Wednesday, March 14, 2018

To Play Like the Original Song or Not?

I have a few disclaimers to share before moving forward:

1.  I will be showing my age.

2.  This may be for just other musicians on other praise teams.

3.  You may find this extremely boring.

I’ve been a part of various forums online for quite some time now, and one topic that tends to come up every now and then is how closely should the musicians play the original tracks?  Should we try to learn each note for note, or do we simply use the tracks as a “suggestion” and do whatever feels best?

In order to give my opinion, I thought it would be interesting to give a little bit (or a lot) of history of my experiences in playing praise and worship over the past 20 years or so.

When I first started playing praise and worship music, in my experiences, there was no “standard” way of playing many of the songs that we did.  

Some of these standards include the following:

"Shout to the Lord"

"Lord, I Lift Your Name on High"

"Open the Eyes of my Heart"

"I/We Exalt Thee"

"Here I am to Worship"

"Wonderful, Merciful Savior" 

For millennials, all of this will seem very foreign and weird.  You know what?  It was a lot of work, but anything worth doing takes time, energy, and most of the time, money.  So here goes:

When I was first learning many of the “standards,” most of the time there was no CD available because they were expensive. You have to keep in mind that this was about 7-8 years before downloading and sort-of-illegal file sharing.  See, if anyone wanted to learn the latest and greatest worship music straight from the track, he or she had to go to a Christian bookstore, possibly order the CD for $17.99, and wait about a week to get it (The local place got in shipments every Thursday.  If it didn’t come in that week, maybe the next Thursday it would come in.  If it was really new and in demand, sometimes it would take several weeks.  Please note that I’m not bashing the local place.  I loved it!  However back then, this was just the way it was done.).  Sometimes, you would take your chances and drive to the not-so-local place an hour or so away and hope and pray they had it in stock.  You could call ahead to see if they had it in stock, but sometimes you would get there and it would be sold.  Don’t ask me how I know. 

Because of the lack of readily available music, the VAST majority of worship music I learned was through word of mouth, much like the way stories have been passed down.  There was a lot of sitting around with worn out crummy guitars, under-powered bass rigs, and drums that were decades old with the original heads.  But that’s what we had to learn on, and I think we did ok. 

Many of the worship leaders I worked with back then tended to be a little more “loosey-goosey” in terms of how to start songs and when to stop.  There was just as much “learning the leader” and other band members as there was learning the song.  We all learned to “read” each other.  Head nods, bobbing guitar headstocks, facial gestures, winks, foot taps, eye-to-eye glances, etc. were all crucial to starting together, stopping together, and adding extra verses and choruses as needed.  It was very on-the-fly playing.  One of my most memorable moments is when the leader started a worship song I had never heard before.  Like, ever.  Keep in mind that this wasn’t during a practice; this was on a Sunday morning!  In a loud whisper, I got the worship leader’s attention and I said, “I’ve never heard this song before in my life!” and without skipping a beat, she said, “It’s a slow song!  You’ll do fine!”  This is one of the times where I wish I could go back and take a look at my own face to see what it looked like!  Everything ended up ok that day.  Back then, this was just par for the course.

During these years, there was a lot of great worship music for me despite a few train wrecks along the way.  But we all learned with each other and from each other.  It was fun and a little nerve-wracking at the same time because I sort of had an “idea” of what the worship was going to be like on a given Sunday morning or Wednesday night.  As far as playing like the original song?  Well, it was about as far away from it as you can get aside from possibly the melody.  Back then, I really didn’t see the point of learning a song exactly like the original; I didn’t really see the value in it.  I mean, as long as we get through the song, everything’s fine, right?

Maybe then, but not now.

Let’s fast forward to today.  Right now, there are three services at Mount Pleasant.  We have three different drummers, and there are several folks taking lessons right now who may end up playing in our church someday.  In addition, we have quite a BIG handful of other musicians who play week in and week out and over a dozen different singers (not counting choir members).  So that we are all on the same page from week to week, we use an app which provides each person with an MP3 of each song, an MP3 of each instrument isolated so everyone can practice along on his/her specific instrument in addition to links to YouTube tutorials for just about every instrument as well.  While Brad does an excellent job in keeping us consistent with our teams (for example, I usually play 1st and 3rd Sundays every month), worship teams shift due to sickness, vacations, work trips, mission trips, etc. (Especially in the summer.)

