Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In Praise of Improvisation

In her book The Anatomy of Melody, Alice Parker writes:

Think of the difference between a singer who works by ear and one whose allegiance is to the page.  The first is born musical; the other must learn to hear pitches, to tune and count and pronounce and even to breathe.  The two make very different mistakes—but the intuitive singer inhabits the world of sound, and very few page-students do.  In fact, the latter have so many intellectual barriers erected that it can take years of study to break them.

In college, I was taught the basics of Western music history, Western music theory, and Western music performance. What was not taught, that I can recall, was music as art and communication, or music as something in which the performer is seen as co-creator of the music. The unstated message is two-fold: first, that Western music is somehow more important than other music; second, that music is something to be intellectualized and analyzed. What results is the curious musical landscape in Western society today. We now live in what Parker calls a “post-melodic world,” characterized by rap, the unrelenting torrent of three- and four-chord songs, a preoccupation with harmony, and a bias toward pre-composed music.  Parker continues:

What is Ella Fitzgerald’s responsibility to a page of Gershwin? Let’s assume that she first heard the song in someone else’s interpretation.  She might at first imitate that or adapt it, or even go back and see what he actually wrote.  But there is NO responsibility to sing exactly what is on the page.  Why?  Because this is a living language—the idiom is spoken now—so that-which-cannot-be-notated is intuitively supplied.  The beat will swing, the words are to be played with, the specific rhythms may be widely varied.  In fact, she will never sing it as written […].

In other words, our culture’s deification of the page produces some strange results.  When slavish accuracy is taught and valued over musicality, something is wrong.  The eye has triumphed over the ear, and the promise of the sound cannot be fulfilled.

Improvisation is something I’ve spent my life learning, though I was never taught it.  Before I had any piano lessons, I’d put a record on the record player and try to play along with the melody of the songs as they came up. After several years of lessons and a basic music theory knowledge, when I came across music with only a melody and chords, I would play the melody in my right hand and the root of the chords in my left, usually in octaves. As I got more adept at reading the chord changes, I would alternate between octaves and fifths in the left hand to make my life easier. As I learned more about chord symbols and had a working repertoire of simple left hand accompaniment patterns, I filled in the other harmonies and added more rhythmic interest.  And as I learned the characteristic harmonies and rhythms of different musical styles, I would incorporate those stylistic elements into my playing. As I got more proficient, I would sometimes make a game out of pure improvisation: I’d sit down at the piano and force myself to make things up, to simply play whatever melodies and chord progressions my hands would gravitate to.  Then I’d try to add modulations and meter changes.  I’d play for as long as I could until my creative juices dried up.

What does this mean for my musicianship? It helps me listen much more closely to harmonies and their progression, and I’ve developed an unfortunate (fortunate?) bit of snobbery toward music that I find to be melodically and harmonically uninteresting (which winds up being a LOT of pop/rock music these days…). It helps me accompany better; I can leave notes out to make the accompaniment more playable, and I can embellish chord progressions or rhythms that are bland or a-stylistic. It helps me discern between congregational hymns that will work on the organ or that are best played on the piano, and gives me the tools to lead them from the piano more effectively. It has also opened up unique performance opportunities: I occasionally play in a local jazz combo and a local rock band; I play for musicals; and I’m in demand for accompanying and providing dinner and background music for local events.

All of this is not to brag but to illustrate that improvisation—beyond simply ornamentation and cadenzas—deepens the richness of one’s musicianship. It helps to make the difference between music that’s “correct” and music that “sounds good.” But let’s also be clear about another thing: it is no excuse for poor technique, by any means. Improvisation does not baptize bad playing or singing. But it does help to make the musician a co-creator of the music, not merely a performer.  It lets the musician “own” the music, move beyond dullness, develop one’s own style and to, in Parkers words, “inhabit the world of sound.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

When Is Worship Too Loud?

Often the complaint of “too loud” worship gets leveled at contemporary worship bands.  While organs can certainly be “too loud” as well, the nature of electronic amplification tends to make worship bands a more fitting target.  It’s tough to tell, however, if “too loud” means simply “annoying” or “I can’t hear myself sing” or “I can’t hear myself think” or “my ears hurt!”

