A Publisher's Perspective
ROBERT J. BATASTINI
The focus of this session is on music in the African American Christian church. My small part in this presentation is that of a church music publisher who has made a significant commitment to serving the African American church. And though I am wearing my publisher's hat, when addressing church musicians I always like to make it known that on this past July first I retired from a career of forty-seven years as a parish musician: first, because it's in my bloodso to speakand secondly, because I have always felt that my parish work informed what I do as a church music publisher. So...a few words from the publisher's perspective.
We need only to read the letters to the editor in the American Guild of Organists' magazine to know that it is often said that a lot of what is wrong with church music is the fault of music publishers. "If they wouldn't flood the church with music of poor quality, the church would be left only with what is worthy." If it were only that simple.
We live in a market driven society. In other words, what people want, people get. Those who are able to supply consumer wants generally manage to stay in business. Also, to say that poor church music is the fault of music publishers seems to absolve the church itself from any responsibility for what it chooses to sing.
If there were no market for lite beer, no one would manufacture it. Because there is a huge market, every major brewery has a lite version of its brand. Today there is plenty of what some would like to call lite church music, and any publisher that is going to survive must feed that market to some extent. Yet I hope to be judged as a publisher, not on what we do just to stay alive in our industry, but on the other uses to which we put that positive cash flow.
One example dates back nearly twenty years. My firm, GIA, learned that the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus was exploring the possibility of developing a hymnal for African American Catholicsa hymnal that would be faithful to both Roman Catholic and African American traditions. Since this had never been done before, the idea quickly sparked interest at GIA. We have always been attracted to the exploration of new, uncharted territories. A need obviously existed, and we were philosophically aligned with the concept. We approached the NBCCC, made a proposal, and as a result after several years of compilation and editorial workbecame the publisher of the first ever hymnal of its type, Lead Me, Guide Me.
Jumping ahead five years, in 1992 GIA was approached by an ad hoc group of African American Protestants (clergy and musicians) who were members of mainstream denominations currently in the process of developing new denominational hymnbooks. While these African American congregationswhich represented only about ten percent of their respective denominationsnonetheless supported the denominational hymnbook efforts, they were fully conscious of the fact that the New Century Hymnal of the United Church of Christ, and the Chalice Hymnal of the Disciples of Christ, would fall short of meeting the needs of African American congregations.
Having become aware of Lead Me, Guide Me, this ad hoc group approached GIA and inquired whether or not we would consider publishing a not-so-Catholic version of that hymnal, with perhaps an appended supplement.
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