusiveness!" with
crocodile tears. . .
The foundations of worship and *why* one kind of music is symptomatic
of shallow theology and another kind of music is symptomatic of a deeper
theology is important. . . .You will be hit, of course, with the
"Consultant Y says a church cannot grow unless we do Music X." Aside from
that being an out-and-out lie, it is important in these days of desire from
"growth at all cost".
==============================From: James.Green(a)mvs.udel.edu business manager, New Ark Chorale
As a sidebar to your request, you added #1 as "Use the lectionary". One
of my favorite preachers usually ignored the lectionary, and ran sermon
series; just saw reprints on a series he did on the book of James that were
worth having preached. He often bypassed the lectionary because he had
goals that he wanted to deal with in a series. It was part of his
Presbyterian lecturing heritage. Yet he was endlessly supportive of our
choirs when working with us. He lauded things that lifted peoples hearts.
It was neat. I think I'd simply revise your #1 to being "Have a partial
sermon schedule in advance, and avoid week before musical requests!"
When anthems compliment sermons, fine. When they don't, God can use both
anthem and sermon for some good anyway.
============================From: "James D. Feiszli"
Chair, Department of Humanities; South Dakota School of Mines and
Technology Owner: Choralist, ChoralAcademe, ChoralNet
1) Teach them to sing
2) Through the music, give them an appreciation of fine texts and settings.
3) Make them aware that it is possible to meld scripture, liturgy, and
music of high quality. It just takes someone with the desire to find good
settings and someone at the top with some appreciation for and insistence
This is coming from a member of the Church Music Association of America and
Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge who directed an Episcopal church choir for
ten years (no paid singers) that did Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Victoria,
Holst, Elgar, Howells, etc., etc.,
That same church choir, now under its third director, does literature that
runs the gamut from Lawrence Welk to Walt Disney with a little Barry
Manilow thrown in. The priest requires no standards of quality from anyone
participating in the service. Lay readers mis-pronounce words and stumble
over the Scripture passages (as does the priest), acolytes giggle and screw
around during the service, the choir sings trash more appropriate to a
Arlie Langager; First Baptist Church; Calgary, Alberta CANADA
I have had to voice my concern about the use of music as 'background music'
or to 'cover up silence.' It seems that our pastor even likes the organist
to play 'background music' during part of the prayers. Although there
still are many people who take the meditative time during the Offertory,
the Postlude has become 'music to pleasantly chat by.' Certainly, there is
a grey area between music for meditation and just music to fill the spaces,
but this has come up on a couple of occasions already. In this urban age,
it is as important I think to take some time to accept some silence and
stillness in our live, just as it is important that we take the postlude
time as a moment of reflection and preparation as we go.
=======================From: mcfatter(a)wiley.csusb.edu (Larry E McFatter)
1. Pastors should *trust* musicians to make musical decisions. Many pastors
micro-manage everyone who has input into the services because they proudly
believe that no one else "really understands what this congregation needs."
Even if the pastor knows absolutely nothing about church music he will
often override someone who is thoroughly trained in the field!
2. If pastors *must* choose hymns for the service they should make it their
business to know a good deal about hymnology. If they don't know many
hymns from *all* periods of church history they tend to keep choosing their
few personal favorites over and over,to the neglect of many other perfectly
good, appropriate hymns (historic and contemporary). A church Director of
Music is *trained* to avoid this lopsided approach.
==========================From: James Laster
My favorite comment is that if the minister learns some musical terms and
shares in the musician's vocabulary, he/she is considered innovative,
brave, good at learning, etc. However, if a musician is trained in
theology and discusses a topic with the minister using that vocabulary it
is considered is over-stepping their boundry, and horning in on the
==========================William McConnell Cincinnati, OH mcconnwt(a)earthlink.net
1. If you think that a particular anthem would fit well with the readings
for a particular Sunday, I'll be glad to consider it. But, please let me
know more than a week in advance.