Because the singer and musician lineup can change from week to week, I do my best to learn as closely to the original song as I can which is a far cry from the way I used to learn songs.  My number one job, as a drummer, is (and has always been) to make everyone else sound as good as they possibly can.  I’m there to support the music that’s happening around me – it’s my job to NOT “stick out” (although sometimes it’s nearly impossible).  Learning a song close to the original helps keep everyone on track, no matter who is singing or playing that given week.  While I do take a little “license” with a few drum patterns and fills, I like to think that when I show up for practice or for service, everyone knows what he or she is getting from me, and I try to be as consistent as I can because when there is a click track/metronome clicking in all of our ears, the last thing we need is a “surprise.”  By learning songs close to the original, the chances of anyone being thrown off by a weird pattern or drum fill is minimized.  With playing drums, there is absolutely nowhere to “hide” which is both exciting and a little frightening at the same time.  All in all, these days I attempt to play closely to the original because it’s what works best for our church.

So, all of this leads me to the original question – should worship musicians play like the original track or should they simply see the original tracks as a suggestion?

My answer?  It depends.

When I first started playing worship music, our church needed the freedom for our worship team to take quite a bit of license with the music.  So many of us were new to this, and we just had to feel our way through a lot of worship music, and by doing this, we all developed in our playing in addition to a lot of non-verbal communication.  I’d say simply using the music more as a guide works well with smaller churches where instrumentation may be limited and possibly where time constraints aren’t as prevalent.  Also, if the musicians are new, it helps to simplify.

These days, with three services and a tight schedule, the music needs to be somewhat predictable.  This is not to say that our time of worship isn’t powerful and moving; however, if we are going to serve as many as we do, there needs to be some order.  This is what I feel works best for us right now. 

Overall, simply do what works best for your church, and do so with a servant’s heart. 


Friday, March 9, 2018

My Answer

With the recent passing of Billy Graham, a lot of people have been sharing their memories of him and his lifetime of ministry.  Most people probably think of his preaching and his crusades, but recently I learned that he also wrote a daily newspaper column for 50 years called "My Answer".  In each column he would answer a question that had been submitted to him.  A church member sent me the one below.  Rev. Graham was asked about "new" music in church and I thought that his response was perfect. 

Enjoy and Worship Big!


DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but from time to time our church’s music director introduces new songs into the service, and I don’t care for them. I like the old hymns, and wish he’d just stick with them. Should I complain to our pastor? — E.W.

DEAR E.W.: I know this has been a controversial issue in many churches, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially since I’m not particularly musical! But we have a singing faith, and God has given us the gift of music to praise him. The Psalmist declared, “With singing lips my mouth will praise you” (Psalm 63:5).

Instead of complaining to your pastor (or anyone else), I urge you to ask God to help you be grateful for all music that points us to God, new or old. No, you may not like some of it, but others do, and God can use it in their lives to encourage them and bring them closer to Christ. Remember: The old hymns you like were once new, and someone probably didn’t like them, either!

Sometimes, I’m afraid, a hymn can become so familiar to us that we sing it without even thinking about the words. But this is wrong, because then our singing becomes empty and meaningless. Don’t let this happen to you, but meditate on the words of the songs you sing, and even turn them into a prayer.

Your music director has probably been wise to introduce new songs slowly; completely changing everything all at once can be disruptive. Pray for him and encourage him, letting him know that you’re grateful for his gifts. Yes, let him know you appreciate the old hymns, but support him also as he seeks to reach a new generation through music.  

Billy Graham

Monday, February 26, 2018

Victor's Crown

Threshold moments are those points in your life that you use as a sort of “marker” or point where you define time before and after it.  Marriage is a great example, as many folks talk about life before and after marriage.  Kids are another example, as are changes in jobs, buying a home, etc.  I think that there are certain threshold moments in ministry as well.  Maybe it’s the first time a church breaks 100 people in attendance or possibly when a church breaks ground on a new building.

In my journey in playing in different bands and worship groups, I’ve had some of these threshold moments as well.  The following is probably the most prominent of these times during my time at Mount Pleasant.

I remember when Brad told me we were going to start working on a song called “Victor’s Crown.”  The first time I listened to it, I knew that it was going to be a real “threshold song” for our church, or at least, it’s a threshold song for me simply due to the drum parts in that song.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song, let’s just say that the drumming on the last half of the song has a little more “oomph” to it than the typical praise and worship song. 