A brief review of online discussions of this turns up things like John Stackhouse, Jr.’s “Memo to Worship Bands” in Christianity Today, as well as spin-off discussions from it and more in-depth musings on larger issues of rock concert volume levels in general.  What seems clear to me from the variety of material out there is that there is definitely something worth discussing here, and that, despite the dismissive attitudes of some posters in the forums, when people say “too loud,” they’re probably not being passive-aggressive—they really do mean too loud.

So what is “too loud?”  Some of the comments on the forums above talk about “too loud” as purely subjective and related to one’s personal musical taste—I don’t like that music, so I’m inclined to say it’s “too loud.”  Others, like those on the Edward Tufte forum, come from educated musicians and sound engineers who generally agree that “too loud” is an “occupational hazard” for both today’s concert goer and musician, citing a menagerie of factors like bad audio mixing, an industry attitude of “louder is better,” and the vicious cycle of musicians’ hearing loss and subsequent demands for more sound leading to more hearing loss.

Calling “too loud” a purely subjective comment is probably a bit too dismissive, which raises issues of pastoral care on the part of the church musician.  We as worship leaders need to probe for more information and thoughts from our worshipers when this issue comes up.  When people don’t eat spicy food on account of it being “too spicy,” it seems to me that they don’t just mean, “I don’t like it.”  They really do mean, “it’s too spicy,” even if that ultimately means “it’s too spicy for me.” Regardless, they’re indicating that a threshold has been reached—they can tolerate no more, and we need to understand their perspective.

Aside from personal comments from worshipers, where do we turn as worship leaders and musicians in this curious discussion?  We turn to people who measure this stuff, like OSHA and NIOSH.  Both groups are government sanctioned agencies that assign noise dosage levels for hearing safety; OSHA, which operates under the Department of Labor, has more lenient standards. NIOSH, which operates under the Centers for Disease Control, is more conservative.  For my purposes here, I’ll cite NIOSH’s standards out of a “better to be safe than sorry” mentality and since they actually study the science, which is not OSHA’s job.

NIOSH’s exposure time recommendations start with a limit of 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours a day with a 3 dB tradeoff of time-intensity: for every 3 dB increase in sound intensity, the exposure limit drops by half, which translates into:

dBA 85 88 91 94 97 100 103 106
Time 8 hrs 4 hrs 2 hrs 1 hr 30 min 15 min 7.5 min 3.5 min

To put it another way, each decibel level and time of exposure carries the same risk of hearing loss: 8 hours at 85 dB is the same risk as 4 hours at 88 dB and 3.5 minutes at 106 dB.  It’s also important to note that these values are based on occupational exposure—they assume that time outside of the normal 8-hour, 5-day workweek is quiet.

Now to my point—what this means for worship.  Most worship services last 1 hour.  If half of the service is filled with music played by a worship band at 97 dB, the exposure carries the same risk of hearing loss as operating a belt sander for an hour (approx. 94 db).  Granted, this is one worship service a week and not a daily work hazard, but the hazard exists nonetheless. 

Depending on the instruments in the band and the band’s own propensity for higher volumes, 97 dB may be unrealistically low—rock concerts can approach 115 dB, which leads into my next point.  If the volume of worship music approaches the two highest levels in the table above—well within the possibility for a rock band—the exposure limit easily encompasses that of a single worship song: 4-8 minutes.  With that in mind, we’re not talking about some arbitrary and subjective measure of “too-loud”-ness, or even personal taste.  Hearing loss should not be an occupational hazard of our worshipers; it should not be a worship-related illness. 

“Loudness” is a genuine concern.  Part of our responsibility as worship leaders is to be good stewards of the health and well-being of those we serve.  This is especially true since young adults and young families (who are often the demographic that “contemporary” services attempt to cater to) are already victims of this illness: as of 2010, 1 in 5 adolescents already has hearing loss.

