Performance in church?
Date: July 18, 2010
Jeffrey Tucker has a post up defending the use of the word "performance" to describe what a church choir does during church service.
I'm not sure I agree with his analysis. He seems to think, quoting a 1987 document on liturgical reform (shown at right) that the principal objection to the word "perform" is that it means music which is too showy or just applies to "music they do not like". Therefore, he reasons, the term is abused to suppress truly artistic musical renderings in church. He wants to impose the sense of "perform" as meaning "bring to realization" as in "perform a task well".
But I think the principal objection to the word "performance" is that it suggests that those listening are an "audience" composed of observers. I'm sure he's right about the etymology of the word, but the connotation nowadays suggests a separation between performers and listeners which isn't the goal in church. Those who hear the music in a worship service are participants as well; their silent contributions are spiritual and metaphysical. The choir and congregation are engaging in a joint act of prayer.
I've gone to many a church service where everything is thematic — the readings, the hymns, the prayers, the sermon — until we get to the choir anthem. Then the service comes to a halt while the choir oh-so-carefully sings some music chosen not because it illuminates the service, but because it sounds impressive (if classical) or has a good beat (if popular) or the choir director happens to like it for whatever reason. Then the service resumes afterwards. That's the essence of performance, IMO, calling attention to itself. Conversely, I've been to many services where the music follows logically from the rest of the service, where it helps the congregation to concentrate on the lessons or prayers, and the artistry of the music only enhances the effect.
I'm sure Jeffrey would agree with all of the preceding paragraphs in terms of the role of the choir; I'm only quibbling about the use of the word "performance", which to me strongly suggests a presentation of music which has stand-alone value which interrupts, rather than fits into, the liturgy. It's just an unnecessary secular connotation; we shouldn't use the word "performance" for the same reason we don't refer to the sermon as a "lecture".