Work and Play

soundcheck

soundcheck (Photo credit: gecco!)

When I was a young man, the entire idea of becoming a music star was something for which I strived.  Since then I have done my share of performing, mostly in the form of leading church worship.  I have spent hours upon hours writing, rehearsing, recording.  I have worked with bands in big and small venues.  I have lived the “glamorous” life of the traveling performer (although I was really a roadie/soundman who also sat in on a few numbers.)  I have rubbed elbows with people in the music industry–some of them famous to fans, most of them only famous to people inside the industry.  I have done pretty much everything except headline my own concert.

Our church’s praise band* played for another church today.  This wasn’t really a big deal–to me.  I suppose I should have known better from my days on the road.  I’ve grown comfortable in my own church, where I know where all the wires go, how the sound system works, and I can usually wire up and sound check a band in fifteen minutes.  I figured that, since all the songs we were playing had been done before, we would plug in, do a few checks, and be out the door in an hour.  Almost four  hours later, we finally called it quits for the night.  This reminded me of why I no longer care to be on the road.  Because, if you are not in the audience, you are not playing, you are working.  This means, for the church musician, although you are leading worship, it’s very hard to actually be worshiping.   I have to confess that I don’t even know the words to half the songs and hymns we are playing, because that’s not my job.  What I do know is the often repeated refrains, some of which leave me wondering what the rest of the song says.Rehearsal

Today’s service went pretty well.  The congregation was very appreciative.  Not that I actually talked to any of them.  I had a job to do. From setup to tear-down was another four hours of work.  Don’t get me wrong; I am happy to do it.  But there is no longer for me the performer’s high.  It’s all about making sure everything goes on schedule, and all the mixes are correct.  Then I play my rhythm guitar and try to blend in.  I also have the best seat in the house for the new generation of passionate singers and instrumentalists.  They are really, really good.  But I have a job to do.  I am paying attention to the mic placement, the backup mix, how is the sibilance, are there any feedback problems.

One time, during one song with a girl backing herself on the piano,  I had a brief moment to actually enjoy the beauty of her song.  This is often a problem for me.  As I get older, my emotions can well up and take over in an instant.  When I was young, it was all about the performance, getting it technically right, being in pitch.  People used to break down and cry when I sang, and I didn’t understand why.  No that I am older, have been through a lot of the pain that the world offers, seen the pettiness and downright cruelty of life, the beauty of music and the hope of the Gospel message give me a brief glimpse of heaven.  So, when I’m performing, “working”, I have to divorce myself from the emotion, or it can cripple me.  So it was this morning that i began to lose it, so I quickly had to put my emotions in neutral.  This is one of the reasons that I sing lead less and less–it becomes harder and harder not to be overcome with emotion.

A few years ago, I retired from music.  I have since been un-retired to help the praise band*.  I think it’s hard for the young people to understand how much harder it is to commit myself to anything musical anymore.   As life goes on, I find myself weighed down with more and more responsibilities and projects away from music.  I have played just about every rhythm, scale and progression I could ever use.  Some days, I find myself playing the piano and not even paying attention to what I am doing, almost like I’m on automatic.  When I was newer to music, the discovery process kept me hungry to learn more.  Now, it’s old hat, for the most part.  There are other discoveries in life that interest me more.

It is also hard for them to understand my apparently nonchalant  attitude.  After many years I have learned not to sweat the details so much.  For them, everything is a really big deal.  Yet they bring a lot of confusion to the table, because they really don’t have a clear picture of what they are doing yet.  It wasn’t until 8:30 this morning, 15 minutes before we started playing, that I had the sequence mapped out.  This after four hours last night of everyone running around and seeming in control and thinking that now we were all set to play.  They will learn that one person has to be in charge.  I know that I should have been that guy last night.  To some extent I was.  But I have the feeling that, if I assert myself too much, the band is going to become my baby, and I’ll have to really commit to it.  A band can have only one leader at a time.

When the playing actually starts, then the players lead.  Before that, the players should not be in charge.  Lots of smaller bands set up their own sound.  The band I worked with has one guy who was responsible.  When he was left alone, set up and sound checks went smoothly and more quickly.  Unfortunately, the rest of the band did not usually leave him alone to do his job, nor did they keep themselves from being critics of what he was doing.  They also didn’t behave and do what he told them.  For musicians, there is a tendency to focus on personal issues more than the process.  Thankfully, our band is fairly humble.  But some lessons still have to be learned.  Sound check is not the time for rehearsal.  By that point, it is what it is, or you can meet with someone on the side, afterwards.  Looks like I’m going to have to step in a take more control.   That will mean more work.  So much for retirement.

*I really don’t like the term “praise band”.  I use it because it’s something to which most people can relate.  To me, praise is an individual thing between one person and God, but also a collective activity of everyone in the house.  I prefer to call us a group of individuals who work together to give praise to God.  We are our own little congregation who join the talents God has given us to give our thanks to him.  We like to share our joy with the congregation.  But we are there to enhance worship, not replace it.  People  worship with or without us, led by the pastor and the Word that he presents.  We must always remember that our job is to help people focus on the Word, which is the true focus of worship and praise.  We are really no different from the organist or keyboard player who accompanies the hymns and responses of the congregation, or the soloist who sings a special song for the service.  I don’t hear people talking about the “praise organist” of the “praise soloist.”  Perhaps this our way of sanctifying the use of instruments that we normally associate with bars and parties.  We can’t say “rock band,” so we say “praise band.”  For this reason, “praise bands” need to be very careful of the image they are projecting.  We are not in church to “party” in the name of Jesus.

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