My Journey with Church Music // Q+A
Hey y’all! It’s Q+A day! A great big thank-you to those of you who submitted questions for this Q+A. I love it when my blog readers get involved!
What’s the biggest struggle for you as a musician involved in the church?
One thing I really worry about is miscommunication. Especially when many people are involved, you’ve got to be on the same page. I also get very stressed about time. If the person leading the music is not there early, I panic. If someone is running late, I panic. If I don’t have a nice margin of time to prepare, I panic. Even though I tend to do pretty well under pressure in the moment, I struggle with being flexible and calming down in stressful situations.
How do you not get prideful with your piano playing for church?
Let me just say, I’m not perfect and I don’t always have a humble attitude. I feel absolutely unqualified to answer this question. Weeding out pride isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a day by day, moment by moment decision to put yourself in submission to God. It’s almost just a mindset.
I think the main thing you have to realize is, pride is a heart issue, not an appearance issue. If someone tells you that you are prideful, it’s because of something they’ve observed. It’s something you’ve said or done, or how you’ve come across physically. You can fix those things all you want. You can fix your appearance until you look like the most humble person on earth. You can say and do all of the right things. But you will never be addressing the actual issue, which is in your heart.
Here’s a good principle: don’t just treat the symptoms; identify the disease. Symptoms are helpful in figuring out the problem, but the issue will never truly go away unless you attack the disease head-on. Another principle is, symptoms indicate a deeper problem. If someone says you’re prideful, they’ve seen and observed symptoms, but the true issue is not on the surface. Symptoms help diagnose the problem. Are you getting the analogies I’m trying to make?
So to answer your question as to what I personally do, the main thing I do is pray. I pray that God would be seen through me, and receive all the glory. Oftentimes I will pray, “Lord, make me lower.” I try to get my mind focused on God and surrender myself right before I play. I must have a proper view of God and a proper view of myself and my role. I am nothing but an instrument in the hand of God. He is everything.
About how much time do you practice piano per day?
It really depends. I’m not on a “30 minutes a day, 5 days a week” schedule or anything like that. I’ve never viewed practicing as a chore, so I’ve never kept track. I would say that the total time I spend at the piano each day would be 1-3 hours, though. Aside from scales and theory and maybe a run-through of Pirates of the Caribbean, I don’t really categorize my pieces in “practicing” and “playing” categories. ;) I just work on everything. Practice time also depends on the time of year it is. For instance, right now I’m preparing for a competition, so I’m spending more time at the piano than I would, per say, in the summer. In a couple weeks, as the competition gets closer, I will understandably be at the piano even more.
Do you think you’ll major in church music (or music in general)?
Yes! For those that don’t know, I do have plans for college in the future, and I am currently already taking a college-level class to go ahead and kick out credits before I’m actually a full-time college student. Right now, my main considerations are Church Music and Piano Pedagogy, but in the past I’ve also considered doing Music Education or Music Composition. So really, I’m pretty open to several different majors, but I’m leaning more towards Church Music at this point in time.
Can you tell us about a church performance you had where you weren’t entirely prepared or you were really nervous about it and God still used it to bless people?
Sometimes I wonder if this is the story of my life! I could give so many examples of times when I’ve felt unprepared or nervous, and God still was gracious enough to bring me through it and bless others. Little is much when God is in it!
At our church, we try to tie in the offertory hymn with the general theme of the songs and sermon, the best we are able to. One Sunday recently, I could find no good relation between my It Is Well and the rest of the songs. I felt awful. However, afterward, I was more-than-usually surprised at the people who came up to me and shared with me what a blessing it was. In particular, a friend of mine had had a rough week prior, and she told me that the morning service was filled with all of her favorite songs, and she thought she was going to cry when I played It Is Well. I had no clue that hymn meant so much to her.
For another example, just a couple weeks ago, I was asked to organize a young peoples’ vocal group to introduce an unfamiliar hymn to our church. Due to several different things, the group didn’t actually practice till the day-of. I hadn’t slept well many nights during the week before, worrying about how it would all come together, but when I gathered them together to run over it before the service, my fears were set aside as I listened to their gorgeous harmony and saw one of the sopranos close her eyes while she personalized the words she was singing. Then I got the incredible privilege of watching them while they gathered together on stage and sang. God took care of all my fears and I myself was blessed by their song.
Which is your favorite instrument to play in church?
This may come as a surprise to many of you, but… flute might just be my favorite to play at church! Someone said to me at church a little bit ago, “Grace, you should play your flute more! But when are you not playing piano?” :) Although I do a lot of piano, and I love it, I’ve really enjoyed getting more involved in our music ministry with my flute as of late.
What is your favorite hymn?
I have many favorite hymns, but a couple are, His Robes for Mine, In Christ Alone, All I Ever Want to be, All I Have is Christ, and Behold Our God.
What is your favorite arrangement?
Goodness, this is hard! This piano solo arrangement of His Robes for Mine has been well up there on my favorite’s list since the very first time I heard it. Taryn Harbridge’s arrangement of How Great Thou Art is also fantastic (piano, violin, vocal, pennywhistle), and the Behold Our God I linked to above is also beautiful (violin, viola, cello, guitar).
Just one more week left!