ROWING UP, I was part of a particular musical “culture.” It began with the Russian school: Anton Rubinstein (d. 1894); Felix Blumenfeld (d. 1931); Wiktor Labunski (d. 1974). I won’t go into the details right now, but let’s just say it was…rigorous. Every semester, we were required to perform demanding concert programs from memory: Chopin Etudes, Medtner, Bach, Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, and so forth. The “audience” consisted of incredible pianists—Robert König, Richard Angeletti, Alice Downs, Jack Winerock, etc.—listening critically to every single note, giving a lower grade for any mistakes or memory lapses.
Having graduated college with a professional music degree, I encountered the “real world” of church music: the shocking musical situation of the Catholic Church. I discovered that very little of our day-to-day vocation has anything to do with music. (Those of you who have directed choirs throughout the United States know what I’m speaking about.) Much of what we do is physical: moving chairs, constructing shelves, sorting endless choir binders, and so forth. We also have to deal with “politics” constantly. Then, too, there is ignorance of music—such as the bride who insists that you provide 12 professional singers for her wedding free of charge, whereas she never demands (for example) a free wedding cake, or a free wedding photographer, or a free reception hall, or a free wedding dress, or free wedding flowers, or free wedding catering. We also have to be “psychologists”—because many singers have personal problems, which they choose to bring to us. Playing scales and trills for hours in college did not prepare me for this!
In case you’re wondering: the photo on the upper right is me—taken on Saturday night. You see, on Saturday night we held a special choir party. I currently direct about 62 choir members, and most of them were in attendance. It was wonderful (games, food, costumes, and so on), but it required tons of work. Again, parties have very little to do with “music,” yet they’re quite important. They help the choir members become friends with one another, and this is essential when they sing together for hours week after week.
Here’s the bottom line: Sometimes dressing up in a costume helps the music program more than a rehearsal. (Needless to say, we have plenty of rehearsals, too!)