By now many of our readers will have seen footage of an unfortunate musical act gone wrong recently in front of a live audience.
Besides revealing the unfortunately canned character of much of the pop world’s “live”performances, it sets in relief the amazing accomplishments of those who work week in and week out without props, recordings, lip synch, producers, or any other safety nets: Church musicians.
Recorded music is banned in liturgy by law, and so it must be live, performed in the here and now. The Director of Music is thus ordinarily all things, like Quincy Jones: producing the album, engaging (or being) the musicians, coaching (or being) the vocalists, curating the selections, communicating professionally with everyone, and above all making dozens of both planned and on-the-spot judgments involving musical quality and timing.
The difference is that for Quincy Jones, he can always do another take.
What happened last night is what understandably happens outside the studio, outside of controlled conditions–and what so altogether rarely happens at Mass that it is astonishing.
I’ve sometimes heard complaints from clergy about Music Director salaries in the US, and although I do sympathize with those responsible for attending to the many different needs of a parish, I think this must be considered: a DM is responsible for executing hours of live music every week (to say nothing of what is required during Holy Week), often with limited resources, and often with amateur musicians.
Last night we saw how an army of truly overpaid professionals can monumentally destroy a musical moment. The arduous and ordinarily seamless work of parish musicians, without the flash and props and certainly without a soundtrack, should be commended and compensated.