Second Fiddle

“If I hear that song one more time, I”m going to…”

Her words were interrupted by our laughter. I was at practice with my OneVoice girls, and somehow we had gotten distracted and off-topic. One of the girls was telling about her new job and the incessant music that played in the background during her work day. She confessed that the pop music was okay to hear over and over, but there was one song that seemed to be on repeat that practically drove her crazy: Lady Gaga’s single “Applause.”
Almost immediately, I could understand her reaction to the song. Although I typically listen to worship albums and Christian music, I had heard the pop song before and I wasn’t impressed. True, the song boasted a catchy tune and driving rhythm, but beyond that, “Applause” lacked something huge: humility.

Now, for those of you who are aware of Lady Gaga’s run as a pop star in modern culture, this comes as no surprise to you. Lady Gaga is known for making ridiculous fashion statements and presenting herself without a filter. She is bold and oh, so obvious when she is in the public eye. Considering Lady Gaga’s performance mentality, it was interesting that a worship practice session could be diverted with talk of her song. In my eyes, what we did as worship leaders on the stage was miles away from what Lady Gaga did on stage in her performances.

But the more I thought about it, the idea behind “Applause” served as a bit of a teaching tool. For so long, I had battled against a performance mentality in my work as a worship leader. For many years, I sang on the stage, giving each performance my all because I knew the audience was paying attention. I had to do well to merit the audience’s approval. I was motivated by the kind words spoken to me after the concert or worship service. “Oh, you sang so beautifully!” “Good job!” “That was amazing!” All of these compliments went to my head and only fed my ego.

So when I heard the lyrics to Gaga’s hit song, everything came crashing back to me. I had spent almost four years in physical and spiritual healing from a prolonged illness, and in that time, God taught me what it meant to lead God’s people in worship. It wasn’t about me at all, even though I was on that stage. He was and still is the ultimate worship leader, and I was never meant to glory in the applause of mankind.

But Gaga’s song screams to the listener that she “live[s] for the applause” and the cheers of her fans. It saddened me to witness Gaga’s dependency on the oh-so-temporary praise of fellow human beings. She is a celebrity and people are seemingly fascinated with her. But what happens if, one day, everything changes. What if her fans begin to lose interest and go their own way? Where will Lady Gaga find her worth then?
My journey away from seeking applause has not been easy for me. But leading worship has brought me into a new sense of completion. I no longer feel it is appropriate for the congregation to applaud after I sing. In leading worship, I am seeking to adore Him and bring Him glory. To applaud me after my heartfelt offering to the Creator would immediately jolt a time of worship into a stark contrast of praising me for my talents.
My voice belongs to God, and I am simply offering it back to Him as I worship. I pray that as I lead in song, the congregation will be able to follow me into true worship of our Lord and Savior. I don’t want to be a distraction on that stage. I don’t want to be the stumbling block preventing worshipers from having an encounter with the Risen Christ.
I think of our recent Christmas Eve Candlelight service as a true example of God-honoring worship. For most of the service, I was trying to focus on playing the right notes on the piano and hoping that I wouldn’t forget the lyrics. My sister Becca had joined me and Vanessa to lead in several Christmas carols and a few special numbers. I sang lead vocal and Becca and Vanessa joined in with harmony. It was beautiful and a time that I will not soon forget.

But notice how I said in the previous paragraph that our service was a “true example of God-honoring worship”? Well, when I wrote that, I was referring to the example set by Becca and Vanessa, not necessarily from myself. You see, after the service, several people approached Becca to thank her for sharing her gift of music. I too, expressed how grateful I was to have her singing with us. “Oh, it was no problem; it was fun,” she said. “But I kind of felt like we were your back-up singers.”
“No way!” I exclaimed. “You were a part of the trio… we all were! Without you guys, there would have been no harmony.”
What I said was true. Never once have I looked at the singers alongside of me during worship as back-up vocalists. The singers that support our sound on stage are just as important as my lead vocal and instrumentation from the piano. I have always been encouraged by Vanessa’s quiet example of humility on and off the stage. She often comments that she doesn’t want to sing lead or be at the center of attention. She has made it clear that she loves to sing harmony and be the voice in the background. In the times when I have tried to encourage more involvement, she more or less shrugs her shoulders and steps into the background. She is comfortable there and her humility is authentic.
I read a story recently about famed conductor Leonard Bernstein. At one time, he was asked if there was one instrument that was particularly difficult to play. His almost immediate reply was “second violin.” When he was asked to elaborate, he explained that everyone wants to play first chair violin. In a vocalist’s line of thinking, that is just as significant as singing the lead vocal. Bernstein articulated that it is often very rare to find someone who would rather play the secondary role. But Bernstein pointed out that without second violin, there would be no harmony and the music wouldn’t be complete.
It made me think of Vanessa and Becca on Christmas Eve. I hope they didn’t feel like they played second fiddle to me. I hope they were aware of the significance of their role. But at the same time, I am honored and humbled by their quiet humility. Standing in front of me that night were two young ladies who only lived for the applause of One. I still marvel at the simple quote from writer Ron Owens on the matter of applause. He has said that the only applause that we should be seeking is that from nail-scarred hands.
Nothing else matters beyond the applause and approval of our Lord. I thank Becca and Vanessa for showing me what it means to “live for the applause… from nail-scarred hands.”

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