Musicians should be heard and not seen!
Okay, so I’m joking – well, at least a little bit! Perhaps it’s easier to explain this rather bold statement by means of an illustration.
In September 2015 my husband and I enjoyed a trip to Russia. In a visit filled with highlights, the stand-out experience was an evening at the ballet in Moscow where we saw Swan Lake. We were both utterly entranced.
The theatre was beautiful, the ambience was delightful, the costumes and props were amazing and Tchaikovsky’s glorious music was fabulous. And then, of course, there was the dance. The very best of classical Russian ballet – it was exquisite.
We were so absorbed in the whole experience that the evening flew by all too quickly. Finally, the principal dancers came on stage to thunderous applause and several, well-deserved, standing ovations before they were joined by the rest of the company – to yet more deafening applause.
At no time was there any reference to the orchestra in spite of the fact that they’d played superbly well. In fact, they weren’t even visible. During the intermission, I couldn’t restrain myself from wandering down to look into the orchestra pit and I saw that it housed a fairly sizeable orchestra. It occurred to me that every single musician present would have a degree in music and that the competition to be part of this orchestra would be fierce. Yet, their task was a fully supporting one. Their job was to provide high-quality music for the dancers to interpret which they did to great effect. And I suppose that’s the point; it simply wasn’t about the musicians. It wasn’t even really about the dancers; it was all about the dance.
And so it is with congregational singing. It’s not about the musicians; it’s not even really about the congregation; it’s all about God and the sacrifice of praise we’re raising to Him.
It’s a great privilege to serve as a Church musician. And ‘serve’ really is the operative word. As musicians, we’re not here to entertain or to perform but rather to support the assembly to raise the best possible praise that they’re capable of. Our service is to teach, train, encourage and support the entire congregation to sing to the best of their ability.
I really have no issue with performance type music such as choirs, soloists, offertories etc. Just not at the expense of quality congregational singing. If all we can hear is the musicians, we may want to consider whether or not we’re serving our assemblies as we ought.
One practical strategy that you might employ in order that your musicians are not seen is to construct an orchestra pit. If that’s too expensive, as would surely be the case for very small assemblies, you could have your musicians play behind a curtain. And, yes, I really am joking here!