One of the Lucky Ones
ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES – by Maria Bucka
I am one of the fortunate musicians who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s when organ music was at its prime, and traditional church music was both valued and unchallenged by secular trends. Like many organists, I began piano study at an early age- 4 years- and organ didn’t come into play until age 13. I was a piano purist and not at all interested in the organ- until I heard Dr. Paul Manz play in concert. Not long after that epiphany moment, the church music bug bit me. When I entered the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, as a double piano and organ major there were in excess of 100 organ students enrolled. Good teachers abounded, as the Twin Cities have always been a mecca for first-class church musicians. I have been privileged to study with Paul Manz, Heinrich Fleischer, Gerald Bales, Daniel Chorzempa, Larry Smith.
I was blessed to find a church organist position at age 16 when a prominent suburban church took a chance on hiring an inexperienced teenager- not a common occurrence then or now. The aphorism “Follow your passion and the money will follow”, did not happen to me until more than two decades later. In order to pursue my passion for church music, I supplemented my income by teaching privately and at Macalester College, accompanying choral groups, and even working at a non-music, part-time job.
In 52 years in the profession, I have been privileged to work in only two churches, total. I have served with only four Senior pastors. Currently, I serve as Organist/Director of Music at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Minneapolis- a vibrant and growing parish of just under 4000 members with a healthy employment culture, respectful colleagues and a responsive, enthusiastic congregation. I consider this position to be my authentic calling, the place where I am to fulfill my life’s work.
It has been my extreme good fortune to work with a creative, collaborative, and nurturing leadership that allows me to actualize my passion with a certain sense of freedom. There is a strong mutual trust factor. Without hesitation I state that I absolutely LOVE MY JOB! I can’t imagine doing anything else! Truth be told, I have to force myself to take vacations from my job! Playing for and creating a meaningful worship experience is a high calling and a true joy. So long as the good Lord grants me health I hope to play well into my 70’s. Never do I take this position or my good fortune for granted. I know many colleagues who have never shared a similar positive experience in church work.
My responsibilities include supervising 8 choirs and Directors, overseeing the budget and worship planning; leading 4-5 services weekly; funerals and weddings. Our parish has 3 beautifully traditional worship services and two others which are piano/Cantor led, incorporating different instrumentation and facilitated by another pianist/director (who works under my oversight).
During my tenure at Bethlehem, I have developed a Choir School, managed a summer children’s Art camp; performed many organ recitals; created two worship hymn supplements; developed a liturgical and arts design team; facilitated the production of several recordings; overseen the refurbishment of our 55 rank Casavant Freres pipe organ; and a host of special projects involving worship elements.
Additionally, I am the Founder and Artistic Director for the Bethlehem Music Series, now in its 31st Season. The Bethlehem Music Series has remained committed to presenting quality eclectic concerts to the community, wholly free of admission charge. It is the oldest on-going music series of its kind in the state of Minnesota and has become a respected and popular concert venue for this region. Programs are varied, ranging from sacred to secular and featuring choral, organ, piano, brass, gospel, bells, bluegrass, jazz, mime, orchestral, chamber music, bagpipes, Dixieland, drama, children’s programs. The highlight of our 30th Anniversary Year was an appearance by the celebrated male chorus, CHANTICLEER.
My personal professional career includes serving as Dean of the Twin Cities American Guild of Organists, 1991-1995. During that time the Guild developed an accessible salary guideline grid for computing equitable salaries for church musicians. It is still in use today. The Guild contacted local funeral homes and churches to communicate these guidelines in an effort to encourage equitable remuneration for area church musicians. We dealt with grievance issues and attempted to provide support for the chapter in suggesting available resources for healthy negotiation of employment terms. I continue to lead workshops on conflict resolution among musicians and clergy.
Mine has been a most gratifying and fulfilling career in that I was so fortunate to be led into a position that offers such ongoing variety and challenge. There are naturally, a few days in which I am exhausted but generally speaking, I am energized by the work itself. Each task propels me into the next- a new and exciting venture which I embrace with joy and an exuberant sense of the possible. Music and worship continue to feed my soul as nothing else does. I am always eager to discern the next challenge.