I don’t have a personal trainer. It may be that I would get more out of my exercise if I had a personal trainer. It may also be the case that, if I weren’t listening to Yacht Rock as I work out, I would get more out of my exercise. Yacht Rock is not exactly what one imagines coming through the speakers of a gnarly Crossfit gym. Or box? Don’t they call them boxes? I’m not sure and it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that this morning, as I was working out and listening to Yacht Rock, it came to me that this genre bears a strong relationship to Episcopal liturgy. Stay with me.
First of all, Yacht Rock, if you are unaware, is that particular kind of rock that emerged in the mid-Seventies and flourished into the mid-Eighties. Think Christopher Cross, Hall and Oates, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, Toto. One thing that sticks out pretty quickly is the Anglo bent of this group. That’s pretty fair, although Lionel Richie and Al Jarreau will sometimes come up on Amazon’s Yacht Rock station. So, here we have a pretty distinct sub-genre that pulls in influences from around the world but is often performed by white people in this country. So the analogy with Episcopal liturgy holds up so far.
Also, Yacht Rock is an ensemble thing. At the center is a well crafted lyric that may or may not make immediate sense but communicates an often transcendent experience. But the song can’t be sustained merely by the words. It’s got to have an edifying melody, and rarely will you hear a minor chord. We’re still tracking with the liturgy, right? And, of course, there is performance. There are no solo Yacht Rock artists. Everybody needs a band, and it helps if there are skilled percussion, bass, guitar, horns, and backup singers. Again, like liturgy, which does not require the same instrumentation but quite literally cannot be done alone. At least not the Eucharist anyway.
Well, then, where does that leave the presider? I’m glad you asked. The presider is the lead singer, carrying the lyric of the liturgy forward like a captain steering a ship to sea. Not all captains are the same, of course, and each one trims the sails to catch the Spirit in slightly different ways. Woe be it, however, to the captain who asserts too much of themselves in the sailing.
Take, for instance, Michael McDonald. Yes, he does have a soulful voice, but its presence becomes too much for any Yacht Rock group he enters. Once he shows up in the Doobie Brothers their days are numbered. The same holds true for Steely Dan. (We are not including “Two Against Nature” in this analysis.) I don’t think it is Michael McDonald’s fault, but his voice is the shark over which many bands have jumped. Likewise, a priest that asserts too much of themselves into the liturgy is bound to tip over the ship.
Yet a priest has to preside, to be out in front without being too far ahead. We’d do well to learn from the example of Kenny Loggins, who does bring soul and personal interpretation to the lyrics but also invites the rest of the ensemble to come along with him. As the leader of the band, he is still a part of the band. It’s a narrow channel that, as a priest, I am just starting to navigate. (And don’t think for a second that I don’t have a whole “Yacht Rock Eucharist” in my head, which is probably where it will stay.)