My life changed in mid-March of this year, as did everyone else’s. We all were faced with how to keep as many things going as before. But we also tried to adjust our lives, learn new technology, take on new tasks, and dispense with routines we took for granted. Me – I grumbled a lot. I balked at tackling any of the new technologies facing me for virtual choir. I asked for help but not in the form it came. I refrained from asking for help when I should have. Some “great ideas” crashed and burned on the launch pad. Other ideas I elected to keep to myself.
Soon I started hearing about people getting sick and others being furloughed from the work. What pre-occupied my life – learning how to make and send audio and visual files, keeping in touch with my ensembles and helping members to keep in touch with each other, where to find masks, when to wear them, how to nurse my voice on Sunday mornings, how to keep my organ-playing technique from disappearing, exactly how far apart is six feet, what’s open, what’s closed – all those things started to move to the back burner. Then when I learned about people dying, being evicted, losing their homes, their jobs permanently and their businesses, my preoccupations all but moved off the stove entirely. Within a week, I lost two of my organ professors. These devastating developments were changing everything for me. And because everything was changing, I was reflecting on life very differently from the way I had before the pandemic.
This brings me to where God is in all of this. Is God asking me to undertake this new reflection? If God has a purpose in all things, especially during tragic times, am I being invited to go deeper into the larger questions that have pursued me throughout my church music vocation but with which I only dealt at the surface?
The most dramatic change in my life is how I see a difference between needs and wants. Music is one of those areas at which these two qualities collide. It is tempting to begin a sentence with “The music we need at St. Matthew’s is…” and then state a preference, declare a like (or a dislike), or make a request. Are these needs? Or someone might say “I want music that brings me a sense of hope” – a desire that may disguise a real need to quell overwhelming despair. Will I overlook the need?
I have repeatedly heard that the heart and soul of a congregation are the conversations that take place among its members. Ministry through conversation must include us leaders knowing what works and what does not and our responding with why we have made certain choices over the past seven months. How is music at St. Matthew’s sustaining you these days? Because our opportunities for music in worship are limited, what other music are you turning to for sustenance during these times? Have your preferences changed? Are there new priorities in your life? What music supports you in those new priorities? How can we at St. Matthew’s help? What music do you want? What music do you need?
For me to understand the importance of asking these questions may be the clearest direction God has given me yet. With trust in God I pray that we are witnessing the divine purposes God has for us through all of our conversations during this time.
—David Arcus, Music Director & Organist