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Out of practice
Frantic American pace discourages quality church music


5/1/2006
I agree that American church music could be better (“The British are coming!” December).  There are a number of realities working against this, one of which is the gutting of music education in the American schools.  Another is the American insistence that the marketplace prevail.

The marketplace presents quick and easy tunes with jazzy instrumentation and colorful videos that sell. This results in congregations that like their liturgy to be like Las Vegas stage shows: quick, fun and easy, and uncannily parallel to our frantic way of life.  We have baby boomers who can't get over the days of their youth and are fixated on anything that reminds them of the Golden Oldies on the radio.

We Americans are living a ridiculously fast-paced way of life. Those of us from the baby boomers on down simply can't seem to switch gears on Sunday morning to concentrate on serious liturgy.  We like the sound of the stuff, in other words, but we can't make the time.

American musicians, by and large, must hold down day jobs.  The British musicians your publication referred to were brought up in a system where children certainly don't work, teen-agers don't have to work and the focus is on study.

Without boasting, I am a fine musician, and yet, because of the area I live in, I must hold down a day job in accounting.  It is a demanding job, and I am lucky to eke out several hours a day for practice. 

I'm luckier than most who eventually must decide between the job, the home and the instrument.  Usually the instrument loses, because in order to play the instrument well, the musician must practice.  American musicians are not paid to practice.  They are paid to perform.  The result is that the money for food, clothing and shelter must come from elsewhere.

I'm not blaming the American church for this situation, because with collections in their current state, it is difficult to pay a church musician as well as office staff.  The British have a state church that is supported with state funds, but even there I suspect there is a growing problem. 

A few years ago, I was talking with an Austrian musician who found his church position cut to half time and was forced to find a day job.  This situation was not mentioned in the article, but I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that the British musicians coming over here have found themselves in the same situation as this young Austrian. In the meantime, quit selling American musicians short. 

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