The Music Committee
By A. C. Lovelace & W. C. Rice
A committee has been called, among other things, a group which keeps minutes and wastes hours; yet the work of every church is organized and directed by committees, occasionally with conspicuous success. Not only does a committee draw people into closer living contact with the work of the church, but it relieves a minister of needless pressures in a taxing schedule. In many churches it is through the music committee that the minister works to develop and guide the music program, but there is often less than unanimity of thought as to who should serve on the committee and what the scope of its responsibilities and duties should be.
There are instances where the choir director is chairman of the music committee, thus making him his own boss! One famous Presbyterian minister informed the chairman that his job was to leave the director of music alone and see that everyone did likewise. On the other extreme there are committees that run matters with an iron hand-choosing the anthems, naming soloists for each Sunday, and dictating all policies. Others run bazaars, present operettas, and hold rummage sales to raise money for their own program, operating independently of the church budget. Some are afflicted by “chairmanitis” with the members serving only as a rubber stamp the few times they meet. When a group of church musicians recently was asked who hired them, some said the music committee, some the pastor, and some the governing board.
The first step toward a sane approach to the music committee is to recognize that it is not an independent group in the church, for the music committee must work in close co-operation with the worship committee and the education committee. It must first of all have some clear understanding of the place and role of music in worship before it can move intelligently forward in securing leadership and outlining an effective program. It must also plan a continuing educational program in music for the entire church, including the church school, so the worship and church-school programs do not work at cross purposes musically as so often happens when the children are taught one type of hymn � or son � in church school while another is used for worship services. Evans E. Crawford, instructor in practical theology at Howard University, said in a lecture at the St. Louis Area Pastors� School in July, 1959, �We�ll hold a revival and save seven souls, but neglect our church school and lose a whole generation.� The church-school program should provide opportunities in preparation for worship, and the hymns taught should be of the highest caliber, taken chiefly from the church hymnal. A study of this problem should be undertaken jointly with the education committee so each group benefits from the viewpoint and experience of the other.
In piloting the music program of the entire church, the committee is concerned with equipment (organ and pianos), hymnals for every group, and music leadership (pianists, music leaders). It should guide the choice and use of music for every age group � children, youth, and adults � including fun and fellowship singing. In all areas of the church�s life the committee should work for unity of purpose and values.
The membership of the music committee should include persons with musical judgment who can guide the program intelligently and musically. At the same time it should also include those who are not musicians but who may be able to assist in other ways. Perhaps every music committee should have at least one person who has complained loudest � he may get a new understanding of church music and may even be converted! Members should be:
1. Sympathetic to the cause of good church music
2. Promoters and salesmen of the program
3. Sources of advice and counsel to the music leadership.
4. Sensitive to the reactions of the congregation and able to interpret and bridge differences
5. Constructive critics of the program.
The committee should represent the mind of the entire church, with members from
the governing board, the finance committee, the choral groups (probably the choir presidents), key musicians who can help recruit singers, the chairman of the choir mothers� guild, the education committee, and the congregation at large. Membership should be on some system of rotation so a chairman does not serve for a lifetime and so new blood is constantly brought into the committee.
The pastor, organist, and director should be ex officio members, and there should be a representative from the education committee because of the liaison necessary between the two groups. Likewise, a member of the music committee and the director of music should also attend the education meetings. In at least one denomination the director is an ex-officio member of the education committee.
The primary job of the committee is to secure competent leadership in music and then to support the program which is jointly established. The actual hiring is usually done by the governing board, but upon recommendation of the music committee in consultation with the pastor. Every church that can do so should hire a well-trained, full-time director of music, for such a person will be able to develop a program which is truly a ministry to the congregation. There are many schools which offer training in church music, and each year more and more trained leaders are available.
The committee must decide whether it is desirable to secure two persons-an organist and a director-or one person to handle both jobs. This decision should be based on the availability of a highly trained and competent musician (many persons who try to play and direct are incompetent to do so), the scope of the choir program (one person can spread his energies and interest too thin if there are many choirs), and the physical arrangement of the choir loft and organ console (it may be physically impossible for the organist to see and direct the choir.) If there are two persons, the chief authority for leadership must be clearly defined to avoid friction. In most churches the director would be the head, but care should be taken to secure a director who is musically competent. Few things are as conducive to war in the choir loft as the situation where the organist-receiving the smaller salary-is a superior musician to the director but must take direction from a musical inferior. Other needful personnel might include clerical help, either volunteer or part time paid, and assistants to the organist for certain services or to the director to help with youth choirs. An important part-time position could well be that of a supervisor of church-school music, who may also work with the children’s choirs.
As a prelude to securing leadership, the committee, with the minister, should study the church-its membership, size of age groups, location in the community, musical facilities and potentialities to determine how many choirs are actually possible, how many prospects can be found for these choirs, how often the choirs are needed to lead in worship services, when rehearsals can best be scheduled, what the needs of the church school for hymn playing and musical leadership are, what opportunities present themselves for recreational use of music, and what outside musical events may be expected (choir festivals, civic oratorio groups, conference music events).
