Monday, July 21, 2014

NPM Convention: A Retrospective and a Question

Monday morning greetings from "back home" here in Chicago.

I wanted to spend some time sharing memories and photos of last week's NPM convention with you.

Sunday evening, at sunset, I walked down to the "Arch" in Saint Louis, just a beautiful spot.

On Monday morning, we began setting up the WLP booth in the exhibit hall. We had some cool new crates that had been constructed by our warehouse team here in Chicago. Here's WLP editor Keith Kalemba next to the new huge crate.

After spending time in the exhibit hall helping our team set up the WLP booth, it was time for me to find a quiet place to prepare for my keynote address. I went into the convention hall and this was my view from the speaker's platform. Probably shouldn't have gone in there before the presentation!

At any rate, the time arrived for the keynote. Here I am, nervously awaiting the introduction. Something happened in the building just before I was to speak; someone opened a dock door somewhere, causing a massive shift in air pressure in the building. I could hear things behind me being knocked down and then the wall behind me began to buckle forward and small pellets of styrofoam began falling from the ceiling; just like it was snowing! Anyway, there I sat, waiting.

Then the time came and I mustered all my energy to deliver the keynote address, certainly one of the most challenging moments of my life: Good News for a Wounded People.

About halfway through the keynote, I said this: "Several years ago, when the topic and description for this keynote presentation was formulated, we were in a very different place as a Church. When I accepted the invitation to speak with you today on this topic, there was one thing in our Catholic life that had note yet come to the surface. And this factor has apparently begun to make a significant difference in our world."

It was at that moment that I flashed an image of Pope Francis up on the jumbo screens. I took my next breath, expecting to go on with the talk when the crowd erupted into applause. And that applause went on, and on, and on. It was a powerful moment.

I focused on the pastoral musician's need to embrace the phrase from Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi: "We exist in order to evangelize." Here was a centerpiece of the keynote:
"Each and every time you open that responsorial psalm as a cantor, take your breath, and begin to sing the sacred words, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis. Each and every time you pick up your flute, your oboe, your guitar, your drumsticks, your violin, your handbells, as you prepare to inspired God’s people with the gift of music, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis.  Each and every time you work for hours on end to shape a choral sound that brings beauty and dignity to the liturgy, yours is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis. When the hymn is announced and you are at the ready with your hands and feet positioned to begin the introduction at the organ or piano, what you are about to do is no less a deeply ecclesial ministry of evangelization than the ministry of Pope Francis."
My feelings when it was all over? Humble. Relieved. A heavy sense of respnsibility. Grateful to so many for so much powerful feedback.
Tuesday afternoon and it was time for WLP's choral music showcase. A photo of the rehearsal for the showcase, capably and gracefully led by our own Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson.

And of course it is not all serious all the time. Here is a selfie I took with Paul French as we prepared to begin the showcase.

I had kind of dreaded what the weather was supposed to be like in Saint Louis in the middle of July. But the polar vortex had other ideas and the daytime temps were in the 70's, which made walks in the downtown area comfortable and relaxing.

On Wednesday evening, WLP sponsored two events. One was held at the Shrine of Saint Joseph, "Music She Wrote," which featured works by WLP's fine women composers. It was a delightful one hour. Here is a shot of the interior of the church.

An hour later, we sponsored a musical event featuring WLP's composer, artist, arranger, and editor Ed Bolduc and musicians from his parish, Saint Ann's in Marietta, Georgia. Again, a delightful one-hour of music making in a contemporary genre. Here's a cool shot I took of Ed at the piano.

I was overwhelmed all week with the pride and gratitude I feel for the many people here on the WLP staff, our composers, workshop presenters, artists, and musicians. It was a wonderful week.
There is only one disappointment about the week; there simply were not enough people in attendance. We work so hard and it has been getting more disappointing each year as the numbers don't seem to grow. We have lots of confidence, however, in Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, the NPM new president, as he begins his leadership position. This is an open forum, so if you are one of those who did not attend, I would love to hear the reasons why. Thanks for any comments you want to share.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray. 


