Holiday Self-Care for Church Musicians

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Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?

This amazing season of the year redefines the word “busy.” Is it possible that time moves faster from the week of Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas? It often feels like it. Family, friends, parties, community events, and at times, service after service and performance after performance. And these are the planned events, what about all of the inevitable surprises?

So, what are we to do amid this flurry of activity? Our gifts call us to help others experience the greatest mystery and yet the greatest of joys! How do we encourage others to sing and play that they might experience the miracle of Jesus, the child that changed the world? How can our work be more than just getting music ready? Do we accept the fact that we have been granted the responsibility of bringing the true meaning of Christmas to others?

Physical Self-Care

Eating, sleeping, and exercising are all a part of being healthy. When one of these elements is out of balance, and we have to be “on,” then it’s difficult for us to be at our best. None of this is news. Taking care of ourselves matters not only to our friends and family, it matters to those we work with too. It is NOT a selfish activity.

Time is often what keeps us from great self-care. Why not schedule time with colleagues or friends to do something active? A great conversation and some time walking or working out gives us the best of both worlds.

Spiritual Self-Care

Now many of you are saying, “Wait, why doesn’t ministry come first?” This issue is of utmost importance – it defines our work and our spiritual journey. Prayer, bible study, and studying the text of carols or seasonal anthems can help our focus during this busy season. If we aren’t connected to the story in an intimate way, the story can often get put in the background, ignored, or mistreated.

You know that we are not merely leaders of music. We bring our personal belief system into our work. No matter where we are in our spiritual journeys, we have influence over all who cross our paths. If our journey is suffering, so too is our ability to help and uplift others. We’d like to believe that people don’t notice, but the truth is, they do.  

Gig vs. Ministry

For some who are employed by churches, a church job can be just another job. Of course, this choice is up to you. The time, money and energy you have invested deserve to be compensated fairly. Your skill set is worthy of that. If you are uncomfortable offering spiritual leadership in your group, there are many options. 

Maybe you’re an introvert, and sharing your faith literally frightens you. Maybe you bring spiritual baggage to the task of ministry from years of being taught bad philosophies about religion. That’s okay. What if you give those in your group who are comfortable with spiritual leadership a moment to pray? What about a short devotion? When we remember WHY we do something, and to whom we are offering our gifts, the mystery of faith can and will work miracles, even in us.      

Flexibility and Change

Our world is in a constant state of flux. For many, security and stability is only felt when things are NOT changing. If we accept the fact that things will happen that will not allow everyone to be there on Christmas Eve, we will be less disappointed. Of course, we occasionally pick pieces where we really need everyone – but those pieces should be saved for seasons where there is less going on and fewer scheduling conflicts.

What happens if we complain to those present at our rehearsals that our life is difficult when everyone isn’t there, or our plan has to be adjusted because choir is not their top priority and they have to live their lives? We make it about us and betray our own arrogance.  

None of what we do is really about us! We can easily get in the way of a healthy choir and ministry, but our role is to obtain a level of self-care that allows God to speak louder and more consistently than we do. When someone gives us a compliment, do we thank God or do we publicly take the credit? Are we able to say out loud “Thank you, Lord” rather than thank you to the giver of the compliment?

When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried: Alleluia!”

– from When in Our Music God Is Glorified by Fred Pratt Green

What do we leave them with?

What do you leave your choir with at the end of a rehearsal or right before a service?

Sopranos, blend – modify the vowel shape so that we can sound like one voice!
Tenors, that note in measure 54 is still fuzzy, be aware of it and do your best to fix it!
Basses, it’s TOO LOUD!!! Be sensitive to the rest of the group.
Altos, you’re perfect.

If these lines are what your choir hears right before a service, it will be tough for them to not concentrate on the music. This is where we have to put ourselves in their shoes and continue to wrestle with what makes what we do different than what happens in a recital or concert hall. What is the balance between musical and technical integrity and a heart filled with emotion in offering everything in worship?

This is why we have to take care of ourselves. The sound of our choirs is a direct reflection on what we show them in our gestures and face and what we ask of them verbally. I dare say it’s a direct reflection on our priorities and how we live our lives. The combination of these activities helps to mold the sound. We want to invite them to be fully engaged and dig deeply, not push them to attempt musical perfection.

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” 

– Michael J. Fox

Coda

Our instruments are in our bodies. How we feel is directly reflected in the sound we are able to produce. What if you talk to your groups about how the message of the piece directly relates to the focus of the day or how it relates spiritually to things going on in the world? You may be surprised how these spiritual disciplines will affect everything in your ministry.

It’s not about us; it’s not about the church or denomination; it’s not about our style of worship or if we’re the best choir in town. It’s about the unique mystery of a child sent in human form that we might worship God.

“What shall I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man I would do my part, yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

-from In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti

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Chris Titko
Chris Titko is the Church Editor for J.W. Pepper. Prior to working at Pepper, Chris spent 35 years serving various churches across the US. He has a degree in sacred music from Westminster Choir College and a degree in choral conducting from Indiana University Bloomington, with further graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma. He also serves as the organist at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

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