I took piano lessons for a couple of years when I was a teenager, but it was never my first instrument. My classical guitar was my primary. Several years ago, I realized that the dear lady who played the organ at our tiny mission church was pretty much the only Catholic musician on our mountain. I started taking piano lessons with the goal of getting good enough to substitute for her. I figured there were times she could use a break.
As it happened, our organist/ cantor moved to another part of the state, and for a while, we were struggling week by week to find musical solutions. I mentioned to J, who became the main music leader for both the little Catholic churches on our mountain, that I could play a bit. That was how I got where I am now about 5 months later, playing both churches about twice a month. The other potential player started going to college, and others have to drive 50 plus miles to get here, not really that practical a solution.
So OK. … the first couple of tries were really rough. I knew they would be. I was way outside my comfort zone. Beyond actually being able to play, and knowing the basic logistics of where to find the microphones and how to set them up, there are a whole host of other tiny things that are about timing and persona and can’t really be taught. They have to be picked up on the journey. J taught me the logistics very carefully, which was huge because I never was lost on that front. She told me “some days just don’t go well, no matter how long you’ve been doing this or how much you prepare” and I basically tattooed that on my music-leader persona, which got me through the first hundred or so glitches that come from nerves and just inexperience. But it was rough. I even woke up sometimes at night hearing myself say to myself “Why did you think you could do this again?” and “there’s no fool like a middle-aged fool”. I knew those were just glitches too, but it still was hard to actually live through.
Around the beginning of Lent, I finally had what I would call a “good” mass in the sense that I met my reasonable expectations and things went smoothly for the most part. (All the masses were good in the sense that they were masses, I was doing my part, the congregation was kind, etc). After that, I could more or less expect the normal music lot, where there are ups and downs, but there was a basic degree of competence and I was past the initial state of controlled panic.
Now I am dealing with things like getting better at singing with a mic, singing while playing, improving my accompaniments, developing my hospitable persona so the congregation doesn’t start twitching while I’m making announcements, and so on.
The thing that I didn’t really expect when I started planning to sub for M, 3 or 4 years ago, is how the musician is one of the visible faces of the church. When I was raising my kids, I stayed very much in the background at church. I didn’t like it, because it wasn’t how I was raised, but I felt strange in the church body.
Now I am part of the visible body, and am realizing the ministry part of the thing more than I would have predicted. I think of Paul’s passage about the members of the body of Christ. In the church, a bunch of people with different degrees of talents find ways to work together smoothly. There are rough spots that are because of gaps in their skill sets, but those are in themselves only artifacts. The part that involves human choice is how to deal with the gaps and rough parts. There’s the demonic way and then the way Paul describes it in his passage on love or rather, caritas. Besides being just, you know, good to do things in this Pauline way, it’s also a practical road map for how to function in communities. It’s kind of the circulatory system of the Body. A lot of businesses and the like, in the secular world, try to figure out approximations and strategies to imitate this real thing… or ways to fake it to fool people and take advantage of them. Anything that can be considered a body beyond sheer unit individualism has to approach this circulatory thing in some way. I haven’t had much experience functioning in communities beyond family etc and I am learning a lot by trial and error how to smooth the paths, hold up my end, etc.
Yesterday, Palm Sunday vigil services, the first one went really smoothly all in all, and the second one was glitchy, on my end and others’ — just a really rough production. The nice thing about mass, though, is that though smoothness adds dignity and grace, nothing non-essential can really detract from the heart of it. And though the roughness reminded me of some of those early days when I was first starting, I had some skillz that I didn’t have then, and have lost the anxiety part of it, so it’s different.
Still, that doesn’t mean I am not thinking about what went wrong in the parts I am connected to, and what I can do to avoid the glitches next time. In the original Palm Sunday to Good Friday sequence of events, which we dramatize in mass with a 3-voice reading, you could describe the events as extremely glitchy. The stupid crowd, going from rejoicing and praising to shouting for death. Peter’s massive screw-up and betrayal, not to mention the embarrassing fiasco of the servant’s severed ear. The notion of the traitor’s kiss — whose idea was that? The whole bureaucratic weirdness of Jesus being passed from the Jewish religious leaders to Rome’s jurisdiction to Herod. The casting of lots for the seamless garment. Judas throwing the traitor’s silver back at the council and then them deciding solemnly how to use it. If you made a list of all the human, grotesque particulars of the whole thing, it would be like a grim satire, but meanwhile this event of immense significance and continuity was going on unwrenched and undistorted at the same time.
I was so tired when we got home that I fell asleep while watching The Arrow with the family, then while eating dessert, then while reading my kindle. Now it’s pretty late Sunday morning and I hear everyone else up and the baby calling for “Mum!” (the word we use for me, grandma, because the way she says grandma sounds like how she says mama, and she’s heard me called “MOM!” by the boys, so she was labeling me that anyway). I also can smell bacon.