I spend a lot of time working with the music ministry of the church that I attend. I sing in the choir, play bass in the praise band and sing many of my religious songs during our services. I occasionally fill in leading singing or playing the piano. I also get called on for the occasional special music during the worship service. A few years ago we had a pastor who was greatly involved in an organization from various denominations that conducted prayer services at different churches throughout our city. Our pastor had offered to host one of these services at our church and asked people involved in our music ministry to assist in providing music. The service was held on a weekday in the early afternoon. I was able to adjust my work schedule to attend.
There were two ladies leading our choir at the time. They had selected some songs for the service and had asked me and another man to join with them in leading the music. They had also selected a particularly difficult song for us to perform as a quartet. We were up to the task but had problems getting the song to come together. We rehearsed prior to the service and were able to get comfortable enough to be able to do the song during the service.
When the service started, there were very few familiar faces in the audience. Most of the people seemed to recognize each other to the extent that they appeared to be regulars at these events. All of the people working with the music had performed often enough that this did not bother us. The quartet gathered to one side of the stage, the pianist started playing and the service started. Soon after the music began, an African American lady sitting to our side of the stage and about halfway back in the sanctuary stood up, pulled out a tambourine and started playing along.
This was a first for me and I think it was for everyone in our group. I realize that different churches have different styles of worship. Raising your hands during worship songs is a common occurrence in some churches while frowned upon in others. Applause is accepted in some churches and discouraged in others. Audience members playing tambourines is more common in some denominations and cultures than it is in others. It is definitely not typical in the United Methodist churches that I have attended throughout my lifetime. So I found this tambourine to be a little shocking.
But my shock wasn't only because this lady was playing a tambourine. It was because she was playing it badly. She was totally out of rhythm with the song. I cannot describe how disorienting it was to have her playing along. If she had been with the beat, I would have been ok. If I had not been in front of this crowd, I would have been fighting back laughter. I was trying as hard as I could to maintain my composure and not laugh out loud and disrupt the somber tone that we felt was appropriate for a prayer service. I could not look at the lady or I would have lost it. I could not look at my fellow musicians. I knew they were thinking the same thing I was. If I had made any eye contact with them at all, it would have led to snickers, snickers to giggles and giggles to outright belly laughs. I stared at the music intensely. I focused on the words and notes. I intentionally ignored any signals from my fellow singers that they found this in any way funny. As much as I could, I treated the out of sync banging of the tambourine like random knocking on a door. It was loud and annoying but should not affect my enjoyment of the music. I don’t think I looked any of my friends in the eye until after the service and then with raised eyebrows and grins on our faces. There is one tambourine in our church now. It is never used during any performances and I have no idea how it got there. Whenever anyone accidentally hits it, we recount the story of this lady. We point to the area of the sanctuary where she stood. But I can never pinpoint exactly where she was because I couldn’t look.
Singer, Songwriter, Entertainer, Storyteller