The Music, Worship, Performance and Leadership Thing
The question of “performance” arose in response to the “Leadership and Jazz” discussion. There is a relevant connection here with the role of music in church life. I’m sure you have either read or heard the suggestion that “worship is not a performance.” On one level I agree that anyone involved in music in a […]
The question of “performance” arose in response to the “Leadership and Jazz” discussion. There is a relevant connection here with the role of music in church life. I’m sure you have either read or heard the suggestion that “worship is not a performance.”
On one level I agree that anyone involved in music in a church context needs to understand how what they are doing in church differs from a conventional concert. Moreover, as a pastor, I’ve had to deal with the egos and creative needs of musicians and worship leaders.
However, as a musician, I find the notion that worship music is not a performance at best misleading and at worst, outright harmful.
Music is always performance – always. Want a church music group that doesn’t perform? Then, brace yourself for off-key singing, out of tune guitars, random drum patterns and lots and lots of feedback and noise from poor quality amplification. As a musician, I’m never not performing – never. Moreover, as a worshipper I’m not keen on being in a room with non-performing musicians either. I’d rather have silence thanks!
The real issue is not whether the musicians are “performing” but what “function” the music is serving. In the Berklee Film Scoring course, I encountered a very helpful distinction – between absolute and functional music.
“Absolute music is any piece of music created for pure listening enjoyment. Self-sufficient, it doesn‚Äôt depend on reference to anything outside of itself to complete its meaning. It is music enjoyed by the listener at a concert or other live performance, or as a recording. ‚ÄúAbsolute‚Äù music is without stylistic limitations‚Äîit may be classical, jazz, rock, or any other style.
Functional music is music that is created to serve another purpose besides being simply music. It can be a subtle accompaniment or a driving force that propels a specific event. Its initial purpose is to support some dramatic, artistic, or social activity.”
Church worship music was cited as an example of functional music (along with film music, computer game music, etc). Sometimes functional music can become absolute music (John Williams’ scores for the Star Wars films come to mind). But the test of functional music is always its ability to complement and strengthen the context it is written to function within.
I believe that “functioning to support another purpose” is a far more useful concept, if we are talking to musicians, than “avoiding performance.” It puts ideas like talent, effort, skill and artistry in context (rather than in denial). Moreover, it helps us address the complex issue of the role of creativity.
[tags] Leadership, Church Music [/tags]