Before my dad finished seminary and became a senior pastor, he used to help lead worship at a church in Sudbury, Massachusetts. It was an idyllic time in my childhood. We lived on the North Shore, where the falls exploded in colors New England is famous for, we could sit on our roof and see a blue sliver of ocean in the distance and thick white snow provided the perfect sled conditions for those late afternoon runs when my dad had finished all of his Hebrew homework for the day. But one of the things that I’ve come to respect most about our time there was that my dad resisted the urge to give my mom all the solos during worship. She’s not a singer, so that helped, but back in the 80s that didn’t really seem to matter. Regardless of talent level, music ministers were notorious for handing their wives the best songs, the biggest solos and the lion’s share of the spotlight on Sunday mornings.
I think this approach is going out of style as more churches are moving to a worship team format, instead of having a husband and wife unit leading the music. But if it is still happening, you have to be aware of the four different people you’ll run into:
1. Joe Compromise
In one of my favorite scenes from the Simpsons, Homer comes into to the police station to report that he’s seen an alien. Chief Wiggum doesn’t believe him and says, “Well, your story is very compelling, Mr. Simpson. So, I’ll just type it up on my invisible typewriter.” He then swivels in his chair and makes an exaggerated typing motion in the air. That’s how it feels sometimes if you try to tell the music minister that it would be great if someone else, other than his wife could sing a solo. Your comments either get filed away in the invisible typewriter or he compromises and gives you a small part in a song, but still leaves all the primo parts for his spouse. He’ll let you sing lead on one of the 47 choruses of “Our God is an Awesome God” but his wife gets to do the fun opening verse, “When He rolls up His sleeves, He ain’t just puttin’ on the ritz.” You know the one, where you get to mime that you’re rolling up your own sleeves and perhaps putting on a top hat and a monocle. That’s how I put on the Ritz anyway.
2. Mr. Faux-dition
If a music minister is going to give his wife every solo, I tend to prefer we just go ahead and make it official. Give her some sort of sash that says, “I sing solos” or perhaps a medallion that spells out SOLO in sparkly bling. But sometimes, in order to make the other singers feel better, the church will hold what I call a “faux-dition.” It’s essentially a fake audition, in which everyone tries out for the lead roles in the musical or in the choir. After some very serious, difficult deliberation, it’s announced that the music minister’s wife has been given the lead role in all the songs. The congregation pretends to be surprised and then grumbles with me over a buffet lunch at a restaurant on Sunday afternoon. (I find buffets to be the best grumbling food available.)
3. The Bail Out
The husband/wife team can be awesome. Sometimes, neither person wants the wife having the spotlight all the time but no one else in the church wants to sing the solo. Or it’s the night of the big performance and the lead singer has the flu. Do you cancel the show? Do you have a Sunday morning without any special music? Nope, you turn to the lady in waiting, the bail out, the wife of the music minister. She can crush it without any preparation. She’ll rock the mic, and then fade back into the shadows, allowing other people to shine, forever ready to step back in if the moment requires it.
4. The Conductor
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, ownership of an instrument and proficiency in an instrument are too wildly different things. I learned that lesson the hard way when my acquisition of a Martin acoustic guitar did not magically make me awesome at guitar. But occasionally, in addition to giving singing solos to his wife, the music minister will give her instrumental solos too. That’s cool that she owns a cream- or brown-colored recorder dude. Seriously, if you guys want to have some sort of extended, Phish-type jam session in your garage at home, I completely support that. But the breathy, three-minute recorder solo is brutal. I find myself longing for Zamfir, the master of the pan flute, and that’s saying something.
My wife has already made it very clear that she will in no way be supporting me musically if I ever speak at a church. I’ll probably still call her up there though and ask her to play triangle on some sort of spoken word piece I write. It will be like Mike Myers in the movie, “So I married an axe murderer.” But if I do, she’ll repay the favor by asking me to fix something around the house, knowing that I’m what they call “hammer dumb” and will quickly embarrass myself by putting a hole in our bedroom ceiling while chasing a squirrel in the attic with some friends.
Hypothetically speaking of course.
p.s. A reader submitted this idea, but I couldn’t find their name when I went back and looked for it. So thank you anonymous reader.