I can’t remember if I said so or not, but I’m our unit’s new music chairperson. It’s hard to think of a position that I’m less qualified to do, but….. we serve where called, right?
I’ve learned a lot in the past few months, and thought I’d pass it along to you.
1. Why Music is SO SLOW in Sacrament Meeting
I like church music fast. FAST. Part of the reason I enjoyed using the Church Music Player in Seminary so much was the control I had over tempo and key. When I was first called as music leader, I was determined to speed up the funeral dirge-like pace of our music. It took
exactly two Sundays to discover two things:
- The organ is not the piano.
- The congregation may say they want to sing faster, but they sing like they’re stuck in peanut butter.
The organ, as it turns out, is not an easy instrument to play. Just because you can play the piano well doesn’t mean you can automatically play the organ. The organ only makes sounds if your fingers are pressed all the way down, unlike the piano, which has a sustain pedal which holds notes while your fingers find the next one. This means that an organ player has to work harder to change notes, which results in a slower pace. It’s not the organist being contrary — it’s the instrument.
And no matter how many people tell you they want to sing faster, if you conduct a song at even a slightly faster pace than the congregation is used to, they will resist. They will continually try to drag you down to their turtle-like pace. So as music director, you have to choose between fighting the congregation and having disastrous music experiences. If you have a really strong voice that can carry over the organ, you’ll do better than I do, but I’ve had a few disastrous songs so far. After a while, people will figure out that you’re going to go faster, but it’s a struggle. It’s not you — it’s them, no matter what they say.
2. Bishoprics may need some organization.
It took me about 10 seconds to realize that our Bishopric is not very organized when it comes to sacrament services. There is no place where they can look back and see who has spoken or prayed or what has been sung, which explains some of the odd things in our ward: like why certain people speak every quarter and we’ve never heard from others. Before I was called, Friday afternoon the music leader would text a member of the bishopric for the theme, choose the songs, and then pass them on to the music director. Many times, the organist wouldn’t know what songs she was playing until she saw the bulletin Sunday morning.
To solve this problem, I went to the http://tech.lds.org/ forums and found this post, which had a ton of very useful spreadsheets created by executive secretaries for organizing sacrament services. I used their ideas and created a Google Doc that is shared with the bishopric, executive secretary, music chairperson/director, organist, assistant organist, choir director and bulletin coordinator. I track upcoming farewells and other items of interest in addition to the weekly theme and plan the music accordingly. Our bishopric has asked for a special musical number and choir performance each month, so this helps me keep those things straight.
Your bishopric may not need help, but talk to them to see if they do. Do everything you can to ensure that everybody is on the same page for Sunday services.
3. Innovation is possible.
You can do some things (within reason) to help the music be a little more interesting during Sacrament. Our bishop has asked me to schedule a special musical presentation and choir performance each month. I’ve also started asking a member of the Primary to come up and help me conduct the music. That child stands beside me and helps with the opening, rest, and closing hymns. I didn’t want a child’s antics to distract anyone from participating in the sacrament, so the child “assistant director” does not help during that song. That’s been a fun way to let the Primary help out with the music, and the non-singing adults really love to watch the kids.
Despite rumors to the contrary, you CHI 2 14.4.3 says “As appropriate, a priesthood leader may ask a congregation to stand for an intermediate hymn or a national anthem”. This is awkward phrasing that implies a music leader must ask for permission to raise the congregation, but what we do is just have the bishopric stand when it’s the congregational hymn. Then I wave my arm to tell everyone to get up, and they’re still in charge. Easy.
Musical instruments are not as limited as you may think. From CHI 2, 14.4.3: “Organs and pianos, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.”
This is not a calling that takes a lot of work, but it is one that can be interesting with a little initiative and creativity.
Other links of Interest:
- Most-sung songs in General Conference
- 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Favorite LDS Hymns – has an explanation of why Come Thou Font of Every Blessing was removed from the hymnal. Not sure where those guys were checking — we sang it all the time in Mississippi.