Summer is just around the corner. I am very much looking forward to doing things with my family that I don’t get to do in term-time — wearing shorts, eating Coco Pops, doing roly-polies down hills, foisting our two boys on the in-laws. I think the word ‘foist’ must have been invented with in-laws in mind — it seems to fit perfectly the action of ‘encouraging good relations between grandchildren and grandparents’.
Summer can also feel slightly bitty, especially if holidays are mixed in with helping on a Christian camp, attending weddings or going to the Olympics (I failed in my application for family tickets to the second round of the women’s weight-lifting, so no Olympics for me this century then). All this summer activity means a lot of coming and going through July and August, which is tough for churches musically, as in my experience musicians do more going than coming.
For this reason, it’s worth getting ahead with planning as much as possible so that we’re confident that there’ll be at least one musician to hold the fort at each church meeting.
Summer music planning doesn’t involve just the provision of music at our home churches. There are many opportunities to serve over the holidays and to get better at the skills we need back at home. For instance, we know how much Christian holiday parties help equip church members more effectively for service back at home. This is also very true for those who help with music. I learned some of the most important lessons about how to lead singing from the piano at the Christian summer holiday party I help on. I made some horrendous mistakes along the way, but making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.
Have a go
So, if you’ve got any type of musical skill at all (however small), why not volunteer to help with the music at a Christian holiday party? Musicians are always needed, and in my experience are (nearly) always hugely appreciated! It may seem a bit daunting to just throw yourself into it, but I was very inexperienced when I first played on my holiday party, so I used to practise on my own for over an hour before each meeting (for just four or five songs). That’s one of the beauties of holiday parties — you’re on site, so can always carve out time to practise if necessary.
Just have a go! A few years ago I was short of a drummer on my holiday party. A girl volunteered who’d only played the drums once before. The first couple of meetings were pretty ropey, but by the end of the week she’d got so confident that she felt able to serve back at her local church. Even more happily for me, I was running the music at that same church so I’d inherited another drummer! The point is that Christian holiday parties are a safe place to get things wrong and we’re really not expected to do everything perfectly. Everyone’s on our side and there’s always a good level of encouragement, if only because the sun’s out, everyone’s doing roly-polies down hills and they’re all eating Coco Pops too.
Opportunity to train
If you are slightly more experienced and always run the music on your holiday party, why not use the opportunity to step back and train others up? Christian holiday parties help us musicians to be much less territorial with ‘our’ music. It was very good for me when I was asked not to oversee the music one year. That’s because we could then help others gain confidence by letting them learn from the same mistakes that I made (and still make!). I was put in charge of the minibuses instead, which has a lot to do with me being quite old.
Finally, if you are the over-all leader of a holiday party (and even if you are not in the least bit musical) do think about asking someone to lead the music who might not be the first choice. You’ll be equipping your own holiday party with musicians for the future, but also your training will be much more widely appreciated as musicians gain experience and confidence to lead music in their local church.
Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.