The following questions should be raised and answered:
1. What is the musical atmosphere of the church? What is its history in terms of attitude and growth? Is it conservative, progressive, or static? The success or failure of previous choirs should be thoroughly investigated and the present interest evaluated. While difficult to measure, the level of musical understanding and appreciation of the congregation will affect the development of a choir. It will also determine the point at which the musical education of the congregation must start.
2. How large an adult choir can and should be maintained? Perhaps seating facilities limit the number unnecessarily, in which case consideration should be given to making some structural changes. It should be obvious that a church of one hundred fifty members cannot maintain a choir equal in size to that of a church with five hundred members. Under certain circumstances, especially when leadership and material are not available, the church with a very small membership should not try to organize a choir of any kind, but should expend its energies in developing the music of the congregation. Size and quality bear little relation to each other in matters pertaining to church music, however. Some churches with few members have effective programs far superior to those maintained by many large congregations. A choir of six or eight dedicated singers possessing average ability and having good leadership can be a strong force in a church of fifty members.
3. How many choirs are needed? Again, mere numbers are unimportant. There must be a need for every choir and an opportunity for it to sing with reasonable frequency. If a church has two or more worship services each Sunday, the maintenance of several choirs can perhaps be easily justified. It is unfortunate that some ministers and musicians are more concerned about the number of choirs maintained than about the opportunities provided for the growth of individual members, or for the contribution made to the life of the church.
4. What funds are available? Provision should be made for the cost of equipment, including a basic library, and for excellent leadership. There are some persons who feel that a church should never pay any musicians-director, organist, or singers. A good case can be made for not paying singers, but any church is wise to spend its money for the best possible leadership available. Good musical leadership can minister to the spiritual needs of the church, but poor leadership will doom a program to failure; better to abandon any efforts for starting a choir plan than to settle for less than the best that can possibly be obtained. A study made in 1952-53 showed that the amount of money being spent at that time on the music program was disgracefully small. A random selection of 3,000 churches received questionnaires, and 1,279 replied in time to be considered. Of the 808 with fewer than 500 members, 124 had spent nothing on the music program the previous year, 19 had spent up to ten dollars, and a total of 531 had spent less than five hundred dollars. In churches of less than 250 members, the situation was much worse. Even in the larger churches the amounts spent were discouragingly small. Before any attempt is made to set up a music program, the congregation should realize the financial obligation it must assume if the program is to succeed. Musical instruments must be purchased and maintained, hymnals and anthems bought, teaching materials provided, books purchased for the library, choir robes secured and kept clean and in good repair-all these expenses, and many others, are involved in a good music program.
After due consideration has been given to the equipment needs and problems peculiar to the church, the duties of the leadership should be spelled out clearly so there will be no question as to the responsibilities of the organist and/or director. With the pastor there should be determined what staff duties and conferences are expected, how many church -services are to be held each week, and what special functions such as family or fellowship dinners will call for the guidance of the musicians. Policies concerning music for funerals, weddings, vacation church schools, youth activities, camping programs, and other areas of the church life should be carefully considered. Organist fees for weddings should be set, as well as a definite policy concerning the type of music to be used at weddings.
The music committee should determine a policy concerning the recruitment of choir personnel for all age groups. Particularly in the case of younger choirs they should provide assistance in arousing interest among the church-school departments and classes and various youth groups to promote the choir program. They can also form telephone committees to present the choir to parents of young children. At the adult choir level the committee should limit itself to locating prospective singers and suggesting these names to the director for action. In no instance should they invite a singer to join the choir without the approval of the director.
The committee may assist with the procuring of leadership for the choir mothers’ guild. By helping with robing, transportation, telephoning, social events, and such things, the guild can take a heavy load off the shoulders of the director and at the same time increase parents’ interest through participation. Assistant pianists and song leaders as well as part-time clerical help to take care of filing and repairing music, mimeographing letters, and similar work can also give valuable help to the director.
One of the most important jobs of the music committee is the establishment of a definite policy concerning the use of the church organ. First of all, the organ should be protected from indiscriminate use by outsiders. In instances where part of the organist’s salary comes from wedding fees, the committee should make it a rule that only the church organist or someone approved by him is to play for weddings. In all events a fee for the organist should be collected by the church and then turned over to him. At the same time, the committee should never allow the organist to assume sole possession of the organ, jealously guarding the console key against any outside use. The organ belongs to the church, not the organist, and it should be used by students under supervision. In fact, the organist should be encouraged to give organ lessons to young people with musical talent, and the organ should be made available for practice as far as it is feasible, because the church is often the only possible place for organ practice. A pipe organ actually needs to be used extensively since the electrical contacts tend to corrode and the leather valves to harden and crack unless the organ is used regularly. The electric company on request will place a check meter to determine how much current is used if the finance committee is concerned about the expense and insists on some charge for practice time. The cost will prove to be negligible, particularly in view of the responsibility of the church for providing future leadership.
