“Moving from Musician as Performer to Musician as Pastor” by William Bradley Roberts

William Bradley Roberts dedicates the second chapter of his work Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy, “Moving from Musician as Performer to Musician as Pastor”, to discussing the philosophy of church music. In his vision of the musician’s role in church, Roberts follows Alec Wyton’s formula of church leader and envisages the musician in a three-tier function of Pastor, Teacher and Performer, in exactly the following order (Roberts 2009, 19).

Opposing the traditional view on church musician as the one who merely performs purely musical tasks and never takes interest or involves in the spiritual practices, Roberts accentuates the possibility of leading “not only voices but also spirits” by church musician in his role of Pastor (Roberts 2009, 21). Being not only a stranger who comes to deliver musical services but also a “partner in ministry”, the church musician plays a significant role in creating a spiritual community among the parishioners (Roberts 2009, 21).

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As a rule, the choir members spend a lot of time in rehearsals, which naturally results in trustful relations developing between them and the musician. The latter can further develop this trust by visiting parishioners at home or hospital, when they are most in need of spiritual support and likely to seek solutions in the realm of religion.

In addition, during rehearsals the musician can provide reflections upon especially insightful texts and phrases, giving spiritual food for contemplation to his disciples. Roberts claims the role of Pastor to be the most difficult of three, since traditionally musicians are trained in secular conservatories and do not tend to consider their spiritual affinity to the church they work at.

The role of Teacher is one of the most exciting for the church musician, since then the natural human desire for knowledge can be satisfied most naturally. The teaching function can be rendered in a vast variety of ways. First, the structure and content of the sung texts can be discussed with the choir members so that they get a deeper understanding of and attachment to the music they perform.

Second, during rehearsals it is advisable to take a “directive approach”, and not only correct the mistakes committed but also to set the performers a series of goals to accomplish (Roberts 2009, 25). Those challenges will not only stimulate the singing community to improve their performing skills, but also increase their confidence and sense of fulfillment while they are engaging in singing.

In addition, the church musician can participate in general staff meetings, contributing to the vision of sermon and providing advice as to the music most appropriate for certain occasions. Music should be used “to foster camaraderie and bonhomie”, as well as to broaden the parishioners’ musical outlook by introducing new sacred music at discussion forums and in informative articles (Roberts 2009, 27).

The third function of the church musician, that of Performer, is by large the most controversial. On the one hand, musicians become aware of that function already during their training: performance is seen by them as a way of demonstrating what they have learnt and of connecting with their audience (Roberts 2009, 27).

On the other hand, the clergy may be confused by the negative connotations of the notion that in certain cases may designate glorifying the performer proper, which is incompatible with religious principles of modesty. However, it is more reasonable to see performance as that focused on the character and story it tells, and not on the performer who presents it. Such approach provides the most successful results, letting the performer be a humble medium transferring divine messages.

In conclusion, Roberts states that the role of pastor is not given by birth but obtained “through life experience, education and prayer” (Roberts 2009, 29). Thus, though it is strange for musicians to include pastoral role in their activities, it becomes the task of the church to transform the ones entrusted to its patronage.

Reference List

Roberts, William Bradley. 2009. “Moving from Musician as Performer to Musician as Pastor”. In Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy, 19–29. New York, NY: Church Publishing.

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