Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Respecting Religious Diversity

This week I was faced with a tough situation. I need a place for my next recital. The retirement home we usually host at is too small for my growing program to hold all of our students, teachers, families, and friends. A good problem, but still, a problem. Several of my students attend a somewhat controversial religious center, and the members of this organization were kind enough to offer their building to me, complete with a PA and Microphones, a warm up room, and a lovely outdoor patio for parents to relax while kids do warm ups! On top of that, the performance space is beautiful. I was so excited. But then, when I told the parent of one of my other students, she got tense, and said that it would be a sin for her to go in that building. A sin? I was not prepared for this. 

I am no stranger to being a religious minority. After living in the most religiously diverse city in the country, Los Angeles, for 5 years, I have learned a lot about being around religious cultures different from my own. Most people associate LA with plastic surgery and celebrities, but there is much more spiritual activity than you may think here in Hollywood. We have Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and everything in between. But, my experience goes back much further than that. I was raised in a religion that was not only a minority in the town I grew up in, but a hated minority. Whenever I told people what religion I was, I braced myself for the verbal attacks of being told I would go to hell because of the affiliation. It hurt. In my public school, we sang many songs that were of the city’s common religion. I kind of liked some of the songs, but I have to admit that every time I sang many of them, I was reminded of my minority status. So due to that, I am extremely sensitive to religious differences. I don’t teach songs that are blatantly religious, unless I know what the child’s religious background is, and I can choose appropriate songs.  I have a colorful spectrum of religions among my students from Wiccan to Episcopal, to Orthodox Jewish, to Kabbalist, to Evangelical Christian. I love it! I love being around so many different faiths all the time, but I got hit a new one when that parent told me it would be a sin for her to enter a religious building not of her faith. I have been in Buddhist Temples, Jewish Synagogues, Mormon Churches, Baptist Churches, Catholic and Episcopal Cathedrals. To me, I find it fascinating to learn about different faiths. So to hear someone say they would be committing a sin. Wow. What do I do? For the first time ever, I was speechless. I certainly don’t want to make anyone commit a sin, but I also don’t want to leave anyone out. What do I do? Well, she offered to let me use her religious center’s building. Great. Only problem is that it is not handicap accessible, and there is not a piano, just a Yamaha Clavinova.

The recital is 2 months away, and I need to have a recital location. Part of me wonders if I should just keep the original place, and search for a place in the student’s faith that she will be able to enter for the next one. I feel that at least 2 of my other students will have the same problem. I think everyone else in my program is neutral enough that they will not be plagued with the fear of committing a sin by entering a different religion’s building. I want to respect everyone’s religion, but is there a limit to trying to please everyone? 

I still have not come up with an answer. I’m not entirely sure what the right thing is to do. Any suggestions? I’m open to your responses. 





About the Author

Bella Payne
While working on a degree in Sociology with plans to become a Social Worker, I fell into teaching piano lessons as a way to pay my bills. I had no idea I was stumbling into a totally fulfilling, creative and exciting career! Every day, I teach several students in their homes, in my home, and online how to play piano from scratch. Over the last 10 years, I have seen kids and adults go from timid b... [Read more]


  1. dveej

    I feel that in general today, there is way too much accommodation to people who want to set themselves apart (and exclude whole groups of others) for whatever reason. I have played for ballet classes in which a little six-year old would sit down and refuse to participate because the teacher had asked me to play some Christmas music for the kids to run around in the center of the room, and this kid was a Jehovah’s Witness. So are all the rest of us supposed to jump when this happens? Sorry – I have nothing against JWs, but I don’t think it’s fair to edit my life to please them, and nor do I think it is fair to take away things like Hallowe’en from the American culture because someone thinks it’s against their religion. Gets me mad just thinking about it.
    The thing is, those of you who are thinking “oh, the Poor, Poor religious minorities” here are discounting that quite often these same religious minorities are the first ones to discriminate against other minorities. Maybe it’s poetic justice – I don’t know. But I live in the greater LA area, and I rent out churches for my recitals, and if a student refused to play because it was in a church she felt was sinful, I would consider it a learning opportunity. For her – not for me and the rest of my students. She needs to learn how to live in society, especially if she is going to place this kind of limitation on her own life. It is not fair or right to edit our lives to make this kind of person comfortable.

  2. mfeiszli

    tough situation. The local piano stores in our city offer their showroom twice a year to the local MTNA group to host their recitals. It’s a beautiful musically-oriented location and a perk for the store having so many musical families visit their establishment. Maybe that could work for you.

