Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When did it become illegal to expect a lot out of people? When did it become even more illegal to expect a lot out of yourself? I'm asking because I'd really like to know.

I'm having a hard time at the church. Recently, I started choir rehearsals again for the Fall semester. And, in that time I've been told that I'm way too hard on the choir. That I expect way too much out of people. And that I'm no fun.

I've been told all of these things before, but I have reserved myself to the opinion that I have a passion. I believe in choral music. I believe that it creates community. I believe that it can be spiritual as well as fun. I believe that singing in a choir requires discipline and focused effort.

I try making this clear, but it doesn't seem to stick. I was asked very recently why I had to give the choir a handbook. In the handbook, I outline a very, VERY loose attendance plan. Basically, if you miss 8 rehearsals/performances, you'll be asked to leave the choir. Is this unreasonable? Out of the 16 rehearsals for the fall, I don't think that's asking too much. In fact, I would say, if you have missed 8 rehearsals, you should probably rethink where your commitment lies.

I don't have a problem with people having commitments elsewhere. I understand that there's family. There's soccer and piano lessons and archery and just plain "not wanting to go to church on a Wednesday." I understand these things. But is it too much to ask people to be accountable for these commitments? Apparently, it is.

When did it become easy to not commit or simple to not be accountable? When did that happen? I push myself to be the best musician I can be. Why? Because I believe that there should be a future for church choral music. How many of you can name one...just one religious piece of choral music that wasn't written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Okay, that's easy. How many of you can name 10?

And now, how many of you can name a single piece of classical choral music written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Probably a lot fewer of you. Pop music and rock music have given way to really bad Christian rock and pop. Or my personal favorite, Christian rap. Will this music last? I can only hope it doesn't.

I don't believe in contemporary religious music. I don't think there is much worth in it. The Christian rock period is already coming to a close. A period filled with big praise bands and thoroughly boring praise choruses.

Along with the rise of contemporary Christian pop music came the demise of the church choir. Where did it go? It was run over by the drummers and electric guitarists. So now that contemporary Christian dreck is leaving us, we are left with a huge hole where church choir used to be. Those choirs are long gone.

I believe in keeping those choirs in tact and alive. That's why I push myself. That's why I require that other people that I work with on a volunteer basis strive to be the best they can be. Not because it glorifies me. But because if we make crappy music, that is one more reason to get rid of the already dying church choir. We recruit with excellence. We don't recruit because we have the most fun or give the best parties.

I'm sorry. It's been a tough day. It makes me want to scream or yell to the point that I can't do either anymore. Where is the commitment? Why can't we strive to be excellent? Why can't people want to be a part of something bigger than they are? And why....why do I have to spell out every chance I get, and defend myself because someone is offended because I handle things in a way they wouldn't?


  1. I wish there were more commited church choir directors like you who wanted their choirs to be great, and not just average. Keep it up James!

  2. Well, I don't know if it's any consolation, but I know you're not alone in those feelings.

    Of course, you know that I am all for commitment and dedication. And I agree that choral music is a good thing. Some contemporary worship music is boring and/or lame, and lots of folks would say most of it is. And I know that our worship pastor has had to defend a lot of his decisions at our church. He has compromised as much as he feels appropriate (from what I can tell; it's not like he tells me details!), and I think that's given the church, somehow, more trust in him. Some of that trust building seems to simply be a matter of time, too. Which is never fun.

    I will say that our attendance policy is not the same as yours (which doesn't mean either one is right or wrong, of course). Brett just asks that if we are going to miss a rehearsal or performance, we let him know. He says that he only asks us to stay accountable. Just another perspective, I suppose.

    I hope the rest of your week is much better than the beginning...

  3. I'm hoping the last part of the week is good too. It's just very frustrating that I thought after last year there was excitement and buzz. I know that I can't base everyone's opinion on one, but the person who came to me said that they had hated choir all last year. I wanted to say, "Then why keep coming back?"

    Our whole church culture is upside down. Doug is having to preach a sermon series on commitment this fall. Who does that?

    I tried to use the "tell me if you're not going to be here" attendance policy last year, and yet that didn't really work. I had some people tell me, but not all.

    I don't like having to defend myself about vision and decisions I make. I was the one hired here, wasn't I? I know I'm not the best at casting vision, but I thought I was very clear with where I wanted this church and department to go. Apparently not.

    I just get very frustrated. I especially get frustrated when the person who came to talk to me actually said, "What made you feel that you had to make this handbook?"

    Well, for starters, it's nothing new. I had a handbook last year. So...I'm going to keep doing one. And, that's how the conversation started. There were no specifics in the questioning...basically just questioning everything.

    I hate that. I'm not a trusting person to begin with. Why should I now trust this person to be "on my side" or that they have "bought in" to the vision that I have set not only for myself, but for this department.

    There were also sweeping generalizations during the conversation that "other" people in the choir didn't like the handbook. Well, "other" may be one other person, and I'm sure I could guess who based on the relationship that the "other" person has with the person who came and talked to me.

    I also mentioned that "fun" had been taken out of choir. This is the most frustrating. If we are recruiting by how fun our parties are and how big our smiles are on Sunday, then we shouldn't be doing anything. We aren't here to party. We are here to make music and be worship leaders. We recruit with excellence.

    I don't know. I'm going to keep plugging away at exactly the same thing I'm doing and the direction I'm going.

  4. For me, I always go under the philosophy that "if you are working hard and doing all you can to make great music, then you should be having fun."

    If making music is something these people enjoy, well....I would think they would want to do all they can to make good music.

    Walnut Hills prides itself on making good music. The church loves the choir. Yet, the choir seems to have a very lazy attitude towards rehearsals. You came in and decided you were going to teach everyone to really sing properly! If this is such a bad thing to them, then you're right, they shouldn't come. you wont be offended im sure, you understand that the way you do things is not up everyones alley. To each his or her own.

    But I'm glad there are musical directors who want their choirs to do well, like you.

  5. No you're not alone - everyone who's given you support is entirely correct. Basically our "modern world" (for want of a better term" supports being selfish above everything else. Schools (and parents) are no longer allowed to teach discipline and self sacrifice - the few of us that seem to have it ingrained into their very being are generally ill thought of and frowned upon. You were much kinder than me, I would say miss 4 (25%) of all rehearsals and you are out - but being firm and being responsible is so frowned upon these days its no wonder those with no sense of responsibility took their stance. Your post was sometime last year, I would love to know how it panned out.