You Can Lead an Artist to Water…

by vernsanders on January 24, 2012

I’m tempted to finish that sentence by saying, “but who knows what will happen next?”

People don’t understand artists (if you don’t believe me, stand next to a musician or painter at a party and watch people’s body language when that person starts to answer the question “what do you do?”). They don’t know what they do…and they don’t understand how they do it.

Which brings me to a great blog post I recently read. In it, Sam Rainer provides a wonderful analogy to explain what artists do. It doesn’t fit a church musician/worship leader’s modus operandi exactly, but it comes close. I can’t quote the whole post here, but I’d like to. Let’s just keep it to this:

Leading a group of artists is like having everyone paint the same work on one canvas, all together and at the same time. Each artist has a unique perspective, style, tone, and pace (and inevitably, they will all want their own type of brush). The one leading the artists, however, is responsible for making sure everyone is painting the same work on one canvas, rather than a bunch of individual works on that canvas.

When the work is finished (is art ever finished?), it’s never what the leader would have done as a lone artist. It always looks different, but the leader’s responsibility is to make sure what was painted is cohesive.

The leader of the artists does not mesh all the individual works into one bland blob. The leader of the artist ensures that each artist’s unique contribution is seen within the whole. The leader of the artists figures out ways to manage those who paint a lot with big, bold brushes with those who paint small with tiny brushes. The leader of the artists knows how to gently massage the person painting out of color scheme back into the group. The leader of the artists knows how to incorporate new artists with those who have been painting a long time. The leader of the artists knows how to calm tempers when one artist paints over another artist’s work.

Here’s the catch: the leader of the artist has to be willing to set aside and sacrifice his or her own work to lead the work of others. It’s how an artist becomes a servant-leader.

These are just great words. And they speak specifically to me today because as I write this, I have a “mass choir” rehearsal and service tonight. The rehearsal is the “run through” after three rehearsals that people have been invited to attend. No one from the community came to the first two, so my choir got the two fairly difficult a cappella pieces learned and the rest was going to be just polish. But two extra people showed up at the third one, and the whole actually took a step back because we had to teach the newcomers about vowel placement, blend and balance (plus the notes). I could just feel the tension, and the “art” slip sliding away.

Then I heard yesterday through the grapevine that some people are expecting to attend the run through and sing the pieces. Relationally it will be a bad thing to tell them they can’t. Musically it will be a bad thing to tell them they can. I don’t want the final effort to be “a blob.” So tonight, I’m going to have to ride herd on the conglomeration and make art…and worship…out of a group of artists that will never again be in the same place at the same time.

Ain’t ministry grand?

What would you do? Please leave a comment and let me know.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara Alemany January 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

I don’t envy you, Vern! There’s always that fine line between what’s fair to the stragglers and what’s fair to those who have actually been there, working hard, the whole time.

Personally, as a member of a choir myself, I tend to lean towards the idea of explaining to the stragglers that the complexity of the pieces and the cohesiveness of the sound required them to attend earlier rehearsals. Phrase it in such a way that they know they are more than welcome to join the next presentation, but that the cut-off for joining this one has passed already.

It’s one thing if they spoke with you in advance. But it’s really just arrogance to arrive at the last minute and expect that they can join in. And it’s inconsiderate to the other singers.

I hope you’ll let us know how it all turned out!

vernsanders January 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Good advice, Tara. It turns out that either my information source was wrong, or better judgement prevailed on the part of the potential “last minute” joiners. We did “Set Me As a Seal” by Rene Clausen, and an a cappella arrangement of mine entitled “Go Out With Joy” that brought the house down. Both went well in rehearsal, and better during worship.

Tara Alemany January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am

Thanks for the update, Vern! It’s great to hear that the issue resolved itself; saves feelings all the way around.

I love singing in a capella groups. The human voice is such a pure and powerful instrument. Of course, it’s the instrument God created. We’ve just spent centuries trying to imitate it with all of the man-made instruments that have been created. :-)

My choir also sings a song called “Go Out With Joy,” but it’s by Hank Beebe. Does your arrangement use the same Isaiah 55:12 text? It’s such a hopeful passage.

Anyway, thanks for the update. It’s great to hear that all went well, and that a worshipful experience was created.

vernsanders January 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I know the Beebe piece, Tara. This is something entirely different…more “gospel” if you will. It is still available in print…you might like to check it out.

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