MUSICAL MUSINGS: Process, Product, Professionals, Participation, and Pride


Process, Product, Professionals, Participation, and Pride

By Scott Rieker

Choir Director, Emerson Choir


I have only ever been officially “quoted” once. I was teaching a workshop on the curricular aspect of music education, and I stated, “With music, the product is the process, and the performance is merely a recognition of a job well done.” How that simple statement transfers into practice can be enormously life-affirming.


To understand, we must examine a fundamental assumption of art and music in a “developed” culture. In our culture, music is entertainment provided by professionals. In other words, when music is performed, there are professional performers on-stage, an audience in the seats, and a demonstration of appreciation from the audience at the end (clapping politely, screaming, undergarments thrown on stage, etc.). This schema presupposes that musicking (yes, that’s a word) is only for a few, highly trained experts. Taken to its furthest extreme, this attitude requires that even the audience be trained how to listen to the particular style of music in order to understand it.


However, if we look at indigenous cultures, we often find that music is a part of the cultural fabric. Whether it’s Central African drumming, a Mexican saint’s parade, or a Native American powwow, it becomes clear that there is a trained leader (and perhaps some trained musicians), but that the entire society is musicking: celebrating a life-changing event; mourning a lost loved one; expressing hope in a better tomorrow. Music is an aspect of the language of the community, and—regardless of skill level—everyone is welcome to participate in their own way and at their own comfort level.


How Unitarian Universalist is that?! Celebrating each person’s gifts, offering everyone the opportunity to participate, and giving each individual a chance to grow. At its most basic form at Emerson, when it is time to sing a hymn, people join in with gusto. But what about the “process/product” bit from above?


It comes down to this: in the final assessment, singing for the congregation isn’t the driving reason why we participate in choir. While performance does give us impetus to work our hardest—no one wishes to look foolish or unprepared—we sing because we enjoy it. It builds our community. It edifies our individual spirits and connects us to those around us. We love to sing, and so we share our love of music every Thursday at rehearsals (sometimes more successfully than others, it is true). And then, on Sundays, we invite you to share with us as well. The process (singing) is the product (singing); whether we are in rehearsal or on the steps of the chancel. The “performance” at worship is simply an acknowledgement of the work we’ve done.


There is one more upshot from this re-framing of music, but first a recap: (1) Musicking is an egalitarian enterprise in cultures with a strong communal fabric; (2) People make music—first and foremost—for the love making music. We have a healthy fabric to our Emerson community, so the final conclusion is: (3) If someone who loves music wishes to participate, then they are welcome to join our process, to share in our product, and to have their work acknowledged through a successful performance. “With music, the product is the process, and the performance is merely a recognition of a job well done.”