31 August 2007

In the Name of Love

"You're singing to your audience, aren't you?" my friend said to me in the car.

I blinked.

"I can tell when you get into the music because you look like you're singing on stage looking out to your audience. Or conducting. Or playing piano. Whichever."


You know that scene in An American in Paris where the grouchy too-old child prodigy conducts the piece he wrote and plays every instrument (in his dream, I should add)? To someone who doesn't understand, this may seem egotistical, but it's actually passion, passion for something beautiful and bigger than self, passion to be a part of it.

You know how people critique music at churches that feels more like a concert than a worship experience? (I've said the same thing many a time.) Truth is, I wish the congregation would be as involved as the audience at a concert (pop, not classical). I'm listening to a Metallica concert right now, and the audience is almost as loud as the amped singers. In fact, when the band stops singing, the audience fills in the lyrcs.

When you get down to it, I wonder if too much time is spent talking about the music. No, that's the wrong thing to say. The wrong type of conversation is spent on this. Often, it's the make or break of the church. And, I must admit, it's important. It's important that we use music, coupled with lyrics that praise God in mystery, in awe and wonder, and without heresy (I'm speaking the traditional sense of heresy--going outside the boundaries of the orthodox church as defined in the creeds, not as defined in each local church's statement). It's important that we are excellent in our pursuit of it. It's important that the entire church is involved without a self-conscious concern of how they sound. And I think it's a good thing when the style reflects the personality of the church. But is it the only thing about a church? What about other arts? What about the family and community? What about the teaching and exhortation? Is God glorified by His creation through creative means and as they worship together?

But that wasn't my point. My point is, why does a U2 concert get more singers who could care less how their voice sounds when they bellow so loudly that the veins in their neck pop out than a church service? Have we forgotten the passion, the beauty, the bigger than self?


Erin said...

This is a deep, deep, DEEP well of conversation you're opening up here. And very much in the forefront of my brain these last few years.

I especially love your last 2 questions... WHY do some secular concerts or works of art inspire more passionate interaction than the worship of our Savior, or looking at God's glorious creation?
Is engagement the obligation of the musician or the listener? Is it the fault of the artist or the viewer that we are not every one enthralled with the creation?

I know that is a simplistic approach to a very complex set of factors...
I'd sure love to read a lot more conversation on this topic. And see a lot more Christians striving to remove "professionalism" and "marketing" from their creative worship while still striving to give God their very best. And to hear about viewers/participants/co-worshipers that are not seeking a professional concert or a slick presentation, but to truly engage with the Father through worship.

What am I saying here? I think I'm beginning to ramble. Just keep talking. As you ponder, I'll ponder right along with you...

Heather said...

You're right, Erin, slick presentations feel greasy, although musical excellence inspires me (there is a difference, and i appreciate you clarifying that). our service will often have images of art and nature on screen while we're singing, which we love. there's some on the walls, but not enough, if you as me. the back wall is glass with a garden and a cross behind it, another inspiration that brings me closer to God. have i told you that i love our church?
i like when i can hear the congregation singing. i like when i can hear the trees clapping their hands and the rocks crying out from their crags.

Mike Duran said...

Having led worship for about ten years, I can tell you there are many, many factors involved in corporate worship. Where the concert analogy breaks down is this: Everyone paid money and bought a ticket to see U2; their motivations, involvement and energy are very focused. Whereas at church, no one pays to attend, everyone's motivation is slightly different, and spiritually speaking, everyone's at a different place of maturity -- some possibly completely lacking any relationship with God. Expecting a congregation to worship with the same intensity as a U2 concert is a stretch. I'm not saying we shouldn't aim for that (after all, the worship before the throne of God in the Book of Revelation is quite exuberant), but that we should recognize the complexity of the issue.

I have mixed feelings about the "professionalism and marketing" issue. It is easier for me to "get into" worship when the band is not in the way. Having their chops down, playing skillfully (professionally), assists the participant, I think. Of course, there are posers, but a mature worshiper can overlook that stuff. I'm wondering if more "professionalism and marketing" in worship wouldn't help some churches. U2 isn't lacking enthusiastic fans, and they're very professional.

Love this topic, Heather. Interested in hearing more of your thoughts.

Erin said...

Mike, you make some great points.