2. If you choose to use an alternative Great Thanksgiving, please let me know
so that the musical portions will be appropriate.
3. At the risk of being condescending -- You have chosen the role of
preacher/teacher/ pastor as your ministry; I have chosen music. I don't
want to preach and I do not presume to tell you how to do that. Please
give me guidance in what you want in the service (general
theme/emphasis/tone), but please allow me to be the musician that I have
spent many years training to become.
4. As a paid member of the staff, occasional publis thanks is always
appreciated. However, the choir members are volunteers. They put in many
hours of preparation. Please make it a point to thank them publically on a
5. Above all -- TALK TO ME. I am willing to do whatever I can to make the
service a cohesive unit which leads the people closer to God. Remember.
however, that preparation of music (just like preparation of sermons) takes
time. Each portion of the service is important. Allow me the time to make
the musical portions of the service (both instrumental and choral) the
offering to God which they should be.
==========================From: "David J. Puderbaugh"
1. I wish he knew how much time it takes to put together quality
2. I wish he would involve me a little more in decision-making so I
wouldn't have new things sprung upon me.
3. I wish he understood that today's worshippers want a wide variety of
music, not just contemporary "feel good" music.
===================From: Joseph Stephens
Brighton United Methodist Church; Brighton, Colorado
I find that my pastor does not know the difference between a good or bad
hymn (musically speaking). I am sure that you are aware of those hymns
that are poorly written but have made it into the book by virture of its
ethnic or political correctness.
From: Charles Ruzicka
Director of Choirs; Moorhead State University; Moorhead, MN 56563
First of all, there should be a requirement of all seminary students to
pass a basic music proficiency examination. This could include:
recognizing that there is a difference between a unison and a 3rd, 5th,
etc.; the seminary curriculum should include a minimum of 2 semesters of
voice and music study, since music is an integral part of the service.
Chanting and intoning by a "Pastor Johnny-One-Note is inexcusable and
distracting to the Mass/Service; pastors need to understand that music
provided at Sunday's Masses or Services is not meant to be "entertainment,"
supplied by untuned guitars, percussion instruments played by a jack hammer
operator. Music should also have integrity - the "fuzzy and warm"schlock
is ok for "lounge" entertainment but really has no place in the Church. Who
are the people excited by this stuff? Did the plethora of solid music in
the RC Church run its course? Was our Lord not being reached? No, I am
not suggesting that we revert to Gregorian Chant, or that only traditional
music be used. Some variety is needed. Why did we throw the baby out with
the bath water? I strongly feel that the tarnished "Peter, Paul and
Mary"-type tunes need not be the entire repertoire of the church. . . .
Thank you for asking for suggestions. I hope this does not sound "pius",
but I am very concerned the frustrated with what has happened in the church
--NOT ALL churches, but far too many and pastors and need to become more
aware of the music around them and its purpose!!
From: Walter Knowles
Organization: Rainforest Software
What pastors need to know most about choirs (and other musical
organizations that stay together during the year) is that these (sometimes
troublesome) organizations are probably the best examples of Christian
communities in their parishes. One need only compare the life of a choir
(particularly when it is lead by a commited Christian musician) to that of
the community described by Benedict in his _Rule_ to observe:
1) the willingness to subsume the personal for the community
2) the conjoining of work and prayer
3) the exercise of varying roles in members of one body
4) the support of each other in times of stress
5) the offering of gifts (the choir's) for the building up of the
greater body (the congregation)
Since I've stood on both sides of the pulpit (and still do, for that
matter), I see that a lot of the problems that occur between pastor and
choirs/choirmasters have at their root a kind of jelousy that the
choirmaster is the one who has the ministry that visibly builds a
community, even though that is what the pastor is called to do. . . So what
a pastor needs to know most is--to learn from people in his/her
congregation who *are* building real communities, and work with them to
build up the whole community. . .
