Most of the time when I receive an email message, the needed response is a pretty simple “check out this video, it will show you the steps you need to take.” In this post, however, I want to share a deeper response to a fairly simple question: should a keyboard player be expected to play while standing?
(FYI, if you email me, you probably won’t get an answer this long, and you should also know that anything shared in email is confidential, unless we agree otherwise.)
Hi! Been watching your YouTube videos for a while now and they’re awesome! I’ve learned so much about using Mainstage and playing at church in general – thanks!
I do have a question. I am a classically trained piano player – learning classical and then jazz. So naturally, I sit while playing piano, rhodes and organ on my keyboard at church.
However, I’ve been asked to stand when I play, because all of the other keyboard players stand, and apparently it looks better for “stage appearance”… whatever that means. I find it horribly uncomfortable to stand while playing though – its hard on my wrists, and I find it difficult to stay balanced while operating 2 pedals.
What do you do? What should I do? Should I argue that it doesn’t matter as long as I’m at my most comfortable position? Or suck it up and cope with the wrist pain?
Please help! Thanks!
Hi Ben, thanks for your message. It’s a really interesting situation to me. There are a lot of potential dynamics at play here, so I’m gonna say a lot. Use what’s helpful and put the rest “on the shelf.”
Have you talked through this with your team leader(s)? I can’t speak to the particular value or reason for standing as opposed to singing in leading worship, but they may be able to explain further. It may just be a personal preference as to how it looks, to see the keyboardist standing. Or it may be tied to a thought of honoring God by standing if possible. Or, maybe it’s a directive from the senior leadership. I don’t know. But if you could ask in a non-threatening way, you could at least open up a dialogue about it, which would lead to building trust. That’s actually what I would say is the goal here, whether we arrive at complete agreement about which position is better or not, try to use this difference to build trust – that you will communicate honestly with each other and cultivate understanding between yourselves.
One thing to be careful about, as a classically trained musician – I see this tendency in myself and in others on my team with formal training – is to let go of “the right way to do it.” Our background puts us at a tremendous advantage musically, but we have to remember that in a contemporary music setting, a lot of our techniques will need to be different. More important than the techniques is the way we communicate with non-trained musicians. A lot of times we could hold our training as a sort of “trump card” in any dispute as to how to do things. Or, something that would be less obvious, we could just hold an attitude that sits back and says, “Their way of doing this is pretty ignorant.” Or, maybe it’s not even our fault, but the non-trained types carry an insecurity because they feel outclassed, and it shows in a defensive or resentful attitude on their end. It’s another dynamic to monitor.
Practically speaking, I think it would be a deal-breaker if someone was knowingly asking you to do something painful. If your leader knows what he/she is asking is causing you pain and still insisting that you do it anyway, that’s obviously unacceptable. Would it be possible to adjust the height of the keyboard so that your playing position was essentially the same from the waist up? That could mean raising or lowering the keyboard, but I would think you could get it pretty close.
That still leaves the pedals issue, which is a little trickier. I assume one is a sustain pedal; is the other a volume pedal? I agree that it is indeed difficult to handle two pedals from a standing position. I’ve tried using a volume pedal, but since I typically stand when I play at church, I eventually ditched it. The only time I really needed it was for playing Hammond organ sounds. For the types of things I play on Hammond, I can pretty much adjust volume and settings with my left hand. That would definitely not work for a serious Hammond player. If it’s something where you really can’t get by without the second pedal, it would probably take showing your leader what you can do seated with a second pedal, versus your limitations of standing with one pedal. At that point, he or she would say either “I see the extra value of what you can add when you sit, let’s have you do it that way” or “What you do is cool, but I’m not sure it’s as important to me as having you stand when you play.” If it’s the second response, make sure the way you handle it will build trust.
Finally, church culture can change overnight. So while today it’s “we want the stage to look a certain way,” tomorrow it could be “throw all that out, we don’t care what it looks like, turn off all the lights and let’s just worship.” A leader’s priorities can change. There were things that were very important to me years ago that I couldn’t care less about now. So even if the reasons for doing things a certain way don’t jive with your thinking or preference now, know that your leaders are growing, they’re in their own process, and it’s worth sticking it out through discrepancies. The discrepancies and irritations are annoying, but that’s where we grow.
Again, use what’s helpful, file the rest. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and dialogue further if you like. Grace and peace/Peter