Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Church Music: part 2 - music and personal responsibility

Because art can be such a subjective enterprise, responsibility falls on the receiver of said art to accept its expression in the spirit with which it was offered. I remember being the Director for a Thomas Kinkade signature gallery in Redmond, WA. Many would enter the gallery and get pretty much out of the painting what Thomas Kinkade would have wanted them to. I can be confident of this because of having read Kinkade's book Lightposts for Living. In that book Thomas offers a philosophy of life that he hopes will be reinforced by his artwork. For this reason, those who found in his art warm feelings of hearth and home brought on by the shades of light embedded into Kinkade's scenes were pretty much receiving from the artwork what he would have intended. On the other hand, every now and then, someone would enter the gallery and critique a piece for not having achieved what they wanted in a painting for their living room or entry way. I would smile and simply suggest that perhaps their tastes demands something other than what the artist feels is his place to convey. For those people, another gallery was most likely more appropriate.

In a church, music is performed and lead by artists who have a specific goal with the music they perform. They have an instinct for worshiping the God they know and love which they seek to incite others to develop. Those goals of their artwork must be clearly describable. For this reason, church leaders who interview potential music leaders must read the artist's "book" so to speak. The candidate's philosophy of church music, their thoughts on the integration of doctrine and art, as well as their personal worship of God are all written in their own "lightposts for living" beliefs. Once leaders have established that this is congruent with the church's doctrinal, traditional and cultural makeup, then the last consideration is musical style. Not that this is insignificant, but it takes a backseat to the weightier matters described above.

I say "weightier" because the doctrinal and philosophical matters are actually those that will affect a church the most for good or ill, and are the most difficult to change once a selection is made. Any musician can improve in skills and challenge themselves toward new varieties of expression. However, deeply embedded beliefs about doctrine or music's place in the worshiping culture of a church are seldom changeable once a position has been secured. Their is no doubt that the artist can improve in skills; but how likely is it that an artist will change his or her philosophy of art midstream? Thomas Kinkade's earlier works reveal the skills of someone young in his career, clearly showing improved skills over time. However, both the earlier and the later works all show the same philosophy of art expressed in Lightposts for Living.

For this reason, great responsibility falls on the individual worshiper in a church to listen carefully for an artist's philosophy of music and worship when they speak of it, or to talk to them directly about it on the side. In any case, church leaders rightly place greater weight on the thoughts given in the artist's "book" rather than critiques of an given piece, knowing that with patience the beauty in the artwork (music or canvas) will increasingly be perceived by the beholder.

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