Monday, June 3, 2013

The "Entitled" Endangered Electric Guitarist?

I read this article over and over again.  Steam started coming out of my ears. 

The author asks, "Why is it so hard to find a good electric guitarist for a church band?"

His answer?

The current generation is "possibly" too lazy and entitled to put in the hard work and dedication to learn electric.  They'd rather pick up an acoustic.  

Dang.  I had no idea my acoustic = entitlement

 The author, Dan Leverence, makes so many inaccurate assumptions that I can't believe this article made it past the editorial staff.  This is *not* the way I wanted to join the community at, but there are some points that have to be addressed. 

There are at least four legitimate reasons why more believers don't learn electric guitar:

1) Bad Theology.

I'm so glad that everyone at has the freedom to play electric guitar at their church.  However, some of us grew up in rural churches full of misguided people that believed all "head-banger" music was "of the devil." Those of us who attempted to bring "contemporary worship" music to a highly traditional church were given a resounding "No," because Lucifer himself might be hiding out in the Marshall amp. 

This is not a dated problem.  Just last week, I picked my daughter up from preschool, and found out that certain music is prohibited in the host church because of "The Beat."  Apparently, some  beats are  satanic.   (Click on any word in that sentence for an article that will make your head spin.)

I wish I was making this up, but this is a false belief that has infiltrated church culture for decades.

Of course, many young people move on from churches like this, but what should they do in the meantime? Fight with their parents, pastors, and teachers over musical styles?  Hide money in a coffee can to buy that Fender Strat? Bury their musical talents and tell the Lord, "I'm sorry, Mom thought that if I played electric, I'd start sacrificing babies"?

I picked up an acoustic guitar, and learned to play hymns. I learned the language of the people I went to church with, and how to communicate "worship" with their words and traditions. According to Dan Leverence, that doesn't mean I was trying to serve the people closest to me with my gifts --it means I was too lazy to put in the hard work of learning electric.

Dang, and I thought I was being Christ-like.

Mr. Leverence is a worship pastor *and* an adjunct professor in a worship ministry degree program, and he doesn't mention this theological phenomenon once.   Mr. Leverence, have you asked any of the guitarists you teach what their families and home churches think about the electric guitar?  Do you think anyone in an informal conversation is going to volunteer, "I'd love to play electric, but my dad would kick me out of the house, and brand me a heretic"?

2)  Lack of Musical Mentors

Despite the prevalence of worship bands today, there's no mention in this article of the fact that contemporary worship music *in churches* is less than 30 years old.  (Hmmm, that's kind've the definition of "contemporary.")  Mr. Leverence's solution to the "entitlement" of young guitarists who are too darn lazy to pick up an electric was to form healthy, mentoring relationships.

Well, that would mean that there would have to be an older electric guitar player in the church.  An older guitar player who had already fought and won any psuedo-theological battles about "rock" music in church. An older guitar player who had a  heart for teaching, for washing the feet of the younger generation, who didn't feel threatened by someone younger coming in to possibly take his place.

 If contemporary worship music is only ~30 years old, then how many of those guitarists do you think are out there?

I was so blessed to HAVE such a mentor when I was a young teenager.  A man named Terry Steiden saw that I had musical talent, and a desire to serve God with it.  He explained the  subtleties of leading worship, how to play in a band, how to do acoustic techniques like palm-muting and arpeggios, how to vary the dynamics, and how to do it all to God's glory.

In 15 years, he's the *only* such guitarist I've met, who's actively been willing to mentor me.  I've sought mentors out, I've paid for lessons, I've connected with my (harried, busy, over-extended) worship pastors, and yet there's been only one Terry Steiden in my life. 


3) Gear is expensive!

As a young teenager, already working one or two jobs outside of high school, leading my FCA chapter, leading people to Christ, and trying to get into college, I was THRILLED that my father paid for a Taylor 410 CE acoustic guitar.  I still have that guitar today, and I will forever be thankful to him for it.  But there was no way, I repeat NO WAY he was going to support my desire to play hard rock music.  There were too many theological questions around it.  (Plus, he hated the sound of it.  If it wasn't bluegrass, it wasn't good enough.)  How is a young adult going to grow as an electric guitarist when she *must* have gear to grow, and gear is so expensive?  (This was also in the late-90s, when sites like Craigslist and Ebay weren't around to give us access to decent-quality used gear.)

Now that I'm an adult, I buy my own gear, and I borrow some from my church.  However, to characterize a generation of young people as "entitled" because they won't drop 2-3 grand on a gig for a worship band is outrageous.  Should they take on an extra job, outside of high school and college, just to pay for this gear? 

And what will they get in return for their hard work and investment?

Mr. Leverence says, "... if the emerging generation sees that more doors of opportunity can open to them if they expand their abilities[to electric] it’s motivating for them."  What are these doors of opportunity? Playing as a volunteer in a church band?  Touring, perhaps?  Playing in *bigger* bands?  Bigger churches?  What are these amazing excellent opportunities that only open up to people who play electric?  Avoiding being called "entitled"?

There was one aspect that Mr. Leverence didn't touch on at all:

4) What if the guitarist is a girl?

How many female guitarists do you know?  (I personally know three.  Exactly three.  And I've been leading worship for 15 years.  I met Ashley Cleveland at the CMS conference about a month ago, so I guess that brings it to four.)  Mr. Leverence, with all of the boundaries that MUST be in place in a healthy ministry (no one-on-one time alone with members of the opposite sex, etc.,)  if mentoring relationships are the way that guitarists grow, how would you advise a female guitarist to go about getting this mentoring?  Are we destined to either stay entitled and unteachable, or stay in the lower-skilled realm of acoustic guitar? How many Terry Steidens are willing to take the risk of mentoring a young girl?  How many Vickie Steidens are going to be okay with their husbands spending quality time with a young girl?

The acoustic guitar was not a way for me to escape responsibility, stay low-skill, or accommodate an entitled attitude.  It was a way for me to work with the theological, logistical, financial, and relational issues I had to deal with, and still develop my skills to God's glory.  Ignoring those issues will limit your ability to understand why you don't have enough electric guitarists to get the sound you want. 

Okay, I've stretched my three kids' patience to its limit.  My 18-month old is banging on the piano, my 4-year-old is doing gymnastics on my chair, and my 7-year-old is reading Narnia. I hope this response shows some of the problems with Mr. Leverence's article, and maybe worship leaders will have some helpful information to "get the electric guitarist off the endangered species list." 

And I only have one more payment to make on my ES-335 Dot, before it comes out of layaway..... ;)