I've decided to do a "theme post" on Thursdays, since Thursday is our choir practice day.
Ever since I became a choir member a couple of years ago, I've discovered a lot about how a choir operates. So much depends on whether the priest is musically inclined (and, if so, whether his musical taste is more traditional or more modern), on the congregation, on the choir director's knowledge and experience, and on the choir's abilities, that when people assume a choir director is single-handedly or unilaterally scheduling the less-desirable songs, they are often assuming incorrectly.
Our choir director is a friend; she also grew up in the Byzantine Rite, and became Roman Rite when she married. So her understanding of what is "traditional" has partly been formed by what has been in hymn-books since her adulthood--and yet, possibly because of the beauty of music in the Eastern tradition, she usually prefers the more reverent, more traditional, more solemn music, and we sing quite a bit of that.
If her preferences alone were all that was consulted, I think we'd rarely sing the worst of the modern stuff (though not all modern music is bad, of course). Yet one of those annoying pieces is scheduled for this week. Were I in the congregation, I'd consider this song one sour note among some lovely pieces, but I happen to know the "behind the scenes" story, which is: parishioners have requested this piece. They used to sing it all the time back when the music ministry was made up of well-meaning volunteers with little musical background, and it is missed.
I wonder how often that happens--how many times a choir director is in the position of doing a sort of "balancing act" between the desire for music to be solemn, majestic, appropriate, and the push from parishioners--or even a pastor--to sing things that are more current, familiar, upbeat, and the like. I suspect it happens more than we know, and that choir directors often take an unfair share of the blame for endless rounds of "Be Not Afraid" or "Eagle's Wings," let alone the much less palatable modern hymns, some of which are theologically deficient as well as musically lacking.
It really helps to have a pastor who understands sacred music. A former pastor of ours really did (and we miss him!). This week, we're singing one of his favorites:
Since it's public domain, I've attached a copy; click it to see it better.
And now, off to choir practice!