This is the second thing I find fascinating about that performance in Ann Arbor:  the crowd went wild.  Cheers and applause after the lame performance.  Isn’t that interesting?

Why?  Why would the fans cheer and applaud for a lame performance?

Because they didn’t come to hear a spot-on version of the song.  They came to see their friends, The Beach Boys, live and in person.  The Beach Boys, from Hawthorne, California, came all the way to Ann Arbor, just for them!

The band and their fans had a relationship, albeit a long-distance one.  The audience would trade a somewhat-diminished performance in exchange for getting it straight from the band, right there in front of them.

I paid $300 last year for two tickets to the Beach Boys 50th Reunion Tour.  If you’re a big Beach Boys fan too, you might want to hear about it.  We might go out to lunch, and after the food comes, you say, ‘Tell me about it!’.  I pull out a piece of paper and start reading from it. When you ask, ‘What are you doing?’, I reply, “I’m not a very good writer, so I’m going to read you the Chicago Sun-Times reviewer’s account.”

Well, you didn’t need me for that, did you?  You could have read that on your own.  And besides, you KNOW me, and you want to hear it in my words–what was cool, what moved me, and so forth.  Even if I can’t write like the people who write professionally, it would mean WAY more to you to hear it in my words. Coming from me it will have the ring of truth.  Sure, I might borrow a particular comment from the review, or say, “This guy nailed it when he said…”.  But no more than a sentence.  You put the date on your calendar, came all the way to the restaurant, ordered food, and what did you get?   Something you could have gotten on your own, at less expense and inconvenience to yourself.  What you wanted from me was to hear the story in my own voice.  You don’t expect it to be the same as a professional writer, or even a professional actor delivering memorized lines.  The value to you is that you’re hearing not only a first-hand account, but a first-hand account from someone you know, and from someone who’s sitting down across the table from you.  Someone who took the time to tell you.

This is what you MUST do when you play in church.  Tell the story in your own musical voice.  They want to hear it from YOU.  

Your congregation is not after complex, or sound-alike music, at least not for it’s own sake.  They don’t care about that, or not much anyway.   They don’t know anything about how the music is made–they just want to like it.  And they want to like you.  They want authentic, compelling music.  Music that feels real as it comes off the stage, and music that moves them.  Yeah, you’re not going to reinvent the genre, but you ARE building a relationship with the people you play for.  To do this, you need to OWN the music. In a minute I’ll give you a definition of that.

Have you seen the movie Walk The Line, the Johnny Cash biopic?  There’s a scene where young Johnny Cash goes to the recording studio to see if he can break into recording.  He figures he can do at least as good as the guys he hears singing gospel on the radio.  So he plays some of those same songs he’s heard on the radio for Sam Phillips, and part way through the first song, Sam stops the band.  He tells Johnny that he can’t sell that music.  Johnny asks why.

Sam:  We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you… sing it. 

Johnny Cash: Well you didn’t let us bring it home.

Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ *you* felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear.

Now most of us don’t have Johnny Cash’s talent, but that’s okay–your congregation is not expecting Johnny Cash, and they’re not expecting original music.  But the lesson applies–whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re expecting something that rings true.  Of course you’re not going to reinvent praise and worship music, or anything else.  But you CAN put your own stamp on it, and you MUST–if you expect your music to have an effect on people.   You do that by playing it the way that works for you.   No, you aren’t going to change the world of church music, but you might, you just MIGHT effect the lives of the people who are listening.

Presenting complex, sophisticated music that’s out of your reach, is tempting–I’ve done it WAY too many times–but it usually falls short of the real goal of music–it doesn’t move people.  When you present music you don’t own, you aren’t projecting any emotion other than nervousness, fear, hesistancy, and so forth.  Since music is, first and foremost, something people feel, if you’re feeling nervous, afraid and hesitant, guess what your audience is feeling?

So what do I mean by ‘music you own’?  What I mean is this:  music you can play comfortably, music you understand, music that allows you to step up above your individual part and inject emotion.  Music that allows you to interact with with the other musicians onstage as well as the congregation.

I’ve had this conversation many times–someone will tell me that their job onstage at church is to get out of the way, be invisible, don’t draw any attention to themselves.

I know what they mean, but I disagree…if you come to rehearsal, learn music, then step up onstage in front of everybody, put a guitar around your neck and say good morning, it’s too late.  They’re looking at you.  They’re expecting to be led.  Of course this isn’t about you, but let’s not pretend–if you’re onstage, you’re leading.  And yes, you should be humble, but humility isn’t saying, ‘Please don’t look at me.’ It’s a big responsibility, but that’s what we’re up there for–to say, “Follow me–we’re going to experience God.”

All the more reason to tell the truth.