CCM: How real. [Laughs]
SP: John, Paul, George and Ringo were in the front row. And they all did well. [Laughs]
I have always loved teaching. I studied voice and piano [in college at Anderson University], but was going to teach. Bill and Gloria Gaither, who are alum of Anderson, heard me sing, called and said, “Hey, we’re looking for a back-up singer to travel with us.” I said, “Let me pray about it. Yes.” So my life really took a different direction.
So one of the things I am very much looking forward to is teaching. I’m starting to teach now. I’m the artist-in-residence at Mid-America Christian University, and we’re doing a Christian Worship Arts & Leadership certificate.
CCM: Tell me some about that program and how it’s helping shape a culture of music leaders.
SP: The word “worship,” which is a fabulous word, has become very limited. When we say, “Stand and worship,” we mean stand and sing. Or [if we say] “worship leader,” we mean music [leader]. Worship is so much bigger than music. It’s how we are every single moment of every single day. Every breath we take is an offering to our Father. When we gather together in a worship setting, that’s to experience our faith in community.
Three or four years ago, I started doing a Biblical study. I’m a “why” person. Why do we gather together? Why is corporate worship important? I started to take a look at where that began in the Old Testament, in the tabernacle, and then in the temple. When the scriptures talk about who was responsible to build the tabernacle, if you were a woodworker, you were skilled and trained. If you worked with iron or gold, you were skilled and trained. No less with the musicians. [You were] skilled and trained.
So one of the things we talk about in class is, what is my job as a person who leads music in a worship setting? So often we want to go right to the leading music part. We often overlook that it is important to be skilled and trained. Skilled in your instrument. Understanding music. What does it look like to be a leader to a group of people? To facilitate the opportunity for others to encounter Christ?
I get really excited about helping empower those who are leading music in worship settings.
CCM: You talk about facilitating the opportunity for us to worship together. Because of your precision and practice, a lot of people would think of your show strictly as a performance. But when my parents and I were at your show in Texas the other night, I kept overhearing people comment, “We have experienced worship tonight.” When you’re preparing a set list, is facilitating worship a part of your thought process?
SP: Later on in my career, I began to understand what it meant to facilitate worship. Before then, I would have called it communication and relatability.
For years, I watched my dad as a minister of music get congregations to sing better than they ever thought they could. He has this way of communicating and encouraging and being relatable. So I watched him connect and really get the best out of that audience.
Then when I began to travel with Bill and Gloria Gaither, it was a master class.
One night someone came up and put a note on Bill’s piano at intermission. This was when they were in-the-round. It was a big production. The note said, “Why don’t you sing ‘The King is Coming’ like you used to sing it when I first heard it?”—because they used to go to churches with just Bill on the piano. I asked Bill, “What you do with that?” He said, “I know enough to know that if they heard it like they first heard it, they would not like it. What they want is to feel like they felt when they first heard it.”
Technology looks different than it did thirty years ago. Concerts look different. Audiences are very wise. But we want to create an evening where they can feel what they felt when they first heard a song.
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