Posts Tagged performance
Yesterday, we hid the afternoon doldrums and so I went to turn on some music. I turned on this video, and all of my kids froze and watched this mariachi group in rapt attention. This is music performance in it’s truest and most vibrant form. It completely captivated us.
Assuming that I know everything about music, my wife asked me what the names of these instruments are. I confess I had to look it up. I suppose that I need to add a “vihuela” to my wish list.
This past weekend, I was conflicted about the tune, “Bless the Lord (Son of Man)” and the Satriani-esque solo that I had to play. I wouldn’t have played it if it wasn’t from the encouragement I received from the rest of the team that the tune required the solo. I normally don’t have any qualms with ripping out a solo when it’s appropriate, but for some reason this tune made me a little uncomfortable. After church, I got a lot of good feedback from people who really appreciated the solo and the skill that I displayed. So what do you think? Is skill something that should be celebrated and displayed in worship music? Or is it “distracting” to have someone play with any level of virtuosity? I was encouraged by my former Pastor, Randy Nabors, to play my guitar aggressively because that was the expectation in Gospel music. It’s true that singers and instrumentalists in Gospel music perform at a high level with great embellishment and virtuosity.
I came home at noon today (I’ve been pulling in a lot of extra hours this week) and found that my wife made me tacos for lunch including her legendary tortillas from scratch. We got to hang out in the yard mixing compost into the garden and planting the last 3 sprouts (I know it’s supposed to snow in STL this weekend.) I’ve had an exhuasting week of playing and it was so nice to hang with the fam and relax this afternoon. Now I have to take a shower (compost!) and get ready for the concert. I’m not sure how many people will be there, but my dad always taught me that no matter how many people come to your performance, you show them gratitude for taking the time to come out by performing at your highest level. I’m just glad for the opportunity to play my songs, especially because Ryan McMillan will be in the band with us. Ryan played most of the parts on Guardian Grace so his fingerprint is there on my CD. OK, let’s rock!!
Last month, our choir shared “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” from Handel’s Messiah. We had the privilege of Vera Parkin, who plays piano for the St Louis Symphony Orchestra being our accompanist. Vera also share a few pointers about proper phrasing, timing, and other tips about how step up the quality of our performance. I could sense that there were several new singers in the choir who were not accustomed to the process of rehearsal and the process of pursuing excellence in performance art. As Vera began to share about how you should sing “fo” instead of “for” or that we should sing the phrases with a light touch like an oboe, I could tell that some folks felt uncomfortable with injecting excellence into “worship” which should be more free and grace oriented. “Performance” and “excellence” become a bad word in the context of grace. If drawing near to God in worship was contingent on the excellence of our performance, then no one would ever be able to bridge the gap of God’s holiness.
I decided to admonish the choir that mediocrity is not a value of the kingdom. God’s new creation is not characterized by a bland equalization of skill and a white-wash of all craft, talent and skill. Instead, just like the exiled Jews in Babylon, mediocrity is the effect of hanging up our harps and mourning. New creation believers have been given the freedom to pursue new vast and delightful expressions of worship through the reconciling work of Christ because we can now draw near to the throne of mercy with confidence.
Excellence can also be corrupted by sin. Excellence can become the excuse for spending millions of dollars on enormous buildings, sound and lighting systems, and professional artists. Read through the prophets and you’ll find many examples of why this is a problem (start with Isaiah 58, Amos 5, Micah 6). Excellence can also become ethnocentric or defined by class values. Excellence can also become defined in human terms and result in an form of knowledge that is void of wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 12 and 13).
So how do we pursue excellence in a worship performance without falling into the traps that our flesh so easily slip into? My admonishment to our choir and what I constantly return to is the kingdom value of love (again, 1 Corinthians 12 and 13). Love means that I spend the time and energy that is required to prepare a song for the fellowship of believers. It’s like inviting a guest into your home; you prepare a delicious meal and clean up the mess in order to demonstrate that you care about this person and want to communicate respect.
When you perform a choir piece that is in the complex and rich Baroque style, it requires a little more time to work out the polyphonic parts and to articulate phrases with clarity which would otherwise be lost in the mix. A sloppy performance is a selfish thing. It’s not any benefit to the listener. It’s only a self-gratifying opportunity for the performer to be in the spotlight.