I guess my first reaction was denial, in that there was NO WAY the congregation was going to go for this song…like, at all. You see, my personal history in playing drums at church has not always been an easy one.  While our church body is very accepting of drums in church, not every congregation in my experience has been nearly as welcoming, and I have had to deal with my fair share of animosity from various people in other churches.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was expecting some of these same harsh reactions from the congregation the week after we played “Victor’s Crown” for the first time.  As a matter of fact, I remember I half-jokingly telling Brad before we played that morning something to the effect of “If I don’t have a chance to say it, it was a real honor playing here because I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed back after today.”  

I’m pretty sure he laughed, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t.  

As I left that Sunday, I emotionally braced myself for what was coming. 

Much to my surprise in the upcoming weeks, I was flooded with compliments from you in our congregation!  What an encouragement that was, and I still appreciate everyone’s warm compliments. Receiving compliments was and is never my intent when playing drums at church; however, your kind words offered me much-needed relief.  I knew at that point that I would be able to “open up” a little bit more in my playing.  I've been able to do this, but it took learning and playing this song to get there.  

I truly feel like our church culture changed that day, well, at least in my eyes it did.

At this point, “Victor’s Crown” is just another song added to the long list of music we have played in the past and continue to play today.  It’s fun to play (it’s ok to have fun in worship, right?), but even more so, it’s good knowing that I can play it without fear of animosity.  I’m sure that there will other threshold moments like this one, but “Victor’s Crown” will always stick out in my mind as a moment of change at Mount Pleasant.

Thanks for letting me serve.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Is Worship a Concert?

Since a new wave of worship music has come along in the last several years, there has been a bad word to develop among the Christian community in regards to the styles of music being done in churches across the country.  That bad word is “concert”.  That seems to be a word never to be uttered among churches when talking about their times of worship on Sunday mornings. 

Since the “new vs. old” and “traditional vs. contemporary” argument began, some people that cling to the side of traditional hymns have called the music of “modern” churches a “concert”.  Obviously a concert can’t bring any glory or even offerings to the Lord, right?  Well….maybe I look at it a bit differently. 

First of all, don’t get me wrong.  I love hymns.  I didn’t exactly grow up around them so forgive me if I don’t know all 6 (or however many) verses to “Amazing Grace”, but I really do enjoy the song!  There are lots of hymns that I enjoy that have very sound doctrine.  In fact, our church makes it a point to do several songs that throw in a hymn in part of the song, so I don’t think hymns are to be forgotten at all.  Those songs just connect well.  Here’s the thing though…at one time, hymns were considered “modern” and were widely unaccepted in churches.  Imagine that!  Sound like any modern styles of worship music today?  But that debate isn’t why I’m writing.

Back to my thought on “concert”, where does your mind go when you hear that word?  Can you actually have a worship concert and still be holy?  Can you perform and still glorify Jesus?  

Let’s look at the definition of concert:  

1. A public musical performance in which a number of singers or instrumentals, or both, participate.
2. A public performance, usually by an individual singer or instrumentalist.
3. Agreement of two or more individuals on a design or plan.

So, as you can see, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the word “concert”.  We’ve somehow twisted it’s meaning to where “concert” means bringing attention to one’s self.  Sure, if we look at secular music and artists, it’s easy to say their “concerts” bring attention to them and they celebrate their record or the purpose of their tour. That is a “show” and that isn’t what we’re doing.  Our focus is Jesus and Him alone.  We can sometimes be so quick to look at secular culture for our definitions that we overlook what it may really mean. 
Just like everything else we do and every intention we have, our heart is key.  If we are just out to please people with our electric guitar riffs and 4 measure drum fills, then that’s a different story.  But if we come together in harmony, agreeing that Jesus is Lord of all and is worthy to be praised, and use our instruments and voices to lift Him on high, then that by definition is a Worship Concert. 

It’s been said of other churches and probably even ours; “I went there and it just felt like a concert! I’ll have no part of that!” I’m going to say something here…we want it to feel that way!  We want everyone coming together for one purpose!  The music, the singing, the lights, everything is meant to work together to create an atmosphere of worship!  That’s the point of every single note that’s played, every fader that moved and every light that’s triggered.  The name of Jesus is to be raised and glorified!  So, if things feel that way here, then good! That’s what we’re after.  What greater reason to gather, celebrate and put on a concert each week than the name of Jesus?



Thursday, February 15, 2018

Save Me

With this week's post I wanted to share with you the choir special ("Save Me") from last week's Worship Wednesday Service.  Seth and Marci did an outstanding job and the choir was wonderful as always.  The video link is below.  Enjoy!