But even beyond the related health concerns, there are musical and liturgical concerns as well.  Worship music that is “too loud” is not servant-leadership.  This is one thing that most organists know instinctively, simply by virtue of the instrument’s long history with worship.  Organists need to hear the congregation in order to accompany them well—if the organist can’t hear the congregation, the organ is probably too loud.  If the congregation can’t hear itself, the organ is probably too loud.  But guitarists and drummers and vocalists are generally trained from a performance perspective; they tend to think in terms of leading by force, not by invitation.  The congregation is sometimes simply dragged along for the ride and left worse for wear at the end.  There are, of course, organists who are guilty of this same sin, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule in my experience.  On the other hand, worship bands that lead well tend to be the exception rather than the rule; being sensitive to the congregation’s primary role in worship and the implications of that for things like tempo, key, melodic range, volume, etc. are just not things that have yet made it into the worship band’s vocabulary—in the grand scheme of church history, the “worship band” is still in its infancy.

I hope this post helps to clarify and redirect some of the conversation out there regarding volume.  I’d love to get your feedback as well: Have you encountered worship bands who are sensitive to appropriate volume levels?  Have you encountered organists who were not?  How have you dealt this issue in your own experience?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Psalm 88

For our Maundy Thursday service last year, I wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 88 to be read during the stripping of the altar.  Our assisting minister, who I had asked to read it, fell in love with it and insisted that I have her help again this year.  For those of you who are preparing for Maundy Thursday services and will be employing the ritual stripping of the altar at the end of the service, I offer this reading to you, slightly revised from my original last year.  May you, too, find it meaningful.

Psalm 88
by Travis Beck, © 2012

1O Lord, my God, the One who saves me:
My days and nights are spent crying to you.
2Hear my prayer. Look at me! Listen to my cries.

3I have more than my share of troubles. Death is near.
4I am lost, hopeless, helpless; I have no strength left in me.
5I am already dead, one corpse among many in an unmarked grave,
whom you have forgotten and cut off from your care.
6You’ve sent me into a black hole, into oblivion.
7I cannot bear the ceaseless beating,
the never-ending waves of your anger!
8You’ve made me repulsive to even my closest friends; they run away from me!
I am trapped with no way out;
9I am blinded by my tears.
Lord, I beg for your mercy daily;
I lift my hands to you for something—anything—that will help.

10Do you perform miracles for a dead audience?
Do choirs of ghosts sing your praises?
11Do cemeteries talk about your unwavering love?
Do those in hell tell stories of your faithfulness?
12Are your wonders seen in the dark?
Is your justice remembered in the Land of Forgetfulness?

13But I’m still here; I keep crying to you. 
I wake up even before the sun does, just to pray to you.
14Why are your ears deaf to my pleas?
Why do you give me a cold shoulder?
15Since I was a child, I have been in pain and near death.
I’ve borne your wrath, and I’m done; I’m giving up.
16I have drowned in the flood of your wrath and anger; I am no more.
17It washes over me all day long, from every direction.
18You’ve taken my loved ones away.
Lover, family, friends, neighbors—all have rejected me.
I have but one friend left: Darkness.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

No Room for Snobbery

As church musicians go, my sense is that I fall into a narrow segment of the population in that I have both experience in and appreciation for the so-called “traditional” and “contemporary” church music styles.  I can easily be at home behind the organ console, in front of a choir, at the keyboard in a worship band, or dual-wielding handbells—and in a 5-hour span on a Sunday morning, you may occasionally find me doing all four. 

The point of this is not to brag; it’s simply to set up the context for the argument I’m about to make.  I lay this groundwork because, it seems to me that most church musicians live in one of these realms (“traditional” or “contemporary”) at the exclusion of the other, either because they find the other one distasteful or they simply have no experience with it (which of these gives way to the other is a matter for another post).

And so having background in both, I notice when some musicians level disparaging remarks at one camp’s expense.  Both sides (though I hate to reinforce the false dichotomy) are equally guilty of these sins.  “Organ music is outdated and obsolete.”  “Guitars and drums are not worship instruments.”  “Why should we spend money to buy hymnals?  Rock music is the way to go!”  “Why do the song leaders get so dramatic and emotional?  It’s nauseating…”

These remarks are not only divisive and hurtful comments that we level against our own Christian brothers and sisters (who, by the way, are also following their own call to discipleship and doing the Lord’s work).  These remarks also betray musical and theological snobbery, which should have no place in the Church.  They are an assault on our fellow Christians and speak volumes about our own fears and insecurities.  Setting our own personal tastes and liturgical biases up on pedestal (or using them as a bludgeon) says that we don’t care about oneness with our neighbors, that we can’t treat with respect and dignity things that are different than our own practices.  It also speaks of an arrogance that prevents us from learning from other traditions; it says, “We know what’s best and you don’t.”

