“It Does the Same Thing for Their Soul”
I recently saw a review of the new Tom Petty album. Apparently there’s a line in the last song about how rock does the same thing for some people’s souls as loving Jesus does for others. I can see where he could write that; there are certainly a lot of similarities between ecstatic music and ecstatic prayer. God speaks through the mathematics and emotion of music as surely as He does through the Word.
The biggest difference for me is that prayer and sacred music is turned inward…er, not exactly. Hm. Well, prayer is intimate, usually. It’s just you and God. When you are performing church music — even when you are drawing in the congregation with you — the music is not being performed for the congregation, but for God. God is the audience. God is also working within you and communicating with you through the music, which makes for a pretty tight circle. You may be swept out of yourself, but your self is still very close.
Performance for a more mortal audience is considerably different, because your attention is wholly outward. This is very odd for someone who’s always done church music. 😉 You do more memorization of the music; the audience attention is wholly on you (or it better be); and you have to use your whole body to act with as well as to produce sound. Practice is very important, because once you get out on stage you can’t really think about the lyrics and music. Either they come out on automatic or you’re not doing it right,
because you need to be in a whole other brain mode to perform. Weirdest of all, you can hardly remember what went on once you get offstage. (Until the next time you go onstage, of course.) The whole different brain mode thing happens when I’m writing, too. But Writing Mode and Stage Mode are very different kinds of software.
The one thing that both kinds of music performance have in common is that you can never really tell how you’ve done. Not really. For one thing, you can never really hear your own singing the way your audience does, thanks to the resonance of your own skull. Recordings are imperfect, so you can’t trust them. You certainly can’t sit inside people’s brains and look at their reactions. Sometimes you feel that you’ve done well but get no audience reaction. Often you don’t feel any particular magic in your own work, while the audience is openly thrilled by what you’ve done. All you can do is do your best and hope for the best, as the old saying goes.
I guess that goes for prayer, too.
All this was brought on by my stint as StuntTalis and StuntKathyMar for the Ohio Valley Filk Festival’s prestigious (well, in filk circles) Pegasus Awards. To ensure that voters know all the songs they’re picking from, there are Pegasus Nominee concerts at filk conventions around the world (at least, all the ones from May till October). The last nominee concert is at OVFF itself. Talis Kimberley is English and doesn’t usually make it to Columbus for OVFF, so her songs are usually performed by Kathy Mar. But since Kathy couldn’t make it, I got asked to step in, with Steve Macdonald as accompanist since I don’t play guitar.
I practiced a good amount, since Talis’ songs are a bit tricky to keep in my range (She’s a real soprano and I’m a mezzo.) without getting screechy or squeaky (same problem as above). She also tends to have some funky little accents or syncopation that you need to get right or ruin the scansion. But practicing and studying songs you like is not exactly doing hard time. The real problem was that I got sick on Monday when I had to sing on Friday. Thank God for modern antibiotics and the power of prayer, is all I can say.
So apparently, I did really well. I seem to remember thinking I was in decent voice, and I also remember enjoying singing, especially with Steve’s playing. But I really can’t remember much about the whole performance. I was pretty surprised when people clapped as much as they did. This is disconcerting, as I used to be morbidly sensitive to every note I sang (especially the wrong ones) and every bit of audience reaction. It’s not as nervewracking, but it’s certainly odd.