Every so often, I think it’s important to ask the question “why?” – especially as it relates to my work. As in, “Why do I write church music?” A lot of my readers could ask themselves the same question, or a variation of it: “Why do I work in church music?”
In a time when church music is in great upheaval, when theological debates abound over the very nature of music in the church, and the financial rewards for our efforts continue to diminish, it’s not a bad idea to check one’s motivations. So, why do I continue to create music for the church?
When I exited college, I chose to write radio and TV jingles, mostly because the opportunity sort of fell into my lap. It was fun work, and it paid pretty well for the effort. I stopped writing jingles when the work became mundane, repetitive, and increasingly scarce. I changed course to focus on music for the church, both in the choral world and the recording artist world.
To be honest, I chose this course partly for financial reasons. Back then (in the 1990s) one could earn a decent living writing and producing Contemporary Christian music for artists and for the church. But it wasn’t a purely financial decision at all. I also chose church music because of who I am and what is important to me as a creative person.
Not to put a metaphysical twist on it – but in a way, church music chose me. My particular skill set (songwriter, arranger, orchestrator, producer), coupled with my faith, made for a solid match with church music. It was almost as if church music beckoned me. And for a long time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to write all sorts of church music, in a high-quality Christian publishing culture, and was rewarded well for my work.
Things changed. (And that comes as a surprise to no one in the church music.) I wrote in a previous blog that the era of commercial success in church music might well have been an outlier, an aberration from the norm, and perhaps we are returning to the old Patronage System. (You can read it here.) Regardless, not that long ago, I asked myself again, “Why church music?” And the answer was certainly not “for the money.”
No, I continue to create church music because of who I am, and Whose I am. Because it’s what I was made to do. Because until the Lord shows me another way (and He well may), this is the best use of my talents.
So I have taken a new tack in my course. Like the Magi, I am trying to get “home by another way.” In addition to working with traditional music publishers like Shawnee Press, I have undertaken to publish my own music at my website. It is a daunting thing to be the creator and publisher, the writer and the editor, the artist and the engineer. But this is the work that chose me. So I’ll do it till I can no longer.
That’s my WHY. What’s yours?
(Adapted from a blog post at robertsterlingmusic.com)