The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: praying for professionals


I don’t write a blog. If I did write, this would be a perfect week to include personal anecdotes about things going on in my life that I’d love to tell everyone even if they didn’t want to know. That’s what a blog’s for, isn’t it?

Bike and Boris

The new tumble drier went on the blink and had to be fixed twice. Admittedly I’d bought it at a heavily knocked-down price from eBay. At the same time, our G-Wiz (which we use for the school run) has been kept in for a service for two weeks to have work done on it which took about ten minutes. A lack of car means that I’ve been cycling our five-year-old to school on the back of a tandem through the City during rush hour. Once, we met Boris Johnson at the traffic lights on London Bridge, and he thought the contraption was, ‘brilliant, brilliant, absolutely brilliant’. Brilliant it may be, but Ollie can’t reach the pedals yet, so it’s been pretty hard going, not helped by his suggestion of taking his encyclopaedia in for Show-and-Tell.

A welcome respite was a last-minute free ticket to the Royal Opera House, though even then, because of a road blockage somewhere around Holborn, I had a 1 hour walk home.

Bet you’re glad I don’t write a blog.

The seamless link into this article, as you may have guessed, is the Opera House. In 2006 I wrote an article asking you to join with us in praying for Christian professional musicians. We’re now in touch with about 120 Christians in the performing arts all over the country, which is hugely encouraging, and many of them have witnessed real growth in their trust in Jesus in a difficult profession.

Christian first

One very happy story is of the chap who took me to the Opera House this week. Jacques Imbrailo (baritone) is involved in a show there at the moment. Jacques has been a model to many of the other Christian professional musicians as to how to stand for Christ after what he would admit to be a very shaky start. He was interviewed by The Times in 2010 before he played the title role in Billy Budd at Glyndebourne that summer. This is what he said: ‘I’m a Christian before I am a singer. Singing is a platform to have conversations with people about the gospel’. He also said, in regard to the roles that he would play: ‘If it’s harmful to my wife, Cara, or other Christians, I’ve got to ask: is this the right thing to do?’

There are many other happy stories of those who love Jesus not only surviving in the profession but flourishing all over the world. Clint in Belgium, Chris in Hong Kong, Katie in the United States, Andrew, Julz and Kirsty in New Zealand, Huw in Australia, Alisdair in Braintree!

Confidence in the Word

Whether they are teachers, rank-and-file orchestral players, cruise-ship entertainers or principal soloists, they all need our prayerful support to stand for Jesus, especially when away from Christian fellowship for long periods. Of course, there have been some very sad stories of the few who have given up on Jesus (for now), but it’s been wonderful watching most keep each other accountable as they travel around.

This is how I ended the article I wrote in 2006, and I’d still say the same today: ‘Often I doubt that the Word of God is powerful enough to sustain these men and women. The attraction of fame, along with the desire for fulfilment in human relationships, seems too strong, especially when the gospel demands humility and faithfulness to one Lord. However, if we are to prove ourselves to be Jesus’s disciples by abiding in his Word (John 8.31), then we cannot compromise on the method of feeding them the Word of God. Please pray that our confidence would remain in the Word, and that these men and women would grow in that confidence too’.

To end, if you want to read a really good blog written by one of the Christian professional musicians, stick ‘SonsOfAsaph.blogspot.com’ into Google. You may find something a bit more interesting and spiritually uplifting than stories about my tumble drier.

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the April 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Case of choral conscience


You’ve been a member of a choral society for some years. You’re asked to sing about lecherous abbots and fornication. What do you do?

Making your decision isn’t helped by the fact that the words are mostly in Latin, so no one (probably including you) knows what they mean. Furthermore, the piece is Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, one of the most popular works for audiences, and therefore a staple in any choral society’s repertoire. Making a fuss about it is going to make you look like a right prude.

Voicing the vices

In February I looked at possible responses of paid Christian musicians being asked to accompany heresy. But how about if you’re a voluntary member of a choral society, who is singing simply for pleasure.

Carmina Burana is an obvious example — it’s a secular piece, which explores some of the pleasures and perils of lust, drinking and other vices. It’s a guaranteed sell-out (pun unintended but effective).

Christians, as you may have guessed, have differing views. Some simply enjoy singing the piece to celebrate God’s common grace of music without worrying about the words: ‘Why can’t we enjoy art simply for what it is — a work of art?’ Others would have a more tender conscience when it comes to singing lyrics publicly, and decline to be involved.

Carmina Burana may be an easy target, but if we inspected every work (even ‘sacred’) that has lyrics not taken purely from Scripture, we’d find things with which we might be uncomfortable. The Dream of Gerontius is a case in point, with all its invocations to Mary. Requiems include prayers for the dead. There will always be a degree of compromise, especially in ‘secular’ performances. It’s one of the hazards of being involved with a choral society!

Let conscience be your guide

Without encouraging anyone to sing things they deem inappropriate, individual consciences must decide whether they feel they are simply performing a work of art, or whether they are actively communicating truths they believe. However, at the same time, I’d like to challenge all Christians who sing in voluntary choirs to consider carefully the words they are singing. I was totally unaware for years that I’d been praying for the dead in the various requiems that I’d performed, and I’m grateful to a Christian brother for waking me up. Happily, however, now that the pendulum has settled itself, I find myself enjoying the music of most of Mozart’s Requiem, while heartily harrumphing through the bits I think are dodgy.

Helpful response

The kind person who replied to the last article pushed me further as he wondered whether he should feel guilty enjoying Mozart’s Requiem at all. He wondered whether it should only be playing on his music system when he did his admin, and not during sermon prep. He also asked whether he would distinguish between allowing a choral society to perform it in church for a concert (it’s not a service), and using it for an evangelistic event. He made the helpful point that, at least in an evangelistic film night, ‘the film’s questionable message can be a launching point to say that the Bible has different answers to the same questions…’ Lots of things to think about!

If we feel that it is worth making a stand, then it would also be worth thinking carefully when and how this is communicated to those in charge and to other singers. I once directed a children’s choir, which I withdrew from a performance of Carmina Burana. Unfortunately, I didn’t commend the gospel very effectively as I was shirty with the overall music director in the process. And then, to placate him, I ended up singing in the concert myself, which was hypocritical in every way. The lesson I learnt is that it’s a much better idea to speak to the director about concerns at the earliest possible point, gently and clearly, using the God-given opportunity to speak about and model grace.

To conclude, I think we end up in Romans 14, where some have stronger consciences, some weaker, so that each decision has to be made case by case, preferably with the advice of those who oversee our spiritual growth, while modelling gospel godliness and grace.

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.