Worship Big!


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Precious Jesus

With this week's post I want to introduce a new song that we will be singing this Sunday.  It's called "Precious Jesus" by Gateway Worship.  It is a wonderful and moving song about the precious blood that Jesus shed to wash away our sins. 

The lyrics of the chorus are below:

"Precious Jesus, precious Jesus
The beauty of the Savior's blood
Precious Jesus, precious Jesus
Your life and love poured out for us
Precious Jesus"

One of the aspects of the song that I believe people will really enjoy (especially those of us who are a little bit older) is that it incorporates the chorus of the hymn "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" into it.  All in all, I believe it makes for an extremely powerful reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary.  

Click on the link below to watch a video of Gateway Worship singing it.  

Worship Big!


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Right Game

Have you ever just sat somewhere and “people watched”? You can do this anywhere really, whether that is in a busy mall or just at the movie theater before the movie starts. I like to do this just to see what I can gather about someone in a few moments. What I see would most likely be different from what you see, just because of people's individual point of view. This blog may come across as negative or even condescending, especially in the beginning, however I think if you stay till the end we may have a different view. 

What I see: I see people of all ages that are constantly in motion, either at work or on their personal time. We have created a lifestyle climate that does not sit well with the quiet. I mean when was the last time we stopped and enjoyed life? This fast paced life has created many side effects, and just like medicine, the side effects can be worse than than the issue at hand. I believe the worst side effect is that the family has been placed in the reserve fuel tank. Anybody who has ridden dirt bikes or four wheelers have been in a situation where the motor starts “spittin and sputterin”  because the gas tank is dangerously low, so you stop and turn the reserve fuel tank on just to get back home or to make it to the truck. We have done the same thing for the family. In this fast paced life the is no room for them, except in the reserve tank. We run here and there at breakneck speed all day, and then when we finally make it home (after two practices and fast food while planning the weekend activities) there is no gas in the tank, so we turn it to reserve and give just enough to make it till bedtime. Repeat. Repeat again. "Oh yeah, we have that thing this week, and finally the weekend. Have you checked the game schedule? We only have four games on Sunday this season, that’s not too bad is it, and spring break is just around the corner." I see parents who devote so much to their child, there is nothing left for the spouse. People in middle management positions at work especially. Through the pressures placed on them, or by their nature, they just can’t get away from that "darn phone" or the emails piling up. I see people who have nothing good to say about social media, yet check their phone 15 times an hour. People seem burned out at church every time we come together. Husbands and wives insult each other while in a crowd. I see mothers pushing the stroller with their right hand, her pocketbook falling off her left shoulder, she's holding her phone with her left hand, has shopping bags hanging from her right forearm, and her teenage son and husband walk clueless beside her. I see garages full with cars parked outside. All around... people are just OVERWHELMED, with the pace of life. 

I also see selfless people who devote much of their time to others. Fathers that will help with dishes and laundry, who will share wisdom with his children. Mothers who pray for the prodigal son to come to his senses, and young women that carry themselves with class and dignity, teenage boys that aren't too proud to serve at church, or hold the door for an elder. I see pastors who grasp the weight of their calling. People who forgive when it would be easier to hate. Someone that is burnt out but keeps doing what is asked of them, while asking God for strength. If I asked you to go a mile, you would go two. I see people in the workforce that commit his/her work to the Lord by being dependable for decades, going farther than the bare minimum, and just being content with the work that is before them. We come together to laugh, encourage, learn from and worship with one another. Some families have cut out TV altogether so they could spend more time engaged with each other. I see prayers of thankfulness before meals, to give God the glory for health and strength, to ask for grace on others and themselves because we are unworthy. I see a church with 10% of its budget given to missions. A church that wants to actively seek out people, and share the gospel. A church... that I am thankful for.

In writing this blog I realize it may be scattered, or just bad, but I think there’s some veins of truth in it. I am not pronouncing verdict or sentencing, because we all drift in out of this entire blog. We all overlook things that deserve our attention, and dwell on the frivolous. Let's be careful not to be so “devoted” to everything else, that we miss out on family,or God, because we can apply all of this to our spiritual life as well. That we would look for opportunities to just be quiet and still. To purposefully throttle back a bit and see this life in a different light, and (if we must) literally schedule time for both, then do it, because if you look at your 24 hours you’ll find, there is a lot to do, and something is always pulling for our attention. If I had to sum it all up in one phrase, I would say, as we pass through this life, let's make sure the game we win at... is the right game.