Pastors should also be reminded that music is the more powerful art;
remember that Charles Wesley told John that he didn't care who wrote the
theology books as long as he got to write the hymnal.
====================From: desta(a)ycusd.k12.ca.us (Dean M. Estabrook)
To be open to literature of all ages, styles, and languages. I have
run accros protestants who feel it isn't "Christian" becuase it is
"Catholic" and in Latin!
====================From: Jack R Hooton
1. You are right about No. 1 - Use the lectionary. Along with that, and
to make that idea suitable for non-lectionary churches, plan far ahead. I
think that minimum lead time is now 4-6 months. In other words, if you,
Mr. Preacher, will plan this far ahead, and let me in on your secrets, we
can have music that supports what you are planning to read and preach. We
can even learn a super-appropriate hymn, so that the congregation is
comfortable with it, if we know about it far enough in advance.
2. There is no such thing as "the hymns we all know". You decide what the
parish repertory is to be, and work towards that goal.
3. The volunteer musicians are worshippers, too. A significant part of
their worship is to produce music that is a challenge and that is a clear
contribution to the religious ideas of the day. Don't ask them to pander,
and give them a significant vacation. Another way to say it is, don't take
them for granted.
4. Sermons are not the centerpiece of worship for many people. Having
other parts of the service substantive does not detract from the sermon.
===================From: OhSuzan419(a)aol.com Susan Hoffman
Director of Music; Lord of Life Lutheran Church; The Woodlands, TX
1. The first thing I would like a pastor to understand is that church music
is a bona fide subspeciality in the realm of musical specialities, and that
just being able to play the organ or sing well or direct a choir DOES NOT
qualify one as a church musician. In fact, I would go so far as to say that
a great deal of church music really isn't about music at all -- it's about
how we convey the Word, and how we enable people to be receptive to it.
2. Another thing I think many pastors -- and congregations -- do not
understand is how much work it takes to crank out quality worship music
week after week after week -- especially true when that music is being
performed by volunteers. There seems sometimes to be this attitude that,
since musicians love music, producing it must be an easy and pleasant
pastime -- not hard work.
3. I also think that many pastors do not understand that, when
well-conceived and executed, music is integral to worship, and not merely
decorative. We use our music to "surround" worshippers with the Gospel, to
teach them, to unify them, to free them. Hymns are (ought to be) a
counterpoint to proclamation.
4. Another thing: when you hire a qualified church music professional,
please, please, please, do not establish a committee to pass judgment on
what hymns, anthems, etc., should be done. Let the musician make those
decisions, in consultation with clergy. That's what you are paying them
for. If you don't trust their judgment, don't hire them.The worst-case
scenario I know of this sort is that of an individual with a Master's in
Sacred Music (organ performance), twenty years of top-flight experience,
major publications, and
a history of successful choral conducting, who was asked to submit three
"suggestions" for each hymn and anthem to be programmed, to a lay
committee, who would then choose what she should do. This was during an
interim-director position. They wanted to hire her permanently. Needless
tosay, she did not stay.
================From: "Jabez L. Van Cleef"
Anne Matlack - choral director, NJ
I'm lucky to be on the lectionary now, but in the past in less litugical
denominations, the #1 thing pastors need to understand is that music needs
a 1-2 month lead time at the least for planning. There is nothing like a
good service in which music and word work together, but if a pastor is
changing the readings, or picking a sermon title on Saturday, all the music
is relegated to the "general praise" category, rather than specifically
==============Tim Olsen- olsent(a)gar.union.edu
Visiting Assistant Professor of Performing Arts;
Union College, Schenectady, NY
Director of Music; St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Schenectady, NY
Pastors should plan ahead, and give music directors plenty of time to deal
with particular themes or topics in worship. Unless they are musically
literate, pastors should let music directors pick hymns. By the same
token, music directors should try to pick hymns that fit with the
themes/readings--it's a shame not to use certain hymns which are specific
to a certain feast day or reading.
[ ed note: THE END. . . ]