Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death of the Church Musician?

I received an email yesterday from a Music Director at the West Des Moines UMC. It stated very clearly that the church would not be having its annual concert series this summer. This was after a nine year long presence in our community. The email then went on that the music director who sent the email was being let go as of the end of May. He even said that he was surprised to get this news.

First of all, I think that really stinks on the church's part. I think there should have been some kind of warning to the music director. Perhaps there was and his email was a little more dramatic than the situation should really be. Musicians...dramatic? No...

Second, I could only feel bad or sorry for this man. He had been in this position for nine years. And he was being fired because the church has no money! The email also pointed out that the church was going to be remodeling their sanctuary this summer. And I know what you're thinking...these monetary items are two different and separate things. I know...I know. But the unfairness still seems to be there.

I know of another church here in the metro, Westminster Presbyterian, who is also losing their music director. This is a different case entirely, though. Their music director is leaving by his own accord to travel to Thailand. Unfortunately, the church has decided not to replace him.

I cannot relate to you how devastating this is to the metro's church musician ministry. Westminster is one of the largest churches in the area. They have a huge...and I mean program and fine arts series. I can only see both of these things being tossed to the wayside because this position isn't being filled after the current director leaves. It makes my heart sink.

Des Moines is not quite like Minneapolis, which is a very art-full city. They have opera and theater and museums out the wazzoo. Des Moines has all those things as well, but on a smaller scale. But that doesn't mean that Des Moines is a bunch of hicks in an art-less void. We DO have strong arts programs. We DO have many community choirs that are quite strong. We DO have a world class opera company (I know, I've worked for them). We DO have museums and poets and...plain and simple...artists!!

Why are the church musicians dying? Or better yet, being killed off? This may sound like a dramatic or desperate attempt to feel sorry for myself. But I promise you, I'm really not. I feel very bad for the church music directors and the church musicians being cut because of this finincial downfall.

The arts are always cut first in times of struggle, whether that be in churches, in the community, or in schools. We all know that. I feel so strongly that this tide of losing church musicians will only hurt our future generations.

When I first started at WH, I bought a book: "How to Start a Fine Arts Academy in Your Church." One of the opening paragraphs of the book states:

"In the 21st century, the relationship between fine arts and the church is much different. No longer is the church the influential leader it once was in the fine arts. Instead; 1) the consumer, not the church, is now the primary patron of music, 2) the leading composers of today are not church musicians, and, 3) Christianity is no longer the dominant topic and focus of the arts."

The book also gives a great quote from Tom Fettke, a very large presence in the church music area. He is a prolific composer and has written many large works as well as single pieces of music for the church. He says: "Schools, public and private, are not (for the most part) doing a good job of Fine Arts training...the Church must assume the responsibility if quality music and other Fine Arts are to survive."

These two points really make my heart ache for the loss of these two music directors in my area. And these are just two people I know of...there are probably others at much smaller churches. The churches, who in some opinions, need the music the most.

I hope that this economic downturn isn't the end of church musicians. I hope that we can all bounce back and become a huge force in the world of music and arts again. I hope that the churches and people finding themselves without jobs or artists will find something better to replace the voids the church has created.

I hope for the best for the Fine Arts.

1 comment:

  1. This is really sad. It reminds me of how VH1 is always talking about saving music programs in schools. I just don't understand why anyone would not see music as one of the most integral parts of a church or education program. Then again, I'm biased because I'm a music person. But what music teaches, what it offers, what it does - how can we just give that up?

    It's the same with what I do - communication. As I found out firsthand, that person, that position is the first to go when budgets get tight. When in fact, that's when you need good communication the most.

    I'm sorry to hear about DSM's loss in the church music area. I hope those leaving their positions find a new place soon.