… sacred song in Australia …

Posts tagged ‘Church music’

Church Cantor Service – commodity or ministry?

In Australia, Church cantors minister to thousands of congregations, enriching worship with the music of many Church traditions. They work within many different church structures, and their work may be supervised, or not. No inter church agreements on the work of Christian musicians exist, although corporate church music conferences often claim dominant governance roles. Church denominations treasure their particular Church music tradition, which always contains and communicates their doctrinal position within the wide spectrum of Christian belief.

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Yet despite being consigned to what is effectively a management limbo, where individual competition is not only promoted, but mandatory, Christian cantors are surviving. Their ministry survival strategies are varied. Some cantors have chosen to enlist with Church music corporations, and so are paid by parishes affiliated to these church music licensing corporations. Some work as part-time casual employees, and some choose to work as unpaid parish or emerging church  volunteers. But more and more trained, experienced Church cantors are choosing to establish independent online cantor ministries, presenting church music workshops, singing for selected liturgies, composing church music, recording their compositions, and speaking at Church music conferences. Whatever survival strategy these Christian religious singers adopt, they are still serving the Church as cantors dedicated to Church music ministry.

Female Church musicians in Australia

There are thousands of skilled female Church musicians in Australia. Two of the most skilled and dedicated practising Church musicians I know are my friend Antonia Deasey, an Anglican music teacher at Trinity Grammar School, Sydney, who also has private pupils and sings in a Cathedral choir, and my Anglican sister Anne Speer, who teaches violin at three Church schools in Western Australia, takes private pupils, directed her local parish choir until recently, and plays with a regional orchestra. These two gifted, talented women are well employed by the Church, but are owed much greater recognition as professional Australian Church musicians and teachers. The private recognition they receive is not comparable with the public adulation regularly heaped upon their male Church music colleagues. Among many others, Rosalie Bonighton (now deceased) is another under-recognised Australian Church musician who springs to mind, together with my Presbyterian aunt Jean Fullard nee Simpson, who served as the organist of St Andrew’s Peace Church, Wonthaggi, Victoria, for many years, and Robin Ruys, current Music Minister of the Anglican Parish of Hunters Hill, Sydney NSW.

In Australia, it is not unusual for fully trained, qualified female Church musicians to be undervalued, underpaid, and grossly overworked. Reform of this aspect of Church music ministry is overdue. Part of the problem is the assumption that technical skill is all that is necessary to be a Church musician. In reality, much more is required, including ethical Christian conduct. Male Australian Church musicians seldom show concern about neglect of female Church musicians – on the contrary, indulgence in tasteless jokes ridiculing female Church music performers and composers, while basking in mutual male praise, is common among Church men. I was fortunate, in my own Church music work, to be regularly employed as a Cathedral Cantor, and I learned much from the professional example of Catholic Cantor Kathleen Boschetti of St Francis Church, Melbourne, Anglican Church music composer Rev. Elizabeth Smith, and Catholic Cantor Donrita Reefman of St Ives Cathedral, Sydney, about working with clergy and lay ministers and requiring their respect. I trained entirely at my own expense. In 2013 I wrote a blog about my positive experience of being a Cantor – see

http://australianchurchmusic.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/the-growth-of-women-church-cantor.html.

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Elizabeth Sheppard vested for Church Cantor ministry, 2010

I loved Church Cantor music ministry and was praised for my success at it. In addition to musical, liturgical and compositional skills it required tactful multi-skilled liturgical coordination with a large group of male clerical and lay supervisors and female assistants. When liturgical worship is smoothly coordinated and the whole community is in tune with the Holy Spirit, Cantor ministry has its own very special rewards and fruits, not the least of which are enduring community friendships.

Globalisation in Australian Church Music

The effect of globalisation on Australian Church music has been as dire as its effect on that Aussie icon, Vegemite. Although many talented Australian composers continue to produce uniquely Australian Church music in many genres, Australian Church music governing bodies and clergy pay minimal or no attention to local Australian Church music. In Australia, Church music licensing is dominated by globalised corporations who promote non-Australian Church music over the work of local Australian composers. Australian Church music directors have seldom resisted pressures to eliminate all but a few token Australian Church music compositions from Australian parish repertoires. Many Australian parish music programs promote backward-looking or entirely non-Australian music repertoires and genres. Infusions of forward-looking, hopeful, creative, uniquely Australian musical expressions of Christian faith are rare, ephemeral, and untaught. For insight into why this has happened, read Jeffrey Tucker’s 2002 article about a multinational corporate Church music publisher whose policies and business ethics is not in tune with Christian beliefs, principles or practice (see link below) http://www.crisismagazine.com/2009/the-hidden-hand-behind-bad-catholic-music The globalisation of Church music is also discussed in depth by a shocked Richard Barrett on the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (Orthodox Christian) blog – http://orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org/2013/01/29/the-hidden-hand-behind-bad-music-could-it-happen-here-american-catholic-worship-and-orthodoxy-in-america/

Church Music App-ologetics

Even in Church music, the smart phone app has its uses. Church music geeks compose and make music online as well as in real time, with human hands and feet and eyes and ears and voices.

