“Have you recovered from Christmas, yet?” I’m sure that we have all been asked this question! After several months of planning, practicing, and executing music, we are exhausted. We can’t rest too soon, though, as Lent is right around the corner (Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day this year – after all, what’s more romantic than ashes smeared on your forehead???). In the life of a church musician, it can seem that we can never catch our breath; there’s always something. And that “something” is precisely why we love our job(s). We are constantly engaged in some musical activity, administrative function, or pastoral duty that keeps us sharp and focused.
Some of us have titles such as Organist or Director of Music, or some combination of the two with assistant or associate tossed in for good measure. But let’s face it – the titles are misleading. The skill set required to be a church musician in 2018 is fairly extensive. We must be equal part organist, conductor, singer, administrator, counselor, confidant, leader, follower, and the list goes on. There isn’t a single title that can encapsulate the varied responsibilities of a church musician. So, how can we wear these different hats effectively? Hopefully, my post will provide a starting place for you to think.
1. Time Management is Vital to your Survival: When I was in college (lol jk, I still am), my commute from The University of Alabama to The First United Methodist Church in Anniston, Alabama, was 110 miles (roughly a 2-hour drive). Fortunately for me, I was not required to attend Wednesday night rehearsals, although there was the occasional funeral or rehearsal to attend. With such a long-distance commute, I was forced to schedule my time in Anniston to be as efficient as possible. On top of a full college course load, trying to practice for lessons, recitals, and church seemed like an impossibility. Again, managing my time was the key to success. Here are a few things I did (and still do) to stay ahead of the game:
2. Prepare in Advance: So now that you’re a master of planning and prioritization, it’s time to put it into practice by preparing for the responsibilities of actually performing the music (or leading a rehearsal, as the case may be).
3. Be a Stellar Colleague: It doesn’t matter how talented or skilled you are, if you don’t know how to treat your friends and colleagues, you won’t get the job. While this is somewhat of a generalization, I’ve seen it happen, as I’m sure some of you have, too. At the end of the day, clergy, staff, and musicians are all in it together (to quote High School Musical). Depending on your level of responsibility, the level of interaction with clergy and staff members varies. You have to use your own judgement to understand the appropriate boundaries and interactions.
Not only are there numerous hats that musicians must wear, there are numerous ways that those hats are worn. The above methods and suggestions that I have offered are simply reflections on my life and career, up to this point. Keep in mind, I was born and raised in a small town in Central Alabama (Talladega, for those NASCAR fans among us). In a small town, you are keenly aware of the fact that everyone knows everyone. In many ways, churches are the same. Churches are communities with their own social hierarchy.
I don’t claim to be an expert in professional etiquette or organizational structure. I am just another young organist trying to find my way through this thing we call life.
I hope that my comments have been helpful to many of you! If not, perhaps this article has stimulated some thought that will encourage you to find your own voice and your own style.
Christopher B. Henley
Organist and Music Associate
Anniston First United Methodist Church