Snobbery creeps in in other ways as well, especially ones that don’t fall along musical style lines.  It can sometimes be manifested in a perfectionistic zeal for only musically superior musical performances by soloists or the choir or the organist; it can show up in the insecurities of leaders when things don’t go smoothly, as if worship should be such a clockwork endeavor or slick performance that there is zero-tolerance for mistakes.  My own sins of snobbery tend to fall into this category, and I remind myself and others that worship should be like the widow’s mite—not offering perfection, but offering our best, which is not the same thing.

The last place for us to find snobbery should be in a time devoted to the unadulterated praise of the living God in Christ.  Let’s work to make worship a snob-free zone.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Easter—the queen of all Christian festivals, the crux (literally!) of the Church year, the singular celebration that every other worship service throughout the year flows into and out of. We visit family. We eat chocolate bunnies. We decorate hard-boiled chicken eggs. We give baskets of goodies. It is a pull-out-all-the-stops time of celebration.

But getting there takes time. We are still slogging through the 40 days of Lent; we are Israel, wandering in the wilderness. We are Christ, driven by the Spirit, tempted by the Devil. We fast, we pray, we give. We reflect, we repent, we reconcile. And all of this is in preparation for that glorious Easter Day.

But for what purpose? Why do we do this every year? The answer is simple: discipleship. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9: “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” The words disciple and discipline are related, both from the Latin discere, “to learn.” Lent is all about discipline, limiting one’s personal freedom for the purposes of deeper spiritual growth. In Lutheran terms, we call this the death of the Old Adam and the Old Eve. It is taking up one’s cross to follow Christ, for grace, though free, does not come cheap—Christ paid for that grace with his life, and so do we. Again, Paul writes in Galatians 2:19, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer unpacks this even further in his book The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ bids us come, he bids us come and die.” Lent is about death, about dying to self, about returning to baptism and that daily drowning, or as Paul yet again says, “I die every day!” (1 Cor. 15:31). What is the Christian life about if it is not about striving to be more Christ-like today than I was yesterday?  The life of the Christian is to say, with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

We have all been through the journey time and again in our daily lives that we encounter metaphorically in Lent: we have betrayed our Lord; we have denied him pride of place in our lives; we have run from him when the going got tough; we have been crucified with him, baptized with him, and buried with him. And then we emerge from those waters of Lenten baptism on that glorious resurrection morning. On Easter Day—and every day—we are raised with him. God, as always, makes us alive by killing us. It is the only way. One cannot get to the empty tomb without going through the cross.

So here we stand. Broken, yet whole; dead, yet alive; poor, yet rich; slave, yet free; sinners, yet saints. We need to embrace our dual nature, and we need to embrace both the cross and the empty tomb. So let us journey through Lent, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday together, with diligence and persistence. Let us not simply skip over the dark and twisty days of Holy Week to satisfy our gluttonous yearning for the wedding feast of Easter. We will get our cake soon enough, and our patience will be rewarded.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Toward Better Contemporary Music

The intent of this post is not to wear even further the already well-worn road of the “worship wars,” nor is it to be an offensive attack on music that has often received, justifiably or not, the wrath of snobbish “traditionalists” who may laud hymnody as the be-all-and-end-all of worship music.  It is precisely the opposite, critical though it may be.  There is much to be praised for the work of contemporary Christian rock/pop songwriting, especially as the genre has evolved over the last decade.  Nevertheless, for church musicians and worship planners who, like me, seek to expand our congregations’ musical repertoire into other territory, the pool of contemporary Christian rock/pop songs that are both theologically appropriate for my denomination and also have musical and textual integrity is still woefully inadequate.  What follows is a brief list of common characteristics I find among many contemporary songs that prevent me from incorporating them more fully into worship.