The phenomenon of the virtual choir (if you don’t know about this, google Eric Whitacre) has blown preconceptions about tying Church music to a particular time and place, sky-high. Whatever the virtues of real-time interaction (which are unsurpassed, and should never be discounted), as Church musicians we are now stuck with the digital app addictions of the upcoming generation for a long time.

In cyberspace there’s an app for every task you can possibly imagine. Enterprising Church musicians design and market Church music apps, thereby solving their income problems forever. Apps help with a specific task, and can be uploaded to smart phones or computers quickly, and used immediately. For instance, I have a virtual piano keyboard on my iPhone that I use for composing.

This is not an app marketing blog, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. From time to time I’ll be reviewing Church music apps (e.g. ear training apps, chant databases, music theory apps) that I’ve found helpful and time-saving. Make your own judgements!

App-phobia has crept into the mindset of many Church musicians who

  • obsessively photocopy, distribute, retrieve and file print scores
  • don’t own a smart phone, or are computer-phobic
  • believe that Church music could never be improved by technology
  • devote no time to app discovery and selection
  • think that rehearsing well, with no technology aids, is sufficient

Changing deep-set attitudes like this takes miracles. Hang on, Christians believe in miracles!

If you have a music director that insists on making his and your job as difficult as possible by refusing to adapt to digital technology and app networking, or doing a go-slow on this,it might help to pray loudly and publicly about it.

The Great Aussie Church Music Cringe . . .

Lamenting the great Aussie government-induced church music cringe. See link at

Michael Kieran Harvey: What Would Peggy Do? – Arts – Browse – Big Ideas – ABC TV

This online lecture, although it refers mainly to contemporary secular Australian art music composition, is also relevant to Church music in Australia. I love classical Church music, and I support maintaining a CORE repertoire of “traditional” Anglo-European Church music. But I object to the way non-Australian Church music repertoires have been imposed holus-bolus on Australian Church communities, often without their consent, just when a new crop of Australian church music composition was taking off. Imposing this overseas monopoly has stifled Australian Church music, and created a musical generation gap in many parishes that impedes religious education. The practice of culturally gagging Aussie congregations and ordering them to worship God with second-hand imported music is damaging. The fact is, imported Church music repertoires, however excellent or cheap, come from a different time and place and population. Although we may empathise with and appreciate non-Australian musical expressions of Christian faith, it is impossible to reach the deeper communal levels of faith as Australians living in Australia, unless we worship God directly with our own unique Australian music, that comes from the heart of Australia. Much of our Australian Church music (from such tiny colonial churches as the one pictured below, at Greenough, Western Australia) still awaits collection, or is stored in the Australian National Library in Canberra, awaiting re-discovery and re-publication.

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A survey of just how many Australian-made compositions are included in Australian Church music repertoires and licensing lists is badly needed. Editing out or minimising local Australian compositions from our repertoires degrades, and may destroy, our living, dynamic, developing, inherited tradition of Australian Church music. Australians who attend Churches are often musical, and many have brilliant musical concepts, ideas and creations, which are expressed and sometimes briefly admired, but their work is seldom promoted, simply because the composers are local, Australian, and therefore seen as unimportant. Promoting a token number of Australian Church music composers is seen as an acceptable and easy solution, but why should the majority of Australian Church music composers be relegated to oblivion, in preference to a privileged few?

Typical Church music repertoires in Australia include only 5% of Australian Church music compositions at best. Overseas visitors expecting to find a flourishing local Church music repertoire find this extremely odd. The percentage could easily be increased, as many new  Australian compositions are available, but those responsible for music selection are often in economic thrall to corporate or monocultural giants rather than obedient to Christ and eager to promote local faith development through local Church music. If there is an Australian Church music composer (age is irrelevant – the young have no monopoly on expressing faith in God’s Kingdom) in your congregation or nearby, you should seek them out, encourage them to continue composing, listen to / workshop their music, and arrange for it to be included in church services on a regular basis, with the usual royalty payments that all overseas composers receive. Ask your local composers to compose “lite” versions of their music, and publish them as audio tracks and .pdf lead sheets, for online purchase. Purchase these and play them as background tracks at parish parties, with distributed lead sheets, to spread the word and familiarise parishioners with the tunes. Research your local Australian Church music, and compile a local Church music list for family and church group services. You may be surprised at the quality of the compositions you find, and its morale-boosting effect on your congregation.