I’ve been involved in church music all my life. I grew up I watching my mom and dad sing in a gospel quartet in church. I can still recall hot summer Sunday nights when my brother, my sister and I were expected to sit attentively on hard, wooden church pews. There was no air conditioning in the little corner church my family attended. The windows along the side of the auditorium opened to the street just outside, and on those hot summer Sunday nights, the music inside the church carried out into the neighborhood, as if it were on the wings of God’s spirit. And my folks were always part of singing those songs at the top of their lungs.
I suppose it was natural, then, that I would migrate toward a life that would be surrounded by music and musicians. I earned an undergraduate degree in music, and for many years my primary focus in ministry was leading the worship ministry in a local church. Directing small choirs and ensembles. Leading large choruses and orchestras with strings, woodwinds, and brass. Even now, in what might be called the golden years of our ministry, my wife and I lead a wonderful “Classic” worship service at Pathway Church where I serve. Over the course of my life and ministry, I would say nothing has been more rewarding than conducting a group of gifted musicians. Leading musicians in the worship of God is a wonderful privilege.
I have found it interesting to observe the differences between instrumentalists and those singing in the chorus. Instrumentalists focus on the notes in the score, and facial expression is rarely a component of what they are about. Instrumentalists are focused on notes, and fingerings, and timing. However, those singing in the chorus have not only the notes of the arrangement to navigate. They somehow have to capture the message of the text that is to be communicated to a listening audience. And that’s part of the challenge. Showing the message of the lyric as a facial expression can be difficult. So, over the years, I developed two instructions for members of the choir or the chorus I was leading.
The first instruction: “Sing to me with your face.” I did my best to encourage those I was directing to think about their countenance as they were singing. If the song we were singing was joyous and full of hope, I encouraged those singers to “Sing to me with their face!” Allow the message and truth of the song to spill over into the expressions of their excitement. Ps. 34 describes people who had been ‘rescued’ from all their fears, and they ‘looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.’ I think all of us have a responsibility to sing to God with our face, declaring His wondrous love.
The second instruction I have been known to give singers has a lot to do with musicianship. As a conductor, I want singers to ‘glance at the music, and watch me.’ I’m the one who knows how fast the tempo is suppose to be. I’m the one who is directing the dynamics, the loud and the soft, the ‘nuance’ of the music, you might say. It’s not uncommon for singers to be so focused on singing the right note at the right time, and matching the right note with the right word, that they lose sight of the conductor — that would be me. And so, continually and often, my remand for those who are singing under my direction: Glance at the music, but watch me.
Isn’t that the way it is with a lot of the text, and rhythm and music of life? I can be so preoccupied with the motions I’m going through, and the boxes I’m checking off, and the ‘notes I’m trying to play’ in my walk with Jesus? How fast should I run? How slow should I go? What if I miss something I should be doing? I’ve got to pay attention. No room for error. No place for bad notes in my spiritual life. Well, all those things are important. But the most important element of my walk with God is … God. He knows the tempo. He knows the song He’s written for my life. For a certainty, I need to pay attention to His wonderful plan.
But I need to glance at that music, and keep my eye on the Conductor.
“In the morning, Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will present my prayer to You and be on the watch.” (Ps. 5:3)