December 20, 2009


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?


Tawna said...

How can I not comment on such an eloquent expression of the greatest LDS paradox? I'm sure it was beautiful. All we can do is our best. We are told not to hide our light under a bush, and isn't our music our light, in a way? What are you going to do: stand up there and play mediocre in praise of God? No. You keep doing your best. Just leave your sequins home, lol, since I know you were going to wear something very flashy while you "performed" in sacrament meeting.

Anonymous said...

We have an accomplished violinist that is in our stake. He played recently and I was elevated to a height that I haven't been for so long with a string instrument played in our ward.

God uses music as a language to reach the heart strings of his children. I think that performances can be full of pride and I think that there are some that truly do emulate heart and testimony. Reach for the latter, and let God do the judging. I think the Spirit testifies to me, personally, the listener, when a performance is consecrated to him or not.

For me, it is the same as when I speak in a Sacrament or Stake meeting. Time and preparation put into something certainly helps, but alone they cannot evoke the Spirit to send it to a person's soul. As I humbly submit through the process...amazingly, it seals what I've offered into the wind. My heart is left changed the giver of the gift - the receiving end needs to do the same thing.

I have a sure knowledge from the Spirit that words offered were edifying to those who had ears to hear. I struggle with many when they come up after and congratulate and etc. because it is usually after such a sacred experience, and that is so deeply personal. I am learning as I pass it on to the Lord above, it mattereth not.

We are instruments in his hands - he certainly wants to play us to our greatest potential, eh?

I am grateful for your gift. I miss it, but I'm grateful for the gifts of the Spirit that all have the ability to edify.

Judy said...

Well, what can I say. Tawna and Melissa said it so perfectly.

I had to giggle at your comment about "over-analyzing." Sorry, it is a curse that runs in the family. (Hee,hee)

Unknown said...

Melissa's phrase: "performances can be full of pride and I think that there are some that truly do emulate heart and testimony" puts it just perfectly. Really, we're worshiping our Father - He knows the intent of our hearts, and when our best gift is given, it's my understanding that that's acceptable. :)

Sacrament meetings *are* for testimonies. :)

Carrie said...

I'm sure you were absolutely beautiful and more than appropriate. I actually loved when the church came out with the "performance guideline" because I've been in wards where vocalists try to sing sacred songs with the grunts of Jessica Simpson and the attempted trills of Mariah Carey. And I think that is the sort of thing that needs to be eliminated because of obvious reasons. You have a God given gift for music and by playing to the best of your abilities, you are glorifying Him and inviting the Spirit.