A call for an unlikely partnership

Posted on September 29, 2010


This is a long one, but I’m hoping (and praying, actually) you’ll hear me out.

Usually on Fridays I try to get together with Scott, the minister from my church. Typcially when we get together, we play some racquetball (where I unapologetically dominate him), eat some breakfast burritos and share in some open, honest fellowship time. At our most recent get-together, I talked to him about my new blog, a little bit about music, and how I  think that there are a lot of interesting comparisons that can be made between the classical music world and Christianity.

Certainly, both have something incredibly beautiful and life-enhancing to offer to society. And both have had, for some time now, beautiful traditions of how they share their life-altering substance with their communities. But in recent years, it has become clear not only that those traditions are being challenged (to say the least), but that both organizations are rapidly losing their ability to convince the general public that what they have to say or play is both important and meaningful. Even when they really are doing a good job of getting out into the community in meaningful ways with their respective messages, all anyone seems to hear anymore is “blah, blah, blah, I’m a dirty tramp.”

So with all these things and more in common (you might recall that the two used to be married for hundreds of years before music’s 19th century affair with all things secular which led to their ugly postmodern divorce), what if a classical music organization teamed up with a small church in their community (or a synagogue, mosque, etc.)? I mean, both sides want to increase their reach/impact in their community and to expose more people to the power of what they do, right?


(crickets sounds…)

In addition to being full of high comedy, I think that this kind of partnership could be extremely productive for both sides. ‘Cause when I say partnership, I’m not talking about the kind of “partnership” that arts organizations are accustomed to where their “partner” does the giving and the artists continue pretty much doing exactly what they were doing before the partnership (they just do it with a little more money in their pockets). I’m talking about a real, two-way partnership for one year between, let’s say, for the sake of a hypothetical example, a Christian church and a symphony orchestra, where both sides place a reasonable amount of organizational, financial, emotional, and even spiritual assets at risk in the interest of promoting what they love to a large group of people that may or may not even care that the other exists.

Can’t you picture it? The musicians, after attending Sunday morning worship services with the Christians shout out after the closing prayer, “Your God calls that music worship??!?! If I were Him, I’d strike all of you @#%! -ers dead! And also, why didn’t anyone sing that dotted rhythm on page 568?” Meanwhile the Christians, after their first night at the concert hall ask the symphony folks, “Why didn’t you play Pachabel Canon? I loved having that song in my wedding. And next time, could you play something by one of those new American composers, like Copland or Gershwin?”

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

Here’s how it would work:

The partnership would kick off with a light-hearted, low-cost social event for everyone on both sides (and maybe some curious friends of the Christians). A coin flip can decide which group hosts. Maybe there’s a short performance involved, and the church prays for the success of the partnership and the symphony’s season.

For the church’s end of the deal, they are expected to do three things:

1. A church of 200-250 people commits to buying 150 modestly discounted tickets for each of five different concerts of the symphony’s choosing during the symphony’s season. All church members of all ages are asked to attend at least one concert (but hopefully attend more) and are expected to help sell whatever remains of the 150 tickets for each concert to friends, family, neighbors, etc. so they can reach their per-concert commitment. That number of tickets may seem high, but this is a partnership, right? A commitment is required. It’s not unreasonable. Besides, it’s good practice/experience for Christians to be accountable to their own community for something.

The bigger the church, the more butts they should be expected to put into seats.

2.After each concert, the 150 people from the church commit to providing feedback about the concert/concert experience by either filling out a survey at the hall before leaving or participating in a concert “debrief” session with some symphony admin. staff and musicians before leaving (church patron’s choice). This provides the symphony with valuable insight into the thought process of hundreds of their non-Repertoire-loving community members about what they saw, felt and experienced at what may have been their first live classical music concert (I assume the symphony would WANT that information…)

3. The partner church’s minister, one (or more) church elders and four to six volunteers that are really excited about the partnership commit to attending all five concerts and sitting in on monthly committee meetings with symphony admin. staff, musicians and their collective forces of unoriginal thought, offering their insights and suggestions. (Don’t worry, musicians. Christians are GREAT in these kinds of meetings…)

