Hadleyblogger Bobby has shown himself to be a keen critic of the state of church music. In his latest commentary, Bobby speaks about the growing trend toward recorded church music, and the need to respect live instrumentalists. I see this as a very Chestertonian point, the idea that musicians are craftsmen and as such their handiwork should be appreciated and respected. Of course, a musician who makes a recording deserves respect as well, but comparing live and recorded music in the church is almost like apples and oranges.
When we worship God, He deserves the best we can give Him. When we sing, we pray twice. And when it comes to music, the best may not be a recording (even if it's from the Metropolitan Opera) - not when we can offer Him our own live work. Kind of like the difference between a home-cooked meal and a TV dinner.
(In June 2004), I had the opportunity to attend a concert of a young 16-year old local girl (Mariel Angel Estrella) who was doing a fund-raiser to help raise funds for her to stay at the South Carolina Governor's School in the Upstate another year with a mix of 18th and 19th century English songs, French, Italian, and German songs (oh do I know one of those too well -- I had just sung "Caro mio ben" at a recital of Krznarich students that May!), and then a stage of Broadway songs.
I talked to accompanist Karen Young (Kay) Crawford afterwards, and she has been well-known in the local music community as a pianist for over two decades, and I looked back at the time together (I was a 3rd grade student at the now-defunct parochial school when Mrs. Crawford was the music teacher for our 3rd grade class), we looked ahead at some interesting perspectives from our past and our future.
Me: "I do remember these old times. It's always good to see you."
Kay: "Of course. I'm glad to see you again."
Being a pianist, she is naturally biased for the piano, and I am glad. Having worked with distinguished pianists in my settings, I enjoy work with pianists. I told Mrs. Crawford the trouble at our church with the choir leader flaunting his "battle" with both instrumentalists, Elizabeth Dempsey on piano and Bonita Brinson on organ (both since fired), as our leader has decided in the past 16 choir appearances to go with recorded (aka "canned" or "karaoké") music 13 times, something which has drawn my ire recently as his choice of the can has been praised by some members, but vastly opposed by others. One member flaunted it as saying recorded music was much better than live music. I didn't buy that.
Kay: "At my church, the minister of music has been trying to have us used recorded music, and I am not happy about it. I don't want it. Most of the singers prefer live music, and when those who work the (local theatre group) also have said they prefer playing live music. There is a difference between singing with the recorded music and with the live piano. Quartet Five (the local quartet which she was pianist at the time, an all-male group also then) also sings exclusively live."
Me: "There are specific church members who are pleased with the recorded music, and they say it sounds much better than live music. I don't agree. The accompanist to singer has the same analogy as quarterback and receiver, catcher and pitcher, and crew chief or spotter to driver. Singing to recorded music is similar to driving a Nextel Cup car without a spotter, something which is against the rules."
Kay: "If you make a mistake, the pianist will cover for you. You can't do that with a tape. I am growing concerned of the trend towards recorded music. One of these days we may not have enough instrumentalists for church."
If I hear recorded music used for a choir number during practice, I'll walk out and skip it. I respect having live instrumentalists and if you keep flaunting them with recorded music to insult them, you're doing a disservice to the community.
So true. Good thing I have friends who play the piano. We need more live instrumentalists. That has become a problem at churches and even local theatres.