Tuesday, January 30, 2007

sitting in the pews.

It's been a long time since I've just sat in the pews. Not as an observer. But as an unopinionated participant. Last July I had a free weekend between jobs, so of course I went to St. T. (and as a result spent much of Mass observing the music and making mental notes!) but prior to that I've had a job for almost two years.
So I've forgotten what it's like to just participate in Mass. (Not including daily Mass-where there is no music to critique!) I've forgotten what it's like to just sing the songs, not criticising or approving of them. I've forgotten what it's like to be ABLE to just "zone out" during the offertory and just not sing, because I didn't want to. (that's really the only thing I remember of my pre-full-time-church-musician days. I usually really didn't want to sing during the offertory because I was sooo tired from standing, or whatever.)
So what does a "normal" person think of church music? I always ask my housemates what songs they did at St. T, just to compare them to mine, of course. They usually list several, and something like, "and there was one that I forgot, but I liked it, and then another one that I had never heard before."
{What's it like to hear a hymn that you've never heard before and to not be able to sight read and sing along with it? Is it frustrating? Or does it just make people say, "Eh, whatever. I didn't really want to sing anyways..."}
I also remember that sometimes, especially early in the mornings, I would be like (to myself,) "I'm just not singing that. It goes waaay too high. That takes too much effort! I can't sing a melody that hovers around high D..."
Why does no one ever complain that Hymn to Joy is too high? (If it weren't for that one darn low D, I could transpose it down a fourth and everyone would be happy!) Is it really just cuz people like it as a song? So therefore they sing it?
But back to my first thoughts. I will never again be able to sit in the pews on Sunday Morning without at least noticing the music. From now on I'll always listen to the prelude and think, "wow, that was really good." (or the opposite.) I'll always notice the hymn choices and critique them. I'll always observe the sung Mass parts and criticize or approve of them.
I'm not saying it's necessarily bad that I've become super-aware and super-sensitive to music at Mass (or any church service,) I'm just thinking about it. How my life will be forever different because I can never get into the mind of a normal churchgoer, and yet ironically they are the people who I am MOST trying to understand in my job, as I try to both please, and yet educate them. As a wonderful quote on someone's blog (Gavin? I really don't remember,) awhile ago said,
"Church musicians should not be waiters, they should be nutritionists. You are used to getting what you want, but I am making an attempt to give you what you need. Maybe I don't do a good enough job of making it appetizing, but still I try to give you good music to both enjoy and to nourish your faith. And that is what drives my music selections."
But I still want to understand the regular churchgoer. Because then I can serve them more adequately.


Puff the Magic Dragon said...

I know what you mean. I sometimes wonder if I'm guilty of Pride beacuse I would have chosen something different for the mass that the MD chose.

Gavin said...

I think that is something I wrote. Although I stole the concept of "nutritionist, not waiter" from someone else.

I often get complaints from people about music being "too high". As I recall, when I started they used the Mass of Creation and sang the high Eb during the Gloria rather well. I think a lot of it is just a matter of attitude more than anything.

It really is weird to visit and not be in a constant scramble to make sure everything's going good. I always had paid attention to the music and thought about what I would have picked, given the readings.