Considering Gavin’s reflections here and on his web site plus many of my recent experiences working with engaged couples and bereaved families to plan music for weddings and funerals … it all got me thinking.
What is the proper and ideal role of the church musician? What happens when a non-musician or non-liturgist chooses an inappropriate selection? Should it ever be allowed to get to the point where professionals and laity alike wince at the outcome of liturgy?
I tell engaged couples if they stick with my advice, they will have a great wedding celebration. I get very little input from couples these days–questionable or otherwise. In my experience, in a handful of mostly midwestern parishes since 1988, couples seem to have grown more timid over the years. That’s not to say that an occasional crazy bit doesn’t alight on the day of nuptials. Usually, I can steer good intentions to a point where it makes for good liturgy. Once couples understand that the church wedding is first and foremost a worship experience, they’re usually okay with the direction our conversation goes regarding music. I don’t give them options like the Theme from Ice Castles or Richard Wagner–and they don’t ask, so most of my wedding conversations are upbeat ones.
Funerals are another gig. Your church staff has a few days to plan for a funeral, compared with several months for a wedding. Sometimes families are caught off guard. And the ones who aren’t have usually been dealing with the emotional rigor of a wrenching, gradual loss. My first instinct is to cut them some slack. Compared to most weddings, where there may be too much time to plan an ideal liturgy, the funeral ministers have hardly any time at all.
That said, we get lots of musical requests from left field, the left field bleachers, the parking lot, the sports bar across the street … you get my drift. Gavin’s complaint:
(T)he very idea that people like myself and Cantor get PAID to pick music implies that it either requires skill OR that it is in some way a burden. To then turn around and give someone that job (without pay!) is just odd when you consider it.
I can’t argue with this.
That said, most pastors and musicians are reticent about going into confrontation mode with death hanging in the air. Other items are just of more importance pastorally and emotionally. I’ve had a questionable piece of music handed to me and I raise my eyebrow at the pastor. Often he says we just need to swallow it. I tend to trust his judgment.
We had a funeral recently where the music was decent, but some of it was from left field. One half of the family wasn’t talking to the other half. We had five days to plan this funeral, but there were other issues of greater concern to the family and the pastor than the three (!) readings before the Gospel and the lengthy eulogy address after Communion.
The ideal situation in parishes would be for musicians like Gavin and myself to offer advance funeral planning workshops or consultations. This works pretty well for weddings, but given the American squeamishness about dying and death, I don’t think it would catch on too well. The families and individuals inclined to attend such a consultation aren’t likely to be holding “Danny Boy” over your head like a liturgical sword of Damocles.
Any other thoughts?