The Church Music Tightrope

Last Saturday, I attended my local sheet music shop’s sacred piano reading session. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of event, it’s basically a live infomercial for sheet music. A well-known name in music (this time it was Joel Raney of Hope Publishing) plays through a variety of works from different collections and talks about each composer and collection. Unlike most infomercials, though, it’s a lot of fun and, like one person said, it’s a free two-hour concert of some great music.

The event highlighted some truly incredible music but after the first few pieces, I noticed the sheet music the shop chose to feature were what I would call “showstoppers” – beautiful but very flamboyant. Music you’d play for special occasions/events in church but (for me) would be a little over the top Sunday after Sunday. (Not to mention the amount of practice time involved to prepare each week!)

Wondering if I was the sole dissenting opinion in a room full of church pianists, I turned to the woman next to me on break – who was flipping through some of the music books – and asked if she thought the music was too showy for a typical Sunday morning. Her answer: “too many sixteenth notes.”

So I’ve been pondering this for the past week: At what point does music for worship stop being music for worship and instead music for entertainment? Where is the line between music that keeps the congregation interested and engaged in worship and music that draws attention to the musician’s prowess and away from the Creator?

Now I’m not advocating hiding a light under a bushel – we should strive to put our best foot forward for God in everything we do. But in his recent blog post on contemporary vs. traditional worship music, Jonathan Aigner states, “Bluntly, music’s job is to serve the liturgy, and nothing else.”

I couldn’t agree more.