How a church musician can facilitate a smooth transition to a new pastor or priest

June and July are typical times for changes in pastors and priests, depending on denomination. This can be a challenging time for the church, as each pastor and priest brings with them their own habits and expectations for the how the church service should run. Many also have ideas on the music used within the church service. This can include what hymns can and cannot be used, built in “think time” or zero silent time, how long preludes should run before service (if any at all,) and if hymns should or should not be announced.

As a church musician, I think that one of my duties is to help the church service flow seamlessly from one thing to the next, regardless of if the pastor is new, substituting, or has been there for a decade. Over the past 20+ years of playing in traditional worship services in Methodist, Catholic and Lutheran churches, I have developed a few habits that help smooth the transition to new or substitute pastors and priests. And while there are bound to be some hiccups as you get used to the new pastor or priest, this can help make them smaller.

Have a simple conversation with the pastor or priest

The first thing I make sure to have a simple conversation with the person about their expectations. I tell them how much time I play for prelude and depending on the church, that I will stop at a specific time. There are also a set of questions that I ask, and I write myself a note to make sure I remember to ask these questions – otherwise I’ll be 5 minutes into my preludes and realize I forgot! The following are the questions I ask.

Lutheran Church

For the Lutheran church I have just two questions that I ask the pastor.

  1. Do you announce the hymns and different liturgical songs? If yes, you know that you can wait for the announcement. If no, you know you are in charge of starting the songs.
  2. Will you be chanting/singing the liturgy? This is only important if the liturgical setting you use has parts for the pastor.
  3. Is there anything else I should know about how you like the music at Mass to be run?

Catholic Church

For the Catholic church I have some questions for the priest.

  • Will the cantor announce the hymns?
  • How will you let us know you are ready for Mass to start and the Gathering song to begin?
    • This is especially important if you are playing in a balcony and cannot see them gathering in the back to begin Mass. One church had a light that would turn on when they were ready – but it was behind me so I had someone else keep an eye on it. Another would have the priest wave through their side door. Another wanted me to just watch the time and start playing exactly at a specific time.
  • Is there anything else I should know about how you like the music at Mass to be run?

Be Flexible

Be flexible. Remember that just as you have habits and things you’re used to as a church musician, each pastor or priest has their own habits they bring with them. Be willing to make minor adjustments. Write yourself notes – use highlighters and sticky notes if need be so you remember whatever it is that is different.

Be forgiving

I tend to the be the musician that has nightmares about the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Over the years when I have commented about the mistakes to members of the congregation, most say they didn’t notice the mistakes. So when I inevitably make mistakes, I try to remind myself that most likely, people didn’t notice and to give myself grace.

Transitions can be tough on the congregations, pastors and musicians. But one thing we can do as musicians is to think through things that could change, talk to the new pastor or priest about expectations, be flexible, and be forgiving of yourself while everyone gets used to the new rhythm of the services.

Photo by Kati Hoehl on Unsplash

Non-locomotor steady beat for internalization

Why move to the steady beat?

One of the most foundational concept for any music student is the need to internalize the steady beat. One effective way is to simply move to the beat. Well-known music pedagogues like Orff, Kodaly, Gordon, Dalcroze teach movement in different ways, but they all believed movement to music is essential in music education (Rose). It allows students to experience an abstract concept, and must take place before the theoretical learning. Steady beat internalization must be worked on consistently and become accurate before we can expect any kind of rhythmic accuracy. Phyllis Weikart in her book Teaching Movement and Dance says that”…rhythmic movement requires that a person be able to use space and time effectively. The ability to feel and indicate the beat (beat awareness) and the ability to walk to the beat (beat competency) create basic timing ability. Beginners have to use their basic timing ability and build beat coordination skill to achieve rhythmic competency” (5).

First stage of Movement

Weikart identifies the first stage of movement as nonlocomotor movement. It means the students will stay in one spot. This includes standing and sitting activities.

