My apologies if Washington City Paper readers are tired of reading about church-choir singers (“Bible Belting”, 9/30; The Mail, 10/7, 10/14, 10/21), but this story seems to have scandalized the D.C. church-choir community—after three weeks, the letters are still rolling in. Because my views and quotes were a major focus of the article, I feel that I should respond to my colleagues and letter writers to clarify how I view my work as a church musician.
I had a number of interviews with the reporter, Huan Hsu, and I do not dispute any of the quotes attributed to me. He did, however, leave out a great deal of context, and I was surprised that he did not actually attend a church service where I was singing (though he did visit part of a rehearsal). One of the points that I tried to emphasize is that I take my role as a leader of worship very seriously and respectfully, no matter what the denomination of the church in which I’m singing. I explained the inherent difficulties of “learning a religion” in which one was not raised, and how it can sometimes be difficult to get in touch with my own spiritual center when I have to be on my toes “working” throughout the church service. Hsu asked me numerous times “what it takes” to succeed as a professional church-choir singer, and my consistent answer was: punctuality, dependability, good sightreading skills, and reverence for the fact that you are, indeed, singing in a church. I was also honest that there is, indeed, at times quite a bit of irreverency behind the scenes, though certainly not from every singer.
Additionally, I spoke frankly about the fact that, as a woman chorister, I have no opportunities in D.C. such as those afforded to the National Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, where professional church choir singers can make a decent living. Church-choir directors and organists are able to find salaried positions that allow them to devote their lives to their callings much more easily than singers can. I really enjoy singing in churches and being a positive part of worshippers’ spiritual experiences, but as a professional vocalist who doesn’t have a day job, I’m forced to see it as a temporary situation until I can “make it” in my secular vocal career. I spoke of how a church job is a necessary part of piecing together a living as a classical singer, and is very rarely the main “gig,” but just one of many. The spiritual rewards, which I never intended to undermine, are great (especially when the congregation is appreciative), but the rent must still be paid.
To correct a specific point: The second paragraph of the article stated that the visiting churchgoer from Poland didn’t know that I was not a member of St. Peter’s—I in fact told her immediately that I am not Catholic, and related this part of the conversation to Hsu. I then tried to answer her question on the basis of my own experiences in American Catholic churches.
If my comments and profile offended my friends and colleagues, and parishioners at churches where I have sung, I am sincerely and deeply apologetic. I was by no means speaking for the entire community, and I am very regretful that over four hours of interviews with Hsu was boiled down to a portrait of me as cynical mercenary spokesperson for professional church musicians everywhere.