I’m having an interesting side discussion on one of the threads at the MusicaSacra Forum discussion site. One commentator there objected to my suggestion the ideal music director for a Catholic parish be versatile and well-rounded.
Admittedly, I have high standards. I don’t measure up to all of them, which is why I’m more happy as a parish liturgist who does some parish music. But these would be the minimum proficiencies I would expect for a full-time music director in a Catholic faith community:
1. Singing and vocal pedagogy are the most essential musical skills. The Catholic Church still sees vocal music as the foundation of the sacred repertoire. And the song of the assembly is at the top of the list. A music director has to be a good singer to model for choristers and cantors. A music director must be a good enough vocal pedagogue to diagnose the problems of volunteers and correct them, either as single voices or in a choir of any size.
2. A parish usually benefits more from a music director being a conductor than an organist. The choir is the measuring stone for every Sunday and holy day Mass. It is still easier to find a good accompanist than a conductor of any skill. It makes sense for the parish to hire the hard-to-find skill above the more common. This assumes a musician is not pressed into service as both accompanist and conductor. I know it happens a lot. I know some people who are relatively skilled at doing both at the same time. But it’s not an ideal.
3. A music director needs to be skilled on an instrument, preferably more than one, and preferably accompanying instruments. Additionally, any serious church musician needs to be well-versed in many musical genres, including, but not exhausting these: plainsong, polyphony, the organ/choral repertoire of the various classical periods, hymnody of various cultures (not just German and British), authentic folk music, gospel and jazz, plus contemporary styles. The more the better. Additionally, a good musician must transcend the tendency to dismiss some musical styles on the basis of personal taste. Assuming a common denominator of quality music, a good church musician should play and sing any piece, any style, as if it were a personal favorite. Reason? It is likely somebody’s favorite.
3a. Is an organist the best choice for a parish music director? I don’t know. It depends on the person. Keep in mind that in the Catholic view, the human voice trumps all other instruments.
4. Any good church musician must be prepared to integrate various instrumentalists in a parish music ministry. To do that, a basic familiarity with woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments–pretty much all of them–is needed. Additionally, a music director must know how to fit the various instruments into interactions from duets to small orchestras.
5. Other skills are important and helpful: composing, improvising, arranging (and re-arranging), electronics, sight-reading, acoustics, to name a few. You can’t overlook the social skills of motivation, diplomacy, teaching, mentoring, listening (apart from the musical ability to listen).
Any others I’m missing?