I want to discuss something that I wrestle with often as a Latter Day Saint musician--the issue of "performing" in church. Let me start with a few quotes:
Music for sacrament meetings should be chosen and performed with the intent of promoting worship, rather than bringing attention to the performance itself. (LDS Music Guidelines)
Soloists should remember that music in our worship services is not for demonstration but for worship. Vocal or instrumental numbers should be chosen to facilitate worship, not to provide performance opportunity for artists, no matter how accomplished. Dallin H. Oaks
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul. 2 Nephi 32:9
What is a "performance," and what makes it wrong in a church meeting? I think I may be splitting hairs on the semantics of the word--Nephi is talking about any act "performed" unto the Lord whereas Dallin H. Oaks is talking about a "show" of sorts. But is the line really so easy to draw?
Here are some things to consider:
1. That most people don't appreciate the time and effort that goes into preparing a musical number. If not for the actual piece on the program, the years developing the talent by soloist and accompanist alike that makes performers able to put a musical presentation together on short notice.
2. That whenever anyone presents a musical number in church, they are going to be evaluated by members of the congregation at some level. My goal when I play in church (or anywhere, for that matter) is to transcend the technic, and communicate something on a spiritual level through my instrument. For this reason, playing in church can be the most nerve-wracking experience. I fear that if I make a mistake, it will jolt the congregation--that if they were transported to another realm, that they will come crashing back down to reality. On the other hand, if I do really well, I fear that the audience will be impressed by my artistry, and fail to be impressed by the Spirit.
Recently, I was asked to prepare some music for a meeting, and I selected one of my own arrangements. It is one of my most difficult arrangements, so I wavered on my decision to play or not play it. In the end, I thought that I would take a risk and perform it, because it represents my testimony, and it comes from my heart. I also justified playing it by thinking that if I played well enough--made it sound easy--that it would glorify God, and not be a demonstration of my musical accomplishments.
I don't know if I succeeded. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some said they cried because of how they felt. Others said they "didn't know a violin could do that." Was it the Spirit they felt, or did I inadvertently or subconsciously do something to advance my musical career? Did I expose the members of my church to a quality of music they are unaccustomed to, that they would not hear otherwise, and if so, is that wrong or right? Should I have played it safe, and gone with something simpler?
Something else I just thought of, after reading a facebook comment which read, "You were amazing!" My initial response was, "Uh-oh, I'm not supposed to be amazing." Our church isn't known for such exclamations such as, "God is amazing! Jesus is amazing!" So it doesn't necessarily follow that if someone gives me a compliment, that takes away from God's glory. And though we don't engage in such exclamations, who said we aren't supposed to be "amazing"? How can we glorify God if we don't offer our best work?