In return, the symphony is also expected to do three things:

1. Attend worship services with the partner church Christians three to five times. Musicians, if the Christians can come into your musical church building and pay to do so, you should consider returning the favor and coming to their Jesus church building for free. If the symphony member can’t bear the thought of walking into the church or the union won’t permit it, they can sign up to be hosted for a meal by one of the partner church families a handful of times during the season. And if even THAT is still too personal and too risky, the symphony employee can volunteer to work eight hours with partner church members on a mutually agreed upon service project in the community. But the union should know that in theory, they may get more Jesus in someone’s home or on a service project site than they would at the church building.

Extra credit for symphony folks who do all three.

2. Planning, providing, and hosting social events for the Christians after each of the five concerts. If the Christians are selling tickets for your shows and trying to promote you to people in the community who in all likelihood have never heard you play before, it doesn’t hurt to be appreciative of their efforts, play nice and make some new friends.

3. Symphony CEO, Artistic Director and a couple of orchestra members/admin. staff volunteer to participate in the church’s monthly planning meetings with church staff, church volunteers and their collective forces of unoriginal thought, offering their insights and suggestions. (Don’t worry, Christians. Classical music types are GREAT in these kinds of meetings…)

Ok. You’re probably thinking that this is idiotic for lots of logical reasons. I mean, what happens when two atheist lesbians from the symphony show up at the fundamentalist Christian’s doorstep ready for dinner? Or when Christians and non-Christians start arguing about politics and religion over dinner in front of the kids? Or what about when a Christian from the church is confronted by a Christian in the orchestra about their sinful behavior at the most recent post-concert social? Or when a non-believing musician and a Christian catch eyes at worship service and realize that they recognize each other from their weekly A.A. meetings?

I’ll tell you what would happen. Community would happen.

For every awkward moment (and there would be a LOT of them), there would be four or five beautiful moments. Moments of laughter, moments of joy; moments where new friendships are are forged, new hobbies and interests are born, tears of reconciliation are shed and tired stereotypes are obliterated.

To wrap things up, both groups get together one last time at the “house” of whichever group didn’t host the kickoff event. At that time, the symphony brass (the admin. staff, not the musicians) praises the Christians for bringing in thousands of dollars for the symphony (along with tons of great word-of-mouth PR), and the church’s minister thanks the symphony employees in his best just-kidding-but-seriously voice for the opportunity the church was given to minister to and serve a demographic that is often ignored in church missions: middle-aged, mid-to-upper-class, educated white people (just kidding…but seriously). But more than sharing numbers and speeches, the night is about both sides sharing hilarious stories with each other about what it was like to spend an entire year doing the very thing that both sides avoided doing for so long but now want to find opportunities to do more often: spending time with people who aren’t like themselves.

Finally, the evening and the partnership come to a close with everyone raising their glasses of wine (or Martinelli’s) for a final toast to each other, led by the symphony CEO and the church minister:

“To the ________ Symphony and the _________ church: may you continue to strive to be your best in all you do. May you continue to stand up proudly for the beauty that you were born to share. And may you continue to be humble enough, open-minded enough, and (maybe even) desperate enough to welcome more partnerships like this one with others in the future.”

As someone who follows Jesus and makes a living making music, I cannot tell you how badly I want to see something like this happen. I know it’s a bit of a dangerous idea, but I want to encourage both sides to throw some caution to the wind and consider my proposal. I’d be happy to volunteer my services as a facilitator to the first group to contact me by email, no matter how big or small (yes, I said volunteer). So…churches, arts organizations: who’s got the guts?

D-d-d-do you have it?



(cricket sounds…)

Music I DARE you to listen to

No music this week. Wasn’t that long enough? But in next week’s post, if all goes according to plan, I’m breaking out a home video for the first time. Should provide you with a few good laughs at my expense. You won’t want to miss it.

So until next Wednesday, you stay classy Planet Earth. Or become classy. Whichever applies to you.

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Posted in: Faith, Music