The latest issue of Divinity magazine has a fascinating article called “The Church Musician as (Overlooked) Theologian,” published by Duke Divinity School. The opening paragraph starts with a challenge: “No one goes to church and thinks, ‘I sure hope the worship will be dull and uninspiring.’ People desire vibrant worship. Whether it’s the communal practices of Taizé or Iona, the anthems that resound in cathedrals, the gospel choir who brings the congregation to their feet, or the strum of guitars with a praise song, it’s clear that music has a central role in establishing worship.”
The author, Mark Gorman, goes on to say that the church musician is also a theologian, and complements the theological role of the pastor. For example, he writes how an organist is concerned with many factors in accompanying a hymn: tempo, dynamics, registration, etc. as well as determining the mood of the text. “In other words, the musician is trying to communicate the theology of the song through the music itself. It is a complicated endeavor, and it requires the musician to be sensitive to the communication of theological ideas.”
Here’s another great quote in the article: “Musicians, whether or not they are aware of it, are shaping congregations theologically through their music. Congregations, even if they don’t explicitly know it, are formed theologically by the music of their worship services, just as they are formed by the sermon, the prayers, and the sacraments.” I’ll never forget that after Carl Crosier’s last orchestra rehearsal of the Lord Nelson mass (August 20, 2011), there was a potluck in the courtyard afterwards and people stood up to express their appreciation for his work at LCH. (See my post titled “Kudos to Carl.”) Pastor Jeff Lilley said that he when introduced himself as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, people would respond “Oh, the music church!” He said it was the only congregation he knew of which was shaped not by its pastor, but by its cantor.
Years ago there was a discussion at one of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians conference, that musicians have the same functions as pastors: They preach, they teach and administer the sacraments, and — are you ready for this — therefore they should be paid on the same scale! Imagine the possibilities!
Gorman suggests that congregations pay for additional training for musicians not only in practical matters, but also in theology. A good number of church musicians I know graduated with degrees in music, then went on to attend seminary and became ordained. In fact I know of three such persons in Honolulu who are both church musicians and ordained pastors.
Psst! Want to know something? When I play the organ for church, I feel like I’m preaching a sermon.
We are all servants.