The committee would also be wise to provide an adequate budget for the proper upkeep and maintenance of the organ. In many cases it should plan for enlarging and improving the instrument where it is small or totally inadequate. Occasionally the committee may be called on to supervise the purchase of an instrument; needless to say, they should consult the organist and director concerning space requirements, placement, size of instrument, specification, and builder before making any decision. There is much debate about the relative merit of electronic instruments and pipe organs, and too often purchases are made on the basis of price alone. We do not presume to be final authorities in the matter, but wish to submit a few items in consideration of this problem.
1. Whatever organ is used as the basic church instrument should give a quality sound, consisting of the four basic classes of tone-diapason flutes, reeds, and strings. The tone should have a good ensemble sound.
2. The pipe organ is specifically planned, built, and installed to fit the needs of a particular church. The same cannot be said of electronic instruments.
3. A good piano built by a reputable firm will serve as an effective church instrument when lack of space and/or money prevents the purchase of a pipe organ. The tone-which is affected by the size and length of strings, characteristics of the sounding board, and the action-should be even throughout the entire compass and should have a full, singing quality. A good studio upright is superior to a tiny grand; to get the maximum benefit of the longer strings and sounding board, a grand piano should be at least six feet in length.
4. Spinet pianos and spinet electronic instruments are unsatisfactory church instruments. The tonal and mechanical limitations of each are such that no accompanist can do an adequate job with them. A reputable dealer will not attempt to sell a spinet organ for church use.
5. Most electronic instruments do not provide the accompanist with the tonal strength and variety needed for good hymn playing or for anthem and solo accompaniment. A small two-manual-unit pipe organ with carefully chosen and voiced stops can compete favorably in price and versatility with most electronics and will provide better support and tonal variety. Any committee considering the purchase of an organ would be wise to investigate thoroughly the possibility of a small pipe organ by consulting various builders and studying various specifications such as those found in The Diapason and The American Organist.
6. Unfortunately, a pianist is able to “play” an electronic instrument with little or no specific training, to the great detriment of the instrument and the church. Certain electronic instruments are sold on the basis of this seeming advantage, which quickly becomes a disadvantage as the pianist transfers her technique to a keyboard instrument that is very little related to the piano. On the other hand, a pipe organ is much more difficult to play, even poorly, without some organ instruction.
The effectiveness of any electronic instrument will depend to a great extent upon the number, quality, and placement of the speakers. The speakers should have a frequency ranging from 16 vibrations per second or lower to 20,000 vibrations per second or above, and sufficient volume potential to fill the required space easily and without distortion. Electronically produced and/or amplified tone loses a great deal of its quality if the producing and/or amplifying units are forced to operate at maximum output. Since sanctuaries differ so greatly in their response to sound, considerable experimentation should be done before the speakers are permanently placed, and even then the way left open for further adjustments.
If the accompanying instrument is inadequate, the situation can be improved by the use of string, brass, or woodwind instruments. There is solid historical precedent for such use; the Old Testament refers on many occasions to the cymbal, harp, lyre, psaltery, and horn. At various times the Christian church has used “modern” instruments. We are well into another era that, while not yet comparable to the period of the Cabrielis, may soon bring instrumental music into general acceptance in many Protestant denominations. Numerous large churches now depend upon different combinations of instruments for accompaniments and for solo or ensemble presentations. Because of its wide range of tonal coloring, the organ will blend well with most instruments. Orchestral instruments can improve the music of almost any church, large or small, and make a valuable contribution to worship, provided they are chosen and used with discretion and good taste.
The committee should also make a point of providing good instruments for the church school. Where do church piano~ come from? Most have been discarded by good church families who suddenly tired of looking at those worn out instruments that served only to take up room and accumulate dust and rats’ nests in the family living room. All gift pianos, like horses, should be looked “in the mouth.” Maintenance on many is expensive, on some, impossible. Since children are in their formative years-musically as well as otherwise-only fine pianos in good tune should be used in the church school. It is impossible to worship, much less teach, with the “donated” instrument found in most churches.
As indicated previously, the budget items for the music program should be handled by the music committee, the requests being established in co-operation with the director and forwarded first to the finance committee and then to the governing board for approval. But the spadework must be done by the music committee, which determines the needs of the program and requests the necessary funds. The committee should arrange a few social times for the choirs each year as a way of expressing appreciation for their work and service. This recognition may take the form of a party, picnic, dinner, or an all church choir family event. Any of these require careful planning and the music committee should assume full charge of all details.
Primarily the music committee is an advisory group, working with the minister and director of music. It should choose fine leadership and then support the program that is projected. It should not try to advise where it is incompetent; the committee’s main function is to promote, not to judge. By helping the director in the recruitment of new singers, handling business matters, and educating the congregation it guides the music program of the church. Therefore its concern stretches beyond hiring a director, beyond the adult choir, beyond the morning worship service, to the effective use of music in the total life of the church.
This article �The Music Committee� by A.C. Lovelace & W.C. Rice is excerpted from Music and Worship in the Church.