The “requisite sincere looks”

One of my favorite Southern Gospel bloggers unintentionally stirred up a firestorm over the weekend with this post on Ernie Haase & Signature Sound. Most of the post was favorable, but one sentence drew criticism from a fan or two:

I can understand why more traditional(read “older”)quartet fans have a hard time watching SSQ…their entire stage presentation is an exercise in “glitz”…from their mannered vocals, to their requisite “sincere” looks on their faces when they sing songs with “deep” lyrics, to Ernie’s mike antics, to bass Tim Duncan’s borrowed stage theatrics when singing.

Now if it is assumed that every performer will have some look on their face when they perform a song–and I think that is a safe assumption–I’d much rather they put a sincere look on their face than an insincere look!

That’s the quick answer. But there’s more to the question.

You see, Signature Sound follows a practice followed by most Southern Gospel groups. They select some exciting songs that should get their audience going, and they select some “message songs” that should touch their audience.

How do they typically know that a song will touch their audiences? It will probably touch their audiences if it first touches them. I would venture to say that Doug Anderson has been deeply moved by the message in “Forgiven Again,” Ernie Haase by the message in “Oh What a Savior,” and Ryan Seaton by the message in “Then Came the Morning.”

I have found out firsthand that a song that touches you deeply and expresses what’s on your heart will always be meaningful to you, but will not always produce the same reaction it did the first time you heard it. I cried the first time I heard “Calvary Answers for Me.” I’ve played it or sung it hundreds of times since. Have I cried every time? No, I haven’t. But that song is still incredibly meaningful to me, and if I was touring, I’d probably sing it every night.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. When an artist records a song that touches hearts, every concert audience will have a decent percentage of people who have never heard them perform those “message songs.” Sometimes by request, and sometimes in anticipation of a song that would otherwise be requested, an artist will typically perform their most popular “message songs.”

Does it still touch them every time the way it did the first time? No, of course not, though it is still undoubtedly quite meaningful to them.

So what is a performer to do?

I assert that a good performer should perform a song in the way that best reaches their target audience. If “putting on a sincere look,” or, to put it in a nicer way, “looking sincere,” is the best way to communicate a serious song, would it not be best for a performer to look sincere?

Honestly, would you rather go see a group of performers who look and act sincere during the serious songs, or a group of performers who goof off and tell jokes during that key climactic solo?