Key Ministry

piano

Saturday my daughter dropped by the house (and left my grandson for me to watch) on her way to rehearse with Kim Hester, pianist at First Baptist Nashville, who was accompanying her on a solo Sunday (yesterday).  I was excited to have my “kid” going to spend a little time with Kim, who is a saint in my eyes after having worked with her for nearly two years at First Baptist Nashville.  I knew that not only would Kim help Liz musically, but that her spirit of affirmation would help build confidence for this responsibility of ministering through song in morning worship at FBC.  That spirit is expressed both in affirming words, but also through impeccable keyboard skills that support singing and help the singer to unleash their best gifts.

 

I could easily write an entire article on this one pianist, and could probably write a novel about the upbringing of a child who is gifted musically being raised in the home of a minister musician.  Instead I want to pull the lens back to a wider angle and invite you to consider with me the powerful ministry of those who accomplish the yeoman’s work of accompanying in our worship and music ministries.  I recognize that stylistic transitions may have changed the workload and/or the placement of the church pianist or organist in the mix of things musically in many situations.  This transition factor alone often speaks volumes about the servant heart of these players, some of whom have been all but forgotten after years of unselfish service.  I have certainly known many organists, for instance, who have been relegated to playing string reductions on a keyboard, after having served as the primary instrument player in their previously “traditional” church setting.  Many of these folks have made such a transition maintaining a servant spirit that allows them to discover ways of supporting the musical direction and needs of their leader and the church in which they serve.  I have known pianists who sit idly by while accompaniment is rendered by DVDs, CDs, or a worship leader who depends primarily on his own guitar playing.

 

Pianists and organists play many roles in the work of music ministry, each of which calls for its own unique flavor of supportive ministry action and attitude.  Accompanying choral rehearsals with the sensitivity to know what to play when is a special art.  A sensitive accompanist can provide invaluable aid to the music leader when certain parts need additional support finding their pitch, catching a challenging rhythm, or needing a clear entrance cue.  Of course, an insensitive accompanist can overstep boundaries and make a leader appear inadequate, or can introduce tension by not knowing when to give additional support.  Accompanists often work with soloists and ensemble singers in preparation for worship leadership and ministry, encouraging higher levels of confidence as indicated in the opening example of this article.  I cannot count all of the teen soloists who I knew had the ear and voice to solo, but remained insecure until the accompanist assured them through their playing and verbal support helped them over the hump to present effective ministry through song.  I have seen students go on to become regular soloists and music leaders themselves thanks in some degree to the support shown by an accompanist.  These behind the scene activities are crucial to developing musicians, strengthening program, and building the sense of security for the music leader in his or her own capacity.  All of this is in addition to the obvious work and ministry of the keyboard players who supply music that so often serves as the thread that keeps the flow and movement of worship connected.  I have found my own worship expression deepened often by the keyboard artistry of those with whom the Lord has blessed me to serve.  Sometimes it is the creative expression by a gifted pianist, or organist in bringing back a musical theme from a hymn sung, an anthem proclaimed, or another music message delivered that helps an entire service of worship make sense as the pieces of liturgy come together.

 

I always stand amazed at the gifts of keyboard players as I personally passed my piano proficiency exam by the proverbial skin of my teeth.  I know now that I should have practiced the piano more during teenage years when I thought I could be a football star, even though I weighed 135 pounds soaking wet and was slow (yes, I really did only weigh 135 at one time).  My amazement at the gifts of keyboard players does not end there, though, not at all.  In fact, I thank God for the rich blessing of each of those people with whom I have been privileged to work.  They have demonstrated the love of God to me over and again.  They have made me a better musician often.  They have challenged me to serve more diligently.  They have been and continue to be some of my dearest friends.  They are persons for whom I have deep respect and admiration, not only for their gifts, but for their commitment to ministering through the work of their fingers and the sensitivity of their heart offered to their God in the service of His children, and the proclamation of His love.

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3 Comments on “Key Ministry”

  1. Vanessa Herren Says:

    Paul,
    I forwarded this article on to my two accompniasts. They are both a blessing to me. I count on them and lean on them so much. Brenda has acccompanied me for nearly 30 years and is gifted in selecting vocal music for our soloist, duos, trios and quartets. Jill, my precious, wonderful daughter, is filling our church with the gift of more contempory songs that she enjoys – filling a gap that was so needed in our worship time and the two of them are truly awesome when they play the organ and piano together. I try to take opportunities to thank them publicly, but I know I don’t do it enough. Your article reminded me of just how blessed I am to have them in my life and how much are congregation is blessed to be in their presence on Sunday Morning.
    Vanessa

  2. Kyle Hankins Says:

    There is no question that accompanists can make or break a performance. Within a worship setting having a sense of when to play; when not to play; how loud to play is a gift. The good thing is that if you may not have the “gift” I believe it can be attained mainly by listening to the big picture. Practice and preparation are keys to be able to get out of the music and into the flow being able to orchestrate “on the fly”.

    By the way, keyboardists rock.


  3. Excellent article…I can’t wait to give it to those who play piano and organ at our church. Thanks Paul!


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