Defining the Role of Church Musician: A Statement of Purpose

As a church musician, my role has two parts: church + music. Usually, the music part comes along fine – there is enough detail and needs within the dailyness of my tasks: practice the left-hand, register, proofread bulletin, rehearse the altos on their entrance at measure 37. However, the church part can be nebulous. Are we spiritual leaders who work through music? Or are we musicians who draw a salary from the church?

Like many churches, CathedralLite runs a stewardship campaign, and this week’s theme connected the concepts of stewardship and mission. Many folks from the church presented a moment about their role in the context of the church’s mission. I presented the following text in the service; it was well-received and the process of forming my thoughts reminded me of the deeper meaning that emerges from my daily routine.

When I tell people that I am a musician, I always hear stories – usually they go like this: “I played violin in fourth grade and then stopped playing in high school. I wonder what would have happened if I stuck with it.” However, when I tell people that I am a church musician, I hear better stories.

I hear about people’s favorite hymns and memories from children’s choir. I’ve heard about the bulletin catching on fire at the candlelight service. I’ve heard about the church which brought a live (and smelly) donkey into the sanctuary as part of the choir’s Palm Sunday processional, and I’ve heard from the person who sings Sunday School kid songs when she is nervous while horsebackriding. In my own experience – my story – I once played a memorial service – the family was calm until I played the favorite hymn of their loved one – the whole family started sobbing. All of these experiences – funny, serious, sentimental, and unexpected – have convinced me that music is a vehicle connecting us with our faith.

St. Augustine says: “Those who sing pray twice.” I have no authority in that area. But – when we sing, we remember words more than if we just speak them. My role in worship is not just about ornamenting the service or providing cover music while the choir walks from the steps to the chancel pews. Part of the church’s mission is to equip our congregants with tools to connect with God, and music is one of those tools. So, when I teach the children a song from my childhood, accompany the choir, talk with a bride, or practice for the service, I am not just filling up silence or taking up time, but making a space for those around me to find something deeper – and in my own small way, contributing to the mission of the church.

A Prayer for Musicians

One of my choir members sent this prayer to our choir list today. I appreciate that the theologians who penned the Book of Common Prayer took time to include this “Prayer for Church Musicians and Artists”.

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.