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musical director/liturgy team disagreement

Wondering if anyone on this excellent site can help me with this; I direct a non-professional gospel choir  whose main function is to sing at a youth-oriented Catholic mass every Sunday evening. I arrange/compose/transcribe all the music the choir sings as well as preparing charts for our guitar player and note -for -note piano parts for our pianist (the last of which takes up more time than I can reasonably give to one project).
Anyway, my difficulty is this; recently I've been getting the choir singing a lot of world music in the style of Soweto Gospel Choir - I think the resulting choral sound is really good, the choir seem to be enjoying it, and it has the added virtue of being mainly unaccompanied, which saves hugely on the time investment in preparing parts for our band (our guitar player & pianist are more than happy to sing when they're not playing). However, I'm coming under more and more pressure from our Liturgy Committee to include more modern, r & b type songs e,g. Beyonce to attract more young people to our mass.
The trouble is I simply don't believe that with the resources we have this will sound well - we have no drums or bass, preparing piano parts for these type of songs takes forever, and probably most importantly, I'm not convinced that  I'll be able to get a good choral sound from the choir under these circumstances. I have tried to explain this to our committee but they are not musicians and I feel they don't accept what I'm saying to them. So, what do I do? Am I just being narrow-minded, and do I need to adapt a little more and give it a chance? Am I wrong to be sticking to my guns about this? Alternatively, can anyone think of a way of explaining my position to the liturgy team in terms a non-musician can relate to?
Any advice on this matter will be gratefully received.
many thanks
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on December 17, 2009 7:53am
You might start by talking about how things don't work out so well when you try to put square pegs into round holes. I would certainly also point out how you are trying to involve many people in your program and the kind of music they think they want can only exclude rather than include people. If they're looking for solo stuff, you might look for another gig. I'm sorry you have to go through this.
Good luck!
on December 17, 2009 9:48am
Dear Cathy:
        Composing/arranging/transcribing is always a whole lot easier from the outside looking in... from their seat in the pew, so to speak. Encourage these folks with their thoughtful ideas to try their hand at doing the composing/arranging/transcribing themselves...
        On the one hand it will show them just how hard the task really is, and show them the amount of work you have been putting in. On the other hand, if they succeed in producing soemthing workable, you will have someone with the capability to help you with this portion of your job.
        Good luck!!
on December 17, 2009 9:52am
You may also let them know how much it will cost to buy the arrangements for the music they want, since none of it will be public domain and therefore you won't have the rights to arrange it.  If they realize they will be spending money to change the choir's style, they may rethink their position.
Good luck!
on December 17, 2009 10:57am
Advice, yes, but they won't like it and possibly you won't either!
I agree with Shannon, but I'd take it a step further.  Point out that the volunteers you have are not professional musicians and lack the skills to produce the slick performances that are created in the recording studio by professionals.  And follow up with a list of PAID instrumentalists and singers, including soloists, that would be needed to produce what they think they want.  Even people who aren't musicians can usually read a balance sheet and understand a cost-benefit analysis!
Shannon is absolutely correct that while performance royalties need not be paid for music used in the course of a religious service, all the songs and all the arrangements and all the recordings your folks seem to love are under copyright and would require permission to use, or else your church will be in violation of copyright laws and subject to suit.
All the best,
on December 18, 2009 5:04am said it yourself...they are not musicians.  Apparently they don't appreciate the work you've done previously in putting those arrangements together...rhythm parts and all.  Do they realize how fortunate they are to have a music leader (I mean YOU)  capable of doing all that?  Do they  know just what they're asking?  I don't care how hard you will be next to impossible to duplicate the heavily studio-produced sound your non-musician staff is talking about.  And..if you are able to sing that kind of music...chances are the listener will be disappointed that it just doesn't sound like Beyonce.  Your staff just doesn't get it.
I do not think you are being narrow-minded. On the contrary, I think your approach to gospel choir is laudable.  It's worked for you and your numbers seem to be up...your singers love it...yes? 
Believe me, I know what it's like to be a church musician being ill-advised, if not pressured, by non-musicians, in how we do our jobs. 
They need to trust you in your work.  Stick to your guns!
Good luck...
Tom in PA
on December 18, 2009 5:12am
 I agree with the other comments made; and this is a common issue when a committee convenes to discuss just about anything.
 In my many years as a church musician, those years that I was required to work closely with a worship committee were the toughest.  Just when things were going well, members of the committee would request changes, as in "well, now that we've seen you do this well, let's try this..."  Like fresh meat thrown in the circle, talk, ideas, arguments & directions would appear, almost to satisfy the need to create work for and by the committee.
I, too, spend a lot of time and resources on music that our choir sings as well as a lot of energy convincing the singers that they are not performers but worship leaders.  They are helping to provide the sacred ambience for worship services, along with pastors, priests, readers, acolytes and ushers.  If you are able to convince your worship/liturgical committee that the music ministry works best with the resources available, i.e. you as director, arranger, teacher, and themselves as singers and trained worship leaders - they may see the light.  Providing them with financial figures to shock them in the direction of common sense, however, cannot hurt.  You may also want to gently remind them that they hired you as a professional - not just to 'wave a stick around in front of the singers' or to be a music librarian, but to provide musical direction, experience, educated opinions, and positive musical energy.
on December 18, 2009 4:36pm
Cathy I think your pastor has to be involved in fostering more open and honest communication among you members of the committee: I cannot see how the whole group could focus on one narrow type of music - there must be something else that's making them want to drive you into a corner.  Perhaps they're after the whole amazing performance experience of the musician and her entourage rather than just the sound, (and if performance rather than ministry is preferred, again your pastor has to speak up) and all that visual extravaganza is THEIR responsibility more than yours.  But be careful - my colleague in the next parish was let go in September precisely (she says) because she wouldn't acquiesce to the demands of their LitComm to mimic the music of the newly established Mega Church next door whose Rock Band Sirens were perceived to be tempting away their precious youth towards the treacherous currents of evangelical fundamentalism.  I was looking for good R&B choral arrangements and was recommended by a choralnet member and my choirs rock to the Anton Armstrong Choral Series, with little or no extra arranging needed. Peace to you
on December 18, 2009 8:01pm
Dear Cathy,
I think what the liturgy team is trying to do, is in order to hide their incompetence in solving this dilemma they shove it into your shoulders. As the previous comments have pointed out, all these kinds of efforts take a lot of time if you really want to do it well. Is the liturgy team willing to increase your budget to get what they want? Also attracting young people with this kind of "bling bling" probably will end up in a situation where the whole parish is drowning in quicksand sooner than they ever think.
So what you can do is to present a budget where you point out how much these changes really cost (of course since it takes more of your time they must be willing to triple your salary). That usually scares them off. Or they can always replace you and your choir with a  jukebox.
Best wishes,
on December 21, 2009 4:18pm
Thanks everyone for the replies, good advice from choralnet as always. I still struggle with the notion that chart music has any real place in the liturgy and I thank you for your thoughtful reply Charles - however I'm no liturgical expert, I have to bow to my liturgy team on that one and if they feel certain things are appropriate then I don't believe it's my place to argue with them from a liturgical point of view. From a musical point of view, however, I know what I'm talking about, so I think it's more appropriate to base my arguments on that - I'm employed as a musician after all. Whatever about its questionable liturgical merits, the type of music suggested is simply MUSICALLY inappropriate - not just demanding, or labour intensive for me - but inappropriate in the sense that it will not sound well when performed by this particular group, whose musical strengths & weaknesses I feel I know very well.  
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