Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Where I've got to

Does anyone know of any spiritual support resources or organisations for church musicians? There seem to be lots of things aimed at fairly keen laity, and lots of things aimed at clergy.

I don't want to be precious about it -- being an organist is not the same as being ordained and the amount of responsibility I bear is much less than that of the vicar. I am, in essence, a "fairly keen" layperson. But learning the music and leading choir and congregation in song is surely a different type of work, too, than reading or leading intercessions every few weeks or helping hand out pew sheets and hymnals. I don't mean to diminish the importance of these other things, but they don't require hours of practice on a daily basis.

All the resources I've found aimed at church musicians seem to be primarily geared toward musical training and certification. That's useful, but it isn't all of what I need. I've been complaining to a friend this week that it's quite possible to have a conversation about church stuff with most organists without anyone mentioning God at all. But we also tend to work in isolation, all being busy on Sunday mornings. Clergy have that problem too, but (in the C of E at least) there are various structures in place which increase their contact with one another. I only speak to other organists at all because I go out of my way to do so. I don't know any of them well enough to discuss matters of heart and soul. Gentle Vicar is wonderful but he is also my boss, overworked enough as it is, and not a musician.

My stepdad has had a bereavement. I find it incredibly difficult to pray for him, yet it seems like something I am meant to do. Mostly I try and quickly revert to just wishing he didn't exist and then I feel incredibly guilty for it.

Things are not going well with my spiritual director. I am thinking about other options, while trying to think of what I can bring to this relationship that might be constructive.

I have been talking about all this stuff to a friend of mine who I think would be a wonderful spiritual director, but who isn't in a position to offer formal direction for a number of reasons.

I am cycling a lot and my physical health is mostly good, though I am still very tired.

Gentle Vicar had surgery recently and so we have not had our mid-week said Eucharist since the first week of January. I miss it more than I thought I could; last week I had occasion to be in town at lunchtime on a weekday and went to a service at one of the city churches. The sense of unconditional welcome was wonderful. I'm not sure if I need to make a point of doing this more, or just find a way of hanging onto that feeling.

Always at church I am conscious that I am in a certain role, that to be a good organist, to serve this community well, I need to be gentle but firm, kind but truthful, that I need to listen to others, that I need to think before I speak and comment constructively or not at all. Communion is one time when all of that goes away and I am just there as myself, bringing with me all the cares and concerns of friends and community and family, yes -- I don't generally feel like I'm approaching the rail only on my own behalf, it's hard to explain except to say there's only one bread -- but it's a time when I'm there as me, not as The Organist; where I'm not concerned about trying to coordinate anyone else's responses.

The other time is when I'm improvising on the organ after the Communion hymn. Then I'm very much aware of the rest of the community, very much aware that what I do can support or detract from the liturgy, but I'm absorbed in the here-and-now of playing and somehow it works and even though I am quite clearly being The Organist, I am there as me rather than hiding behind a role.

Or maybe I just feel good after receiving Communion.

Or perhaps it comes to the same thing.


MadPriest said...

Does anyone know of any spiritual support resources or organisations for church musicians?

Alcoholics Anonymous?

Song in my Heart said...

MP, do you think maybe the trouble is that I'm just not drinking enough?

MadPriest said...

Well, if you want to be a real musician it has to be drink or drugs and drink is a much cheaper way of killing yourself.

Song in my Heart said...

The trouble is I don't get drunk before getting hung over, so tend to avoid alcohol in any meaningful quantity. I don't really fancy drugs either...can't I just choose overwork instead?

MadPriest said...

No. You'll end up like Bono of, even worse, Cliff Richard.

Song in my Heart said...

Flipping heck. No! *resolves to drink more gin*

UKViewer said...


Perhaps you need to be a leader in this - to take the initiative and to try to organise something for Organists in various churches locally and see what response you receive.

It could be a get together in a specific church or location for practice, exchange of ideas with a social element built in. And as you see MP's advice as useful, perhaps a pub would be a good meeting point.

There is a website for Church Organists : which seems quite lively.

Thinking about your SD. My SD is wonderful, supportive, and robust with me as well. We often meet over lunch and also sometimes attend the Cathedral or other venue where he might be officiating to share worship. I had great trust in him and he has shared much of his own journey with me. It seems to me that SD (or Spiritual Accompanyment) is a relationship which either works or doesn't. Perhaps it might be time to close this one down and to seek another.

I suspect that your post reflects a certain feeling of isolation in the organist role - do the Choir not have any sort of social gathering, external to the church? Would it be appropriate for you to go to those along with them?

Still, I suppose there is always the 'Mothers Ruin' of the Gin Bottle :)

Song in my Heart said...


The Incorporated Association of Organists is a worthy organisation but they are involved in exactly the sort of technical training as the RSCM, the Guild of Church Musicians, and so on.

I'm not going to go into more detail here about why I think things are not working with my SD, but it has not turned into a relationship of trust and I doubt at this point that it will.

The choir is small and no, they don't have much in the way of a specific social life as a choir outside of the choir rehearsals. But me going along to that would not give me much support in the organist role -- it would be like a football coach going out with the football team. Sociable, yes, but still very much a leadership situation.

I have e-mailed another organist I know to see what he says. We'll see.

it's margaret said...

I think UKviewer is on to it, Song. Here, even our parish secretaries have lunch together for mutual support and brain-storming stuff. --and to tell jokes and rumors about the clergy, I'm sure! I hope your email is fruitful.