It's a Privilege
Privilege. That word is so loaded with meaning these days. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word several ways, including these: first, “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group,” and second, “Something regarded as a special honour.”
I think our role as church musicians melds the two meanings in a unique way. We have special rights and advantages granted to us by our experience and training to lead services in the church. Personally, the second meaning resonates most with me when I’m leading the music for someone’s funeral or memorial—the whole process feels like an honour.
It is a privilege to meet with a grieving family, to hear their stories and listen to their thoughts about the music—and to think to yourself, “Oh boy, how am I going to pull that together?” And yet, in that special moment, you assure them you will find the perfect solution. Who best to call to hire a Dixieland group? How do I find, download, and learn the latest pop song? Where can I contact the right singers to do an opera duet? It is a privilege to respond, “Yes, I can do that.”
I also recognize that I’ve been privileged because I have spent a lot of my years working in urban areas where I had a large pool of professional and semi-professional musicians to call on, and those musicians were generally paid decently. This made responding in the affirmative easier, knowing I could likely find the right person for the job.
Even if I didn’t know the deceased person, I felt privileged to attend the service. What an honour to share in an intimate, yet public moment with the family, to hear the mix of emotions as they celebrate their loved one, to think, “Wow, I wish I had known this person (better).” It was a privilege to be in a place where it was acceptable to wear my emotions on my sleeve and to laugh and grieve with those who were celebrating someone special in their lives.
It was even a privilege to bend our own rules sometimes. At most places I’ve worked, we’ve had a general rule of no recorded music. However, there have been exceptions, and some of them occurred at funerals; for example, at a service where two daughters with amazing voices took those voices into the studio to record something so they could offer their gift at the service and not be worried about singing while overcome with grief. I also remember a service for a musician who had recorded several of their own pieces to be played during the memorial—so difficult and so marvellous at the same time!
Funerals and memorials are places where we can use our privilege to serve others. But there are many others as well. So, yes, I think as church musicians, we are privileged!