So What? …How to use this in the Piano Studio or Early Childhood Music Classes

In my early childhood classes and beginning piano lessons, we tend to pat our knees to the beat a lot (single bilateral symmetrical movements). But sometimes, I like to change it up. Over the past fifteen years I have compiled a list from workshops and classes of all the different non-locomotor steady beat motions presented. These presenters include Lynn Kleiner, Denise Gagne, Jo Kirk, Lisa Simmelink, as well as many others. List of Non-Locomotor Steady Beat Motions Please enjoy this free list of non-locomotor steady beat motions.  I hope that it can help refresh the non-locomotor steady beat motions you use in your music studio or classroom. CLICK TO DOWNLOADS: Non-Locomotor Steady Beat Motions Build the foundation of steady beat, and see how it affects a student’s rhythmic ability. Leave a comment on other non-locomotor motions you use to help students feel and internalize the steady beat.
Rose, P. (2016). Effects of movement, tempo, and gender on steady beat performance of kindergarten children. International Journal of Music Education, 34(1), 104–115. Weikart, Phyllis. Teaching Movement and Dance: A Sequential Approach to Rhythmic Movement. 3rd edition. 1989. High/Scope Press. Ypsilanti, MI

Analysis of Beginning Piano Literature Series Part One: Why analyze music?

“What do I teach, and when?”

Within my teaching career, both in the classroom and in private lessons, the above question has been my biggest obstacle. There is a lot to think about: What concepts do I teach, and in what order? What songs and pieces do I use to teach each concept? What concepts are developmentally appropriate for a child? And how do I know my students have mastered a concept and are ready to move on? 

Back when I was teaching in the classroom, I attended a Level 1 Orff class in an attempt to find the answers to these questions. Throughout the two week course, we learned so many wonderful musical activities that immersed the students in experiencing music. But at the end, I asked the instructors, “These are all great ideas. How do I know what to teach and in what order? How do I know my students have learned it and are ready to move on?” Their answer? “You’ll just know,” was an incredibly disappointing way to end the class. I didn’t know, that’s why I asked. 

I went back to my classroom, and my students loved the new activities. But that’s all they were — disjointed activities that had no logical sequence or progression. 

Five years after leaving the classroom to be a stay at home mom, I attended my first Kodaly Level Class. We focused on making music a JOY for students, and were inspired to become better musicians and teachers. We were introduced to a sequence. It was formed by music pedagogues, and used research on child development. This concepts outlined what concepts to teach, and in what order. We also learned how to prepare our students to experience, discover, understand, and internalize each musical concept. Heck, there were even sequences within the sequence for specific concepts. For example, there is a specific order in which to teach rhythm combinations of ta and ti-ti. Throughout the course, each concept was thoroughly and completely explained, and when I left I felt confident I had the resources, knowledge, and network to successfully implement it.

Part of this process is diving deep into folk literature. You write out the music using just rhythm and solfege. This is called tonic solfa. Then, you have specific items you are looking for, based on what you see in the tonic solfa. You look at the components that make up the song. From the knowledge of the smallest components, you can then decide WHEN you will use a song, HOW you will use a song in the classroom, and FOR WHAT PURPOSE.

Now, I was not at this point, and am still not, teaching in a classroom. Instead, I teach private piano and vocal lessons. While I have found a method I am confident is solid, my students enjoy, and I can alter to include sound before sight, I am still struggling with the order of which to beginning piano literature pieces to teach.

After much thinking, I came up with a plan to create an analysis form, similar to the one we used for Kodaly class, but tailored for piano literature. I posted a picture of the analysis form for beginning piano literature that I created on a Facebook Piano Pedagogy collaboration group. There was a lot of interest, as well as a lot of questions. The questions ranged from, “why would you do this?” and “How would this help you as a teacher?” All the questions were valid. This post answers the whys. The other parts of this series will explore other aspects of the analysis. 

Here are my reasons for wanting to analyze the beginning piano literature. The first reasons directly relate to with teaching the piece to the student:

  1. By analyzing each song, I will know what concepts each piece contains.
  2. By knowing what concepts are in each piece, I know if I need to create a preparation activity for it several weeks before introducing the piece to the student, and what concepts I can use it to reinforce.
  3. What are the most difficult aspects of this piece so I can adequately prepare a student before presenting them with the piece

The following are more long-term goals:

  1. What order should I present pieces, based on most difficult concepts?
  2. At what point can I eventually get away from piano method books, and instead use the piano literature only?
  3. What is the highest quality of piano literature available to teach each specific concept?
  4. What folk songs can I use to prepare concepts that are needed to perform beginning piano literature?
  5. Can I adapt the Kodaly sequence to fit the needs of beginning piano literature, using the knowledge of the requirements needed to perform the beginning piano literature as a consideration?

I have a series planned out on the analysis form. This is the first in the series, that explains the WHY behind the form. Of course, the “WHYs” cannot fully be understood until we finish the series. I hope that by explaining thoroughly what each section is about, and then finally, the application of it, the “WHY” is explained.