Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Prayer versus Performance

It is possible I may have raised this issue before but last Sunday's  eucharist reminded me forcibley that it is a very real bone of contention.

If, as I am, you are a life-long performer, old habits die hard.

Used to singing either as a soloist or as part of a group, member of a chorus or of a choir it seems normal to expect and receive applause after a performance.

Singing in a church choir is a very different kettle of fish, where music is an integral part of the service and some would say, a type of prayer in itself.

Therefore in the Anglican church the music 'happens', and is seamlessly absorbed into the liturgy with no recognition (at the time), though on occasions when we have sung particularly well, with a few compliments after the service.

On just a very few occasions - for example on Christmas Day - we have sometimes put in an extra item (The Halleluja Chorus) or something similar and received a huge volume of applause.

This is very heart-warming and is usually very welcome since this is after all, the culmination of a hefty programme of music over a lengthy and very tiring period of time.

Last Sunday, about one third of the choir turned up and for the anthem sang unaccompanied the work by Lully arranged by Bizet, known for choral purposes as "Far Away".  This we sang, though I say it  as shouldn't, very well indeed.

We were astounded by the reception, loud cheers and rapturous applause.

Although it was a lovely tribute it felt (for me anyway) completely out of place.

Which raises for me yet again, the old question.  Where does performance end and prayer begin?



  1. Hmmm. Our little choir, a faithful group of folk, some of which do not read music, others find it hard to even stay in tune and one fellow who loves to sing, and lives at a local care home, and has trouble getting the words pronounced....all do their best. Most Sundays we are part of the worship and nothing is mentioned but once in a while someone in the congregation is moved to applaud, and others follow. I know it pleases the choir. I always tell them that we are are worshiping and leading worship through our songs. I imagine that your services are probably more sedate and have more of a ritual than ours does. As long as we are worshiping, that's the important part. We could never sing anything as difficult as your choir does. We do what we are able to do, I guess. I don't think I have answered your question, but instead have given a little different look at worship.

  2. Our church is St Mary the Virgin in Aylesbury Buckinghamshire and is the County church, an A listed building and theoretically should have an important part to play in the religious life of the county.
    In fact it is a very mixed sort of building, over 800 years old, beautiful in places, and decidedly not in otheers.
    The ages in the choir range from 8 years to 82 years (me), we all have to audition to join but are hugely varied in our musical abilities. Wer are, however, all baptised and mostly, confirmed in the Church of England.
    SWinging in the choir is hard work but if music is your thing then nothing is more rewarding,
    It is, if you like, our contribution to the life of the church.
    We also, like you, do what we are able and now and then do well.

  3. Please forgive the typos, it is late evening and my eyes and hands are not working as a team.

  4. Interesting question - appreciation of worship and music can be all part of the worship experience, so maybe the clapping just becomes part of the whole. I am glad it all went so well. Blessings from Dalamory

  5. Well Freda, whatever the rights and wrongs of receiving applause for what is after all part of the service, I was quite pleased to hear it as a 'one-off'. If this morning's effort by the choir is any indication, such events will continue to be rare.
    We sang "Lead me Lord" quite badly, no particular reason, a combination of freezing cold church, early morning January inertia or something equally inexcusable.
    I suppose I should just be grateful for the odd outstanding offering and not feel too uncomfortable if the congregation recognises it too.
    Blessings likewise to you.

  6. Dear Ray, I understand your question but I sort of think that clapping can accompany prayer--not just performance. David danced and sang to praise the Lord and all around him the Israelites cheered and clapped and rejoiced. At least, that's how I remember being taught the Scripture when I was in a Roman Catholic grade school years ago! Peace. And congratulations on such a fine rendition of the song.

    1. You remember correctly, I often keep that in mind when I ponder on the issue of applause and cheers in church.

  7. Perhaps it's just me then Dee.
    It is such a rare occurrence I don't think I need to get used to it.
    It is just that it doesn't sit well with High Anglican tradition.

  8. I don't like it Ray ,it would have seemed to me to be out of place and taking the glory away from God. If Im worshipping in a church where there is no liturgy, and the worship is free and Holy Spirit led, it would
    still seem out of place to me and not allowing the Glory to fall .

  9. Phew! Someone else on my planet then Margaret?
    As I said, the performer in me was happy, but the aspiring Anglican was not.

  10. Friends!
    In a parish, a community with regular services, faithful worshippers and a wise leadership, I should say it would be both proper and rewarding to show your joy with applause.
    But in church of Sweden, the performance part has sneeked in more and more and services often carry traces of a huge brainstorming to make it catchy and appealing. Music with as little liturgy as possible, is preferred .
    I noticed also among some choirsingers that they think of themselves as performers, they rarely attend services if the choir isnt there. To make it even more difficult, the choir isnt a natural part of the liturgy. We sing at Christmas, Easter, Pentecoast and around All Saints day and Thanksgiving. Sometimes a concert.
    That makes it all the more tempting to think of it as a performance.

    I can't make up my mind. If I raise my voice about this I am often met with stern looks, and being told that who am I to judge where the praise goes if the congregation cheers and give applause. No. I guess so.
    But I think we have to talk about it. We need to strenghten the worshipping in the choir, make them proud of what the Lord gave them . As a natural part of worship the choir is pure gift of grace, even if, as Bonnie says, its sometimes a very mixed group of people. If the choir come to think of themselves as a support to the congregations worship and praying, them being a part of the congregation with a specific mission, then I would say it was quite alright with a spontaneous appreciation. In the end, its something for the ministry to ponder on, together, in honesty and good will and with prayer.
    I sometimes perform solo and find it awkvard with applause...

  11. Going as I did, from the world of opera to the world of church music it took me a long time to accept that in a really good choir the individual must give way to the communal sound. The idea of one voice being hear in isolation defeats the object of a group sound.
    In the same way, I believe, personalities should be moulded together to produce a 'whole' and the object should be to enhance the participation of the congregation, to lead the singing and make the service more inclusive.
    Performing as such, creates a barrier and is the exact opposite of this aim.
    The performer in me still enjoys hearing applause but the struggling would-be Christian tries hard not to want such acclaim.
    This probably doesn't make sense but it is how I feel.