About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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“Oh, the happy choir director who is hired to start work on a brand new choir, or who walks into his first rehearsal a total stranger to the existing group—what a fortunate man he is! The new choir director who is a former member of the choir, or a member of the congregation, or the nephew of the alto soloist, or a former altar boy, or otherwise well acquainted with the choir, is in for a few headaches.”
— Paul Hume (1956)

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Musician • Center of Attention or Servant?
published 22 April 2016 by Richard J. Clark

OHN 13:16-17: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”

Regardless of specialty, the vast majority of musicians find themselves in the role of service. Consider any educator. Those who teach music live an unglamorous life. Whether teaching at a prestigious conservatory, or a Kodály movement class for four-to six-year olds, teaching is the very definition of service. The teacher is not the center of attention. Those who embrace and relish this role are the teachers who change the world.

CULTURAL PROBLEM that pervades the Roman Catholic Church is the secular view of musician as a focus of attention. This view persists quite often in both congregations and among musicians. This is the root of countless liturgical (and professional) problems, most importantly the misunderstanding of the role of sacred music, which is to uplift souls by pointing to God. (Tra le Sollecitudini [“Instruction on Sacred Music”] §1. “...the glory of God and the sanctification, the edification of the faithful.”)

Applause from a congregation for musicians, or musicians that impede congregational singing for the sake of personal artistry, are but symptoms. The church musician has been misidentified as a separate entity—a showpiece—and not properly identified as a servant of the liturgy, a servant of God, a servant of the people. As servant, the church musician must inspire, yet be invisible to the greatest extent possible. This requires large doses of skill and humility.

HERE ARE MANY extraordinary artists who deserve much recognition for their work. Interestingly, the greatest artists also seem to be the most humble. They deflect credit to talented people around them that contribute to their work. More importantly, they seek to point to something larger than themselves: a message, beauty, hope, aspiration, inspiration, and in the case of a church musician, divine transcendence.

The greatest of artists also tend to be more secure within themselves and have no need for attention to affirm their self worth. They prefer to allow their art speak for itself. If worthy, it will change the world.

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” — John 15:16