1. “Chunky” melodies.  A highly technical term this is not.  What I mean by this is a tendency of contemporary Christian songwriters to craft whole verses and refrains out of a series of short, measure-long phrases, separated by up to whole measures of rest.  The result?  A melody that lacks musical direction and gets old very fast.  Imagine if you were playing musical chairs to a song like this and you only moved when the melodic line came up.  The scene would be four beats of walking, a beat or more of standing.  Go. Stop. Go. Stop.  It’s not good music.  What makes hymnody durable and effective over the long haul is that the melodies are longer and more lyrical.  This, of course, has implications for the text as well, because with a “chunky” melody, the songwriter is forced to confine textual ideas to small bits of melody, or as a singer you’re forced to breath constantly in mid-thought, meaning songs tend to lack idea development and cohesion in the text.  Examples: “Revelation Song,” “Jesus Messiah,” “All Who Are Thirsty,” “Breathe,” “Everyday,” “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” and many more.

2. Stagnant melodies.  By this I mean melodies that hover around the same few notes.  You can get a quick sense of this by this exercise: 1) Pick a song.  2) Look at the verse or refrain.  3) On a piece of staff paper, jot down the lowest note of the melody, then the highest note.  4) Note the interval between them.  Some contemporary songs, like “Blessed Be Your Name,” and “Everlasting God” have verses whose melodies are confined to a range of no more than a fifth. “Your Grace is Enough,” has verses whose melody that, for three out of its four phrases, has a range of no more than a minor third—literally three notes.  These melodies are, by necessity, highly repetitive and, with so few notes at their disposal, not very interesting.  Again, I’ll contrast this with hymnody; the hymn tunes that stick around are ones people can stand to sing over and over, year after year, generation after generation.  The unfortunate consequence of contemporary Christian music is that it winds up being highly disposable; 90% of the songs just aren’t durable, so congregations are in a constant search for new music, ditching the old worn-out songs for new ones that are fresh.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that there’s little music that’s memorable and can be passed on over time.  Songwriters would do well to work on crafting melodies that are more memorable and interesting.

3. Virtuosic melodies.  This is the ditch on the other side of the road from #2 above.  Some melodies for some songs have ranges approaching an octave and a half, pushing the limits of what’s practical for congregational singing.  Certainly some of these can be sung in keys that keep the congregation from singing too high or too low.  For example, “In Christ Alone” by Stuard Townend has a range from a fourth below the tonic to an octave above, limiting its use in congregational worship to a handful of workable keys.  Other songs have tricky ornaments or vocal stylings characteristic to their performance by recording artists that aren’t singable by congregations; they’re just too unwieldy.  To use them, one is forced to simply print words and leave the congregation to fend for itself, or to print a simplified melody in the bulletin.  Some songs can work fine with a simplified melody, but others, like “You Are My King (Amazing Love)” rely on the syncopation and rhythmic complexity and would be awkward if they were simplified.

4. Theological bias.  It’s not that a bias isn’t okay—bias is what makes a song fit with one church’s theological stream and not another.  The problem is that the bias isn’t a diverse one; far more contemporary songs fit with a conservative and (arguably) anti-liturgical stream on Christianity than a liberal and pro-liturgical one.  As a result, texts as a whole are limited in their focus (these are based on my own perception and are purely anecdotal):

  • texts focus more on one’s personal relationship with God than with one’s relationship to the Body of Christ as a whole or to humanity/creation in general
  • texts focus more on one’s personal spiritual “destination” (i.e., salvation, conversion, etc.) than on elements of one’s spiritual “journey” and the Christian life (i.e., confession/repentance, prayer, giving, service, etc.)
  • texts focus more on unrealized eschatology (the not-yet-ness of the coming of God’s kingdom) than realized eschatology (the already-ness of God’s kingdom in our midst, here and now)
  • texts focus more on Christ as savior and victor than on Christ as example and model
  • texts focus on faith as something one has rather than something one lives
  • texts focus more on the joys and blessings of the Christian life than the trials and tribulations
  • few texts exist that function well as parts of the Mass: confession, kyrie, sanctus, agnus dei, etc.