  3. Amy

    This is difficult, but I’ve never run into this with any of my parents, even the ones who are ardent atheists. You are not asking them to attend a religious ceremony at the location, simply using their facilities. Maybe you can ask that parent to find a location that has no religious affiliation that meets your requirements for your recital; i.e a real piano, and enough space for x number of students.

  4. Steve Romande

    Let her go…..she will undermine your studio.

  5. Paula

    I like the idea of having the parent find a location that is not affiliated with any religion. Let her know that you have students of many different religions and you don’t want to offend any of them, that you are set for this recital, but would welcome her help for the next one. By the way….isn’t the whole point of any religion to learn to get along with each other, be tolerant, kind and charitable? No?! That has been my experience.

  6. Christine O'Meally

    My initial thought was, “Oh, For God’s Sake,” and then I realized, “Well, yeah.” I agree with what dveej said – she has to learn to get along with all sorts of people. You’re not asking them to worship there, only to perform. If she believes that this setting would undermine her faith or her daughter’s faith, well, then she must be worried that her faith isn’t all that strong.

  7. Shannyn

    If she is that upset about going into the building, let her know that you are sensitive to her situation, but that is the place where the recital will be this time. Like it was said before, you are not asking her to attend a service, just simply to participate in a non-religious recital. If she still is upset, let her know that she doesn’t need to attend the recital, but that she will have to explain to her child why she can’t have that performance opportunity. I wouldn’t give in to her. You can’t please everyone. And for the next recital, try to find a non-religious venue.

  8. Michelle Payne

    Well, here’s an unexpected update: 3 families have told me they will not go there! THREE! Unbelievable. While I am personally horrified by the pettiness of this issue, a business is a business, so I am just going to find a different place. I have to, because I haven’t even told everyone and I’m worried that if I do, it will get too controversial.

  9. Emily Jorgensen

    Well, it sounds like you have decided to change venues. One thing that has worked for me, when student absolutely cannot come to a recital, I ask the parents to arrange a family and friends recital at their home at another time. I actually enjoy getting to attend these, as I understand the student much more after visiting their home. If I cannot attend, I simply ask them about it at the next lesson. In some cases, a few families have even joined together at one family’s home to do this–the recitals are short, about 20 minutes, and there are refreshments and mingling afterward. I want the students’ hard work to be acknowledged and appreciated, but I respect that piano is not the only thing in their life and sometimes there are valid priority issues. Having a formalized performance opportunity, even if only for grandma coming over and everyone dressing up, still meets those needs. Good luck!

  10. Bonnie Kreutz

    I actually had a student quit because of similar situation a few years ago. They didn’t tell me before the recital – they just didn’t come to the next lesson or answer any of my phone calls. I heard the reason why from someone else later. I agree that perhaps you are better off without these students but 3 is a lot to loose. On a similar note – I have 2 families now that are of different religions that would rather not participate in events on Saturday but have never complained. I am changing my future recitals to Friday evenings to accomodate them because they are so nice about it.

  11. Ilana Kennell

    Have you checked with public libraries?

  12. Jennifer Thomas

    Wow, well I can see you already made a decision. But I just now read your article and was surprised at this student’s parents reaction. That is such a touch situation. I like what several people above said, about the fact that it is not a religious ceremony and they aren’t being asked to paticipate in one. But…again 3 students is a lot and it would have created some controversy and perhaps a negative atmosphere at the recital. I hope that you were able to find an alternative place to have it.

  13. Ed Pearlman

    I don’t think it’s wise to question whether someone uncomfortable attending a recital at a religious institution should or shouldn’t feel that way. Would you really want students and families distracted by feeling unhappy with the surroundings during a recital? The focus should be on the music and the performers, and students should gain a good feeling from it, not a feeling of threat or confrontation.

    If you weren’t able to change the venue, it would have been good to acknowledge the student’s concerns with respect, let them off the hook this time, and find a neutral venue the next time. But you did one better by changing the venue in time for the recital.

    I wrote a blog post about holiday music ( which I tried to deal with the other side of this issue: opening people’s minds musically to the religious diversity around us. But that fits more in the realm of teaching about music, whereas requiring people to attend a recital in a building where they’re uncomfortable is not really relevant to musical instruction.

    Still, some teachers might have less choice and be stuck with a venue that some students are unhappy with, for all sorts of reasons, whether religious, political, family history, or other problem, and in the end you just have to explain your situation and ask students to focus on the music. They’ll have to handle it as they see fit, even if it means skipping recitals or quitting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.