Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Amen Factor

Perhaps you've noticed it, because I don't think it's just me. My sister and I affectionately refer to it as the "Amen Factor."

From my many years at the piano bench, I have observed a few patterns in the types of "Amens" offered after offertories or instrumental solos. I find it rather pathetic that in fundamental Christianity, where conservative Christian music abounds and people embrace God-honoring songs of worship, something as subtle as the Amen Factor exists. But I'm convinced it does. "So be it"--the phrase actually means, yet it seems that many who affirm "Amen" afer a special number in fact express something quite different. These observations I will attempt to explain.

First, there is the group I would term the Encouraging Ameners. These folks are just happy that the same old pianist isn't up there playing the offertory. No matter the outcome of the solo, the Encouraging Ameners belt out a loud affirmation. They are pleased, regardless of sound or message of a piece, for their most important concern is WHO is at the instrument. To them, the player is more important than the song that is played.

Second are the Wow-Factor Ameners. This group loves loud music. The more bombastic, the better. Especially important are running eighth notes in the left hand, full-fledged arpeggiated right hand runs, and Beethoven-like fortissimos throughout the piece, particularly near the end. Even if "The Old Rugged Cross" or "Silent Night" were played in this fashion, the group would undoubtedly chorus their hearty affirmation and, if acceptable within the church, break into hearty applause. To them, volume trumps all.

Third are the Toe-Tapping Ameners. Give them something with rhythm, and they're happy. A good old gospel song that gallops from start to finish proves particularly appealing to this variety. Speed means satisfaction, and satisfaction brings a hearty "so be it."

These, I feel, are the three most common categories of Ameners. One college professor of mine apparently noted a similar pattern, because when he was in college, he once played "Three Blind Mice," greatly embellished, for an offertory. His improvised version brought a united chorus of "Amens" from the listeners, who, duped by his incredible performance as a guest musician, merely accepted whatever he played for them. Perhaps the faded church pianist, from her perch in the second row that night, merely smiled inwardly, noting the Amen Factor.

Why is this the case? How can thinking people who pride themselves in taking a stand on conservative music "Amen" the performance or the performer? Are the Ameners in the house of God there to worship or to be entertained? Are they responding to truth or to feelings? "So be it" must be offered with the message of the song.

In my opinion, the listener who meditates on the words of the hymn, in his own heart offering an "Amen" as he reflects on the substance behind the song, is he who truly understands the spirit of "so be it." If all Amens were offered in this fashion, could we not all say "Amen"?