5. Gender-exclusive language.  I find it ironic that songs that are intended to be “contemporary” expressions often use antiquated, gender-exclusive language, but I suspect that this is probably a product of a socio-political bias that runs parallel to the theological one listed above in the more conservative segments of Christianity.  Nevertheless, the language—and not just the music--needs to speak to the issues and culture of our day.  21st century songs should be employing 21st century shared meaning in their texts, not vestiges of 19th century vocabulary that reinforce gender barriers, especially in a religion that believes “there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  There is no excuse to continue using “men,” “man,” or “mankind” except when poetic license may allow it.  For example, “In Christ Alone,” (mentioned earlier) includes the line: “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man | can ever pluck me from his hand.”  I’ve tried to tweak this line to “No pow’r of hell, no earthly plan,” but I’m not yet convinced that it’s a good alternative to the original.

These are a handful of my current frustrations with contemporary music options.  Three of them are related to the music alone—it simply needs better crafting.  If it’s not interesting if sung unaccompanied, it’s not interesting enough. 

I hope that future years will bring better options.  The church deserves good music worthy of use for the worship of God.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Softly and Tenderly

Last week was unusual.  Between Tuesday and Friday, I played for three funerals.  The first, a funeral for a paramedic killed in the line of duty—over 500 people were in attendance, mostly other EMS workers.  The second, a very small funeral for one of our elderly members.  The third, another small funeral for our oldest member who passed away at 103 years young.

The point of this post is to highlight the stark contrasts between each of these funerals and the importance of sensitivity to the congregation’s needs on the part of the musician.  All three funerals selected standard funeral fare for their music.  For the first, “Lift High the Cross,” “Amazing Grace,” and “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.”  All three are very easy to learn if one is not familiar with them, but despite the 500+ people in attendance, there was very limited singing going on.  It was clear that this group was either not a predominantly church-going crowd, or that they were self-conscious or otherwise inhibited in their ability to sing out.  Regardless, it forced me to be more deliberate in my leading of the hymns, limiting the variety of my registrations (the combinations of various sounds on the organ to produce characteristic textures and timbres), and making sure I didn’t play any verses too softly.  However, because of the nature of this funeral, I thought it appropriate to introduce Amazing Grace by playing a complete verse on the organ with a sound that emulated bagpipes, evoking the long-standing tradition in the United States of playing bagpipes at police and fire department funerals.  Lastly, where I normally play 15-20 minutes of prelude before a funeral, the number of people that needed to be seated in an orderly fashion for this funeral required that I play an hour’s worth.

The second funeral was similar in that the congregation that assembled was not one with uninhibited singing running through its veins, and adding to the challenge was a very small congregation at that—probably in the 40-50 range, and in a sanctuary that seats 450.  Acoustics were not on their side; rather than lead from the organ, which is tucked around the corner in a transept, I led from the piano and used a microphone so I could serve as a song leader.  Acoustically, I don’t prefer the piano when confident singing is required as the organ can sustain notes indefinitely and plays louder, but it was a trade-off that enabled me to sing with a microphone in my face and also hear as best I could to adjust my playing on-the-fly as needed.  Again, standard funeral repertoire was chosen here: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “Beautiful Savior,” making the hymns as familiar as possible for those in attendance.  Here, bagpipe-esque introductions were not feasible as I was leading from the piano, and would have been inappropriate for this crowd.

The third funeral was attended by a family with strong singers in its ranks, though the total attendance was the same as the previous: 40-50.  In fact, at the conclusion of the service, the family got up and performed Peter Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You And Keep You.”  With this in mind, I was able to vary my registrations and also dropped out on a verse of “Children of the Heavenly Father” to let the family and others in attendance experience the rare joy of congregational a cappella singing, knowing they were more than capable of holding their own while the organ disappeared.  Contrast this with 500+ people in the first example who needed all of the instrumental support I could provide.

All of this is to say that no one way of leading congregational singing is appropriate in all times and places.  Especially in the case of funerals, one is dealing with a gathered assembly of diverse backgrounds, musical skills, and spiritual walks.  It is a group of people who may never meet again yet who are thrust together in a single place and time and who must be led in their liturgical and musical journey in such a way as to form them into one voice, one Body of Christ.  With funerals, one does not have the luxuries that come with leading worship week in and week out for an established community of faith.  Such work, therefore, requires sensitivity and awareness on the part of the musician and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances and needs.  It is this side of the church musician’s work that demands from them a level of pastoral care that they are not always equipped or prepared to provide.  Nevertheless, it is the reality of congregational ministry, and church musicians will do well to understand these subtle and nuanced dynamics.