I am one of those veeery weak links in the link of "quality worship music." When I have played with our church worship team in the past, I've been very honored that they would allow someone as green as myself to join them, and yet at the same time I really feel like there is no more appropriate place for a budding musician and Christian to be... worshiping their Creator with the very gifts He's given them. No matter how skilled or technically adept they may be.

You're right about the U2 concert's being a business. We all paid good $$, we all want to see a good show. Perhaps that is what rubs me the wrong way about corporate worship that feels very much like a concert. I don't feel as though I am being invited to worship along with the music team. I'm just another one of the masses in the crowd, watching a fancy light and laser show.

I actually rather like a bit of homespun worship in a church. A little ragged around the edges. A little unpolished. Give me real people missing cues and hitting wrong notes, but offering everything they are to the Father rather than the concert-goers.

Heather, your church sounds really neat. I went to a church once that had a huge picture window right behind center stage. Over the course of the year you could watch the seasons change on the trees outside as you listened to the sermon or the choir, or whatever. Some people wanted to cover the window because they found the view of nature to be too distracting.

Real Live Preacher said...

Boy does this hit home. I'm the pastor of a church, and we constantly talk about music. I've come to believe that church music, like many things of faith, has some strange paradoxes to it. When it comes to spiritual paradoxes, I wonder if we can only approach them with an artistic sense of things.

Church music style is very important, just as any art at church is important. I carries a message of theology. On the other hand, the performance level isn't (or shouldn't be) critical. I mean, if your music has to be so great that you have to hire musicians and can't let regular people sing, then it's probably too good.

Also, I wonder if the aesthetic of music is both important and unimportant. Maybe it's important to give your best at church, trusting that it will be beautiful or precious, which is also beautiful.

One thing I do know - churches are splitting over various musical issues, mainly style. It's very divisive. That seems wrong to me.

Nicole said...

Our church just went to two styles of worship services--traditional and contemporary, having been a mix of both previously. Oddly, it was the oldtimers who were complaining--too loud, not enough hymns, the drums.

Our pastor (newly come [as were we about the same time] to a large church that had been through a split) is a very wise man and does not want the style of worship to be divisive, taking several opportunities to preach on worship.

So in each service, it has been emphasized that Jesus is in attendance in both services, and that however you can best worship without distraction and "in Spirit and in Truth" is the one you can attend; that it isn't about style but about worshipping God.

Being people of great passion and having come out of the rock 'n' roll era, we attend the contemporary service which allows that passion to be expressed vehemently in Spirit and in Truth for our loving Lord.

Danica/Dream said...

I love this line of thought. The best concert I've been to was a U2 concert. Of course, that might have been because I was just FEET away from Bono. Second best, though, was Todd Agnew, because that guy is all about worship. I hate even calling them concerts, because it's so much more. I'm going to two this month, and one next month. I'm a junkie. ;)

Pamela said...

hubby and I have talked about this often. We will jump up and down and scream etc at a football game.
why not at church?

why not have someone leading the cheers.

Tony Myles said...

I think there is something about the U2 concert that involves paying a large price to be there. So we figure we might as well sing out because we've earned it.

In Christianity, Jesus paid the large price for us. So we figure we might as well not sing out because we don't deserve it.

Crazy irony, isn't it?

steve said...

My goodness, music is certainly a hot topic. I had a very wise pastor in my freshman year at college. He looked me over and said, "You will learn much in the coming years, but you need music in your life. It will enlarge your soul." So I took a number of music courses, including two semesters of piano. Now, I'm not sure what my piano prof expected, but I know she was not expecting me. But, I struggled through it, and, true to the pastors word, music did enlarge my soul-- and still is. Perhaps that's why we are all so sensitive to the topic. Somehow, music can enlarge our souls.

Heather said...

On the one hand, music is a very personal thing. It hits us intellectually and emotionally. On the other hand, it's a shared thing. We can do it alone, but what's the fun in that?
Traditionally (and now I'm speaking outside of the church), music has been connected to revolutions: Romantic music and the French revolution; jazz and civil rights; rock'n'roll and the culture revolution.
Within the church, it's been a hot topic for centuries. Look at the Council of Trent and the rules and regulations it applied to music because of all the brew-ha-ha (I have no idea how to spell that, but I'm excited that I got to use it in a sentence).
As a musician, I love music itself because it's something beautiful that reflects God, and I love music because it enables us to worship Him on so many levels: corporately, personally, emotionally, intellectually, reflectively, celebratorily (a word? I don't know).