Being a choir director occasionally, very occasionally, fills me with despair. This is sometimes because the choir are unaccountably rubbish, or because I am unaccountably rubbish, or because God stops feeling real. But none of these things are the norm, I am glad to say, and they are but infrequent stumblings of fallible man in an imperfect world. That’s fine.
But one slightly more regular source of despair is complaints from the congregation about my choice of music. Oh, not complaints, sorry – “friendly advice”. Either the music’s not happy clappy enough, or it’s too happy clappy, or most often of all they “don’t know the tunes”.
As I have to explain to them, if they don’t know the tunes of some of the finest hymns written over the last 300 years, which I, a youthful 25-year-old am familiar with, then it’s hardly my fault. I’m constantly amazed by the blank looks a decent hymn will receive – perhaps I’m just choosing things that are not on Songs of Praise enough.
But you can’t do Bread of Heaven every week. And I always try to choose hymns which are a) of musical merit, b) conveying something meaningful and c) of relevance to the church calendar and the readings being used on any given sunday. It’s not the easiest of things to get right, but I like to feel I’ve done a conscientious job. So when I received a little more “friendly advice” today that I ought to make sure my hymns fit the church calendar, I nearly burst a blood vessel. That is what I have been doing. That, in fact, is possibly the reason why the congregation just occasionally have to face up to something a little bit obscure. But in the process they are getting exposed to some fine music, fine literature and most importantly to Sunday morning services that actually mean something.
But every time somebody knocks my carefully planned music list, I am tempted to pack the whole thing in and make them do All Things Bright and Beautiful, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace and – ooh, Shine Jesus Shine, every week. No more of this quality control. No more thought going into the meaning of the words and their relevance to the Gospel reading, the sermon or the liturgical year. Just the same old uninventive dreary familiar hymns, week in, week out. No care, no meaning, no life.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Methodist Church began.