Music is a gift. It is a gift by which we can praise our Lord, a gift that can bring us joy, and a gift that can express our thoughts and feelings better than words or pictures alone. When music gives us negative feelings, the teaching of it becomes abusive, and when we are shamed by it, we–meaning people–have missed the point and mis-used this beautiful gift.
I recently posted two videos of my church children’s choirs singing on Easter Sunday. I was so very, very proud of them. I was relieved that the musical part was going to be fine, but truthfully, I was more proud of them because they were children who were happy to be at church and happy to have a short moment to minister to the grown-ups. I was proud of their attitudes, their good behavior, and their toothy smiles. I was proud of how hard they worked on their music, and that they all followed directions and sang their very best. I was proud of their parents for bringing them to church faithfully, and thankful that I was trusted with their children. This lady was just beaming with pride for my kiddos, and oddly enough, very little of it had to do with the actual music itself.
Before I posted the video on Facebook, I had an instinctive hesitation. I’m Facebook friends with all kinds of people, including lots of other musicians. What would they think? Did my children sound like an auditioned, Kodaly-based children’s choir? Did I expect them to? Was that my motive? Definitely not. But suddenly, some kind of instinct caused me to begin to worry.
It’s some kind of pressure that all young classical musicians experience–many times you feel like you either must succumb to the attitude or look like you don’t know what good music is. The schnobby, elitist, cynical attitude. The Nasty. Just like any bad habit, young musicians seem to pick this up from the older ones, and if they don’t, they are looked at like they just don’t know. Of course not every classical musician is like this–thank goodness. But the Nasty is definitely present and pervasive. For me, being in the classical music world sometimes felt like I was surrounded by a pack of wild dogs. (enter visions from the Lion King. Those were hyenas. Anyways.) Then there were other times when I succumbed and became the Nasty myself. (glad I was not so subtly enlightened to that bad choice.) Unfortunately, this attitude spills over into church music all too much. Not at my church, but I see it all the time elsewhere–usually covertly disguised as humor, or for the purpose of “bettering our worship experience” or behind closed doors with other musicians. All over the cotton-pickin’ place. And it’s hard not to be intimidated by it.
I went ahead and posted the videos, bursting with pride at my kiddos. They come to music rotation for 20 minutes every Sunday night, and in a few weeks, they were singing in two parts. Not bad. On the other part of my inside, I was nervous at whether or not the Nasty would say or think snarky things. I knew I took the tempo of one piece too fast, that my kids live in Georgia and half the vowels turn out to be tripthongs, that we weren’t quite getting all the way over top of that high note, etc. etc. Did any of those things matter to me on Easter Sunday? Absolutely not! But I was still instinctively intimidated by the cynicism I’ve known for too many years. Thankfully, I’ve learned to find my confidence over the Nasties, thanks to help from my music minister, husband, and a good friend. I’ve also realized that if I am doing my job to the best of my ability, following Christ’s leadership, then it doesn’t matter what opinions anyone attaches to me–it isn’t about me.
Here is what I think : Music is for worship. Music ministry is to facilitate that worship for every age and for every ability level. Children cannot understand worship at the same level as an adult who has been a Christian for 40 years, but as leaders, we should be modeling Christ-like behavior in order to teach children what worship means. If we are turning the gift of music into something negative, just because “I have musical training and I know what this is supposed to sound like, so I am going to work it into the ground to make sure my colleagues know I am a good musician” I am being sickeningly narcissistic and making my children miserable. If they are miserable, music will no longer be fun. If the music is at church, that tells them that being at church isn’t a good place to be. NOT Christ-like behavior. If they feel that church isn’t a good place to be at a young age, why would they want to stay as college kids, or come back as adults?
This doesn’t mean anything goes. I also believe that I have a call to use my gifts to the best of my ability to create music that can draw people into worship. We also should balance that with our gift of common sense and the gift of remembering what it was like to be a child–knowing when to work the music, and when to stop and play a game. Even if it means that vowel doesn’t get fixed.
In my church choirs, we play games, we have Bible time, we sing songs–some for performance and some not, we play beat-up instruments, and we love being at church on Sunday nights. I work with them musically to keep increasing what they can sing, hear, and play, but the main point is leading them to become Christians who are leaders themselves. Maybe they will have so much fun in music that they will include it in their adult lives and help with children’s choir later, or even become a music minister or a church pianist. Maybe that secure, positive feeling they get by being at church on Sunday night is just what they will need to come back to church as an adult. Then maybe, they will remember and be faithful in bringing their own children to choir on Sunday nights. If all I focused on were the musical elements that need to be fixed, I would be missing out on the beautiful gift of singing, smiling, wiggly children right in front of me, and the humbling opportunity to be an influence in their lives.
At the end of the day, God looks at the shape of our hearts, not the shape of our vowels. 🙂
P.S. My choir kids are the bomb. And they are awesome singers.