In recent days comments have come to the forefront which relate to musical training issues. There seems to be a misunderstanding equating “trained singing” or “trained musicians” as something that is in conflict with worship that is “authentic.” I have heard more than once: “we don’t want a voice that sounds like it is trained.” The interpretation is that a voice that is deemed “trained” is seen as “performative” and lacks “authenticity.”
Bringing attention to oneself can indeed distract from worship matters. It is important, however, to know that there is a distinction between performance and “entertainment.” The word “perform” according to several dictionaries is simply “to work, function, or do something to a specified standard.” The word “entertain” however, is quite different. Among many of its descriptors, the same dictionaries define it as “that which diverts.” The implication is that entertainment by function is meant to distract from reality, whereas “perform” is related to service. This article will use the word “perform” in its true meaning.
Why are these distinctions relevant? Such understandings set the foundation for an important discussion that needs to take place among worship leaders and values that shape practice. Most agree Christian worship should be described as “authentic.” Such authenticity should be modeled by those who help engage the congregation in worship. The question is: “Can there be authenticity in high levels of formal training?”
Please don’t misunderstand. The premise is not to apply this question to a particular style—i.e. contemporary versus traditional. Classical training is not referring to an aesthetic but rather a teaching method in relation to skill development. Taking classes in voice pedagogy, theory and aural skill development are components of classical or formal training. Learning chord tablature for guitar over the internet is also training but in terms of methodology would be seen as informal. Both are important. Skill development in contemporary forms can be very intense and could also be considered “classical.”
It is the concern of this musician that classical training and skill development are too often devalued in today’s church. Quick access to base levels of training are helpful but will seldom carry the congregation through stylistic challenges that affect ALL churches. I am concerned that some avoid higher levels of training simply because it is easier to imitate a style rather than develop into an artist that can breathe high levels of training into volunteer musicians for high standards of performance (service). Classical training is not “elitist.” It is important to note however, that one who uses any musical gift (classical or pop) from an attitude that is arrogant or elitist is out of place in the service of Christ. A humble spirit (contrite heart) is the only attitude for acceptable worship.