We Need Each Other

by Bob Batastini

Bob Batastini is the vice president and senior editor of GIA Publications. This article was published in the GIA Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 1, © 2004, GIA Publications.

I write this having just returned from the NPM Convention in Phoenix. At one point during the convention a recurring thought surfaced—something that I find troubling. I thought about the fact that so many church musicians—persons who play the organ, or the piano, or the guitar, or direct the choir, or lead congregational singing week after week in their Roman Catholic parish church—have no association with NPM.

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians is not merely an organization for Catholic church musicians who wish to engage in the kinds of exchange that membership provides, but should be required of everyone who makes music in a Catholic parish. With 18,000 Roman Catholic parishes in the US, NPM membership should stand at over 30,000. But, sadly, although the NPM is a vibrant organization with a dynamic membership, it doesn’t come close to achieving that profile.
I’ve heard all the excuses.
“I’m just a volunteer.”
“I’m just an amateur.”
“NPM is too ‘high church.’”
“NPM is too contemporary-music oriented.”
“I’ve got a DMA (or PhD) and don’t have any real need to belong.”
“I have to do whatever Father says, so why bother learning about the things I ‘should’ do?”

Of course, any intelligent person can look as those excuses when lined up as they are and realize that they are all pretty thin. The reality of life in this community we call Church, is that no one who serves a community in any ministerial role whatever, should function in isolation. If you are a musician who plays one mass per week on the piano, you need NPM. If you are a volunteer choir director with no training, who just gets in there and does your best (“We hardly ever even sing in parts”), you need NPM. If you are Dr. Amadeus Muzak, with a major cathedral position having seven choirs, a four-story pipe organ, and a larger budget than many a small diocese, you need NPM.

The heart of the matter is this: If you fit any of those categories, you will find your equals among the NPM membership. NPM is not high church or contemporary church; it is not an association of volunteers or professionals; it is not for those who have a lot to learn or just for those who have it all figured out. NPM is all of that. And therein lies the reason why no Catholic church musician can justify excluding themselves from being a part.

If you accept the role of serving your parish community as a musician, then you take on the obligation to do your best—according to your own unique gifts, and, yes, limitations. Unless you are an expert, you will always have something to learn. If you are an expert, you have an obligation to give! If you struggle because the pastor (or DRE, or school principal) won’t listen to one single thought you ever have on the subject of liturgical music, come and join the best support group on the planet. If you’ve figured out how to work well within a parish team, come and share some of your insights.

Don’t ever feel you are not good enough to step up into NPM membership. NPM continually offers skill sessions designed especially for those who feel they have a lot to learn. But you can’t benefit from these programs if you are not involved.

About the question of high church–contemporary church (and a whole lot in between): Well, speaking for myself, there is music which I feel is most appropriate for Roman Catholic liturgy, and there is music I feel is significantly less appropriate, at best. Do I hear and sing it all at NPM conventions? Do others feel the same way, but would disagree on what music fits which category? Yes. It’s a tension that exists because we live in the real world. So long as the tension exists, there will be dialog. Dialog leads to continual change. If you don’t like the way things are evolving in church music today, you have only yourself to blame if you don’t participate in the dialog. It’s similar to the person who doesn’t vote in the presidential election but then complains about the outcome.

Phone the National Association of Pastoral Musicians at 240-247-3000, or log on to www.npm.org. The folks who fill the pews in your parish want you to call now!