How Dueling Pianos Made Me A Better Worship Leader

For those unfamiliar with dueling pianos, the concept is as follows:

People request songs and then the pianists/vocalists encourage them to singalong, stand on chairs and engage in similar frivolities.  I’m not sure about your church, but that certainly isn’t my experience of Sunday morning.

I’ve worked as a dueling piano player going on 10 years now.  In this job, I’ve played in multiple different contexts and performed for wildly disparate groups of people.  Some of them are familiar with the concept, others are being introduced to it for the first time.

So what’s the connection?

Well aside from the fact that both can drive you to drink, here’s the main thing:

In church and in dueling pianos I continually put my preferences aside in order to help people have an emotional and spiritual experience.  Example:  I care very little for “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey (at this point, I’ve played it so many times that I’m a Journey-specific atheist).  However, it’s my responsibility as a dueling piano player to make sure that people in the venue connect with that song as it will likely be the high point of their evening.  If people are not scream-belting by the end of that tune, I have not done my job.

So much of worship culture shames pastoral musicians if they don’t have a visceral emotional connection to the music they’re playing in church services.  But, to use the parlance of my other job, that’s not the gig.  As a pastoral musician, you are there to facilitate an emotional and spiritual connection for the people in your congregation.  Sometimes that will involve using music that you love.  Sometimes it will be material that you might not care for or necessarily connect with personally.  That doesn’t make what you are doing “less spiritual.”  It’s being faithful to the people who you serve.

It’s been a long learning curve but the biggest skill I’ve gained from my time as a dueling piano player is learning how to find those emotional and spiritual connecting points through material that, frankly, I don’t really care about.  I’ve learned to find more meaning in facilitating than in feeding my preferences.

p.s.

in terms of “best practices,” please make sure that you are feeding your soul with stuff that cuts you to the quick.  But taking the pressure off your pastoral gig to do that for you will be super helpful.

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