Alan Hommerding said...

Obviously, I don’t count as one who wasn’t in attendance at the convention.
As was pointed out to us in the opening session, roughly 1/3 of NPM’s total membership was in attendance. I found myself wondering how convention attendance tracks in terms of percentage of membership, since this actually is a pretty high number—higher than the percentages that organizations like Hymn Society or AGO get at their annual/national gatherings. Underlying the drop in real numbers of attendees, of course, is the decline in numbers of the organization’s membership. NPM isn’t the only group or organization (especially church-connected) going through this phenomenon. In addition to what is happening to our own Roman Catholic population in terms of numbers of parishes, in the society/culture at large we are in a time when joining and belonging to groups or organizations is also on the wane.
There are a number of other factors and trends (economic, socio-economic, technological, and cultural—the growing number of “spirituals” or “nones” in the general population) that contribute as well. Too often we think that there is a “thing” we can do that will fix all of this. More likely, it will be a set of strategies that are put in place. I think that NPM’s membership drive is an important first strategy.

Steve Raml said...

Apologies for being a couple days late in commenting. I'm catching up on the weekend - and I was able to catch the final 20 minutes of your presentation thanks to the PrayTell livestream (bummer about the technical difficutlies).

After being an annual attendee at NPM conventions for more than 20 years, and chairing the 2004 Regional in Phoenix, I have been only an occasional attendee in the past eight years because I was looking for an educational opportunity of greater depth.

I've attended a couple sessions of Notre Dame's (now defunct) SummerSong program that was a huge help in implementing the Roman Missal 3rd Edition. And I've found the Steve Janco led Rensselear progam at St. Joseph's very good. This year, I joined Alan Hommerding and about 100 other attendees at St. John's for the Liturgy, Music and the Arts conference. These smaller conference/educational programs have been much more challenging than the NPM sessions. I have also been a regular at the Southwest Liturgical Conference study weeks, and the extravaganza that is the LA Religious Ed Congress.

But one of my larger concerns is the cost of attending an NPM convention. With the large numbers expected, NPM has to choose settings that have a large convention hall - and that means the very expensive hotels go along with those venues(this year's hotels averaged $140 per night). As an example, the ENTIRE cost of my stay at St. John's for the June conference (registration, dorm housing and meals) was about what it would have cost me for registration alone for NPM.

If NPM could find a way to lower the cost - and I understand the difficulty in meeting the needs of exhibitors in a smaller venue (but SWLC does it) - I would once again be a regular attendee.

Carrie Shultz said...

I agree with Steve...cost has really become an issue. I certainly can't afford it on my own (less than average) salary and our parish can't afford to send me anymore. I used to be a faithful participant in the conventions year after year, but I haven't gone for awhile due to cost. As much as I loved going, in my opinion, I think it needs to be scaled down. We are serving the Church, not there to support rock star performers and people in the world pay to see overpaid performers.
The other factor is that, truthfully, I don't feel that our Church Music Leaders are doing enough to foster and support the change that needs to be taking place in our Church to draw more folks in. The Catholic Church is losing people left and right, while the "mega-churches" are filling up. What are we doing to change that? Nothing, that I can see, when it comes to music and Liturgy. The conventions are nice, and I DO enjoy going to them, but for the cost it's not what my pastor and I believe to be worth the time and money to invest when we're struggling as it is. It's the same things year after change. But the Church needs to change in some areas. Not sure when we're gonna come to that realization.

Scott Pluff said...

In my experience, NPM serves a limited segment of liturgical musicians. The membership primarily includes full-time or half-time salaried music directors of the larger city parishes. These are not well represented: youth ministry/LifeTeen musicians, ethnicities other than Anglo, youth and young adults, people who serve in non-salaried musical roles (instrumentalists, choir directors, choir members, cantors), and people from smaller and rural parishes.

NPM promotes a model of having an educated, certified, salaried professional musician at the helm of every parish's music ministry. This is a great model, but neglects the reality in many parishes.