VI Ordering of music in church

The organist at our church insists on filling every moment in the liturgy with music and will not play anything written since 1958 (the death of Vaughan Williams). Supported by the choir, he says that as he is the only musically qualified person in the church he should decide all matters concerned with music. Is he right? Meanwhile, arrangements are being made for a large wedding next year and the bride’s mother says that since she will be paying for the church she will decide the music. Is she right?

The organist must not play the organ before, during or after the service contrary to the directions of the incumbent. So, for example, if the incumbent decides that Holy Communion shall be received in silence, his direction must be followed.

Canon B20 states that the incumbent must ‘pay due heed to [the organist’s] advice and assistance in the choosing of hymns, anthems, and other settings… but at all times the final responsibility and decision in these matters rests with the minister.’ The incumbent is under a duty ‘to ensure that only such chants, hymns and anthems, and other settings are chosen as are appropriate, both the words and the music, to the solemn act of worship and prayer in the House of God as well as to the congregation assembled for that purpose, and to banish all irreverence in the practice and performance of the same.’

If the organist refuses to play a worthy hymn tune written in the last fifty years (such as Guiting Power for the hymn Christ triumphant), he will probably be in breach of his contract and liable to have it terminated. Normally termination can only be by the incumbent with the agreement of the PCC, but the archdeacon may dispense with the agreement of the PCC. This might be appropriate in this case if many choir members are also on the PCC.

The bride’s mother cannot dictate the choice of music at the wedding. Where matrimony is to be solemnized in any church, ‘it belongs to the minister of the parish to decide what music shall be played, what hymns or anthems shall be sung, or what furnishings or flowers should be placed in or about the church for the occasion’ [Canon B38, ยง5].

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