Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking Music Outside the Walls of the Church

    A few years ago, our worship pastor decided he wanted to record a live album of our praise team of some cover songs we do, but mainly songs the members of the group wrote and arranged themselves.  By this point, the praise team had been doing concerts at the church a couple of times per year and even at our local Chick-fil-a parking lot on one occasion.  Our lead guitar player at the time was huge into recording and was experimenting with his own material.  He was gracious enough to take on the task of recording this album.  At that time, I had only been a part of the team for about 6-8 months and was serving as the rhythm guitar player, so all of this was new to me.  After the concert, he took the recordings and made a great album that did well here and that our members enjoyed.  Here is the cover:

    The subject of music and recording it is something that I have always been passionate about.  I started playing guitar when I was 7, so this coming year will have been 15 years with an instrument.  I have always known that music is what I wanted to be a part of.  Something that I have discovered while being at MPBC is that if God is blessing you as a singer and/or musician, and He is also blessing your congregation with music, then get it outside the walls of your church.  If something blesses people in your church, then it will likely bless others as well.  The best way we can do that is to record albums.

   Since our first album, I have been fortunate enough here at MPBC to have taken on a pretty interesting role.  Early this year, our worship pastor came to me about recording a studio version of a new album, containing new songs and new sounds.  Since this is going to be a "studio version", it means that every vocal and every instrument will be recorded in a studio-like setting, with one track being laid down at a time to be able to add effects or tweak as needed.  Doing it this way provides the best possible quality of sound, something like you would hear on an album coming from Nashville.  For the DAW, (Digital Audio Workstation) I am using a program called Cubase 5.  This is a software that is used by a lot of audio engineers, along with Pro Tools.  Below is a picture of the Cubase interface with one of my completed projects for the album. 

    This particular song has a total of about 20 tracks, which is actually less than others on the album. Some songs like "Victor's Crown", will have 30 plus tracks. One of the cool things about doing a studio version is that I get to use sounds that we don't normally use on stage.  For example, on the song "God, You Are My God", I use several different types of synthesizers to create a spacey sound for the intro.  Also, we have an intro for the album that creates a cinematic feel, much like a music piece in a movie that's leading up to a big event, which is something we don't get to do on stage.

    To be able to do something like this is an amazing opportunity that I think will lead into bigger things for our worship team and our church.  This particular album's release is set for early December, so I'll give you more information when the time comes.  I can't give out too many details at the moment :)  In the meantime, here is a preview of what the album cover will look like:



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Do We Find More Musicians?

As someone who has been working in churches for well more than a decade, I can tell you that one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of worship ministry is finding musicians.  You never have enough.  Never.  And all it takes is for one person to get sick, or have to travel for work, or go on maternity leave to completely mess up your plans.  So, the ultimate goal is to have depth within your stable of musicians.  Having multiple drummers, guitar players, keyboard players, etc... is ideal, but it's also extremely difficult to attain.  Why, because good musicians are few and far between.  And here in Wilkes County, they seem to be even more rare.  

When I first got to MPBC, I assumed that since this was an area known for blue grass music that there would be a plethora of musicians to choose from.  I was wrong.  It was me and our church pianist.  That's it.  Now since then, we've added a lot of really talented musicians, but it never seems to be enough.  And to be honest, I think it's been a few years since we've added an instrumentalist who had just recently joined the church.  In this area of North Carolina, if you can play an instrument, there is a very good chance that you are already playing in a praise band in a church.  So, we don't get a lot of musicians joining the church wanting to get involved.  We do get a few singers, but almost never an instrumentalist.  So, the question becomes, where do we get more musicians?

Well, here's my answer.  We train them.  I don't know if another drummer, guitar player, or keyboard player will ever come along.  So, instead of waiting on them, I've decided to train people who are already here to do it.  And so, I give lessons.  And when I give lessons, I tell my students that my ultimate goal in them learning an instrument, is that one day they will get good enough to play with the praise band.   I've been doing this for a couple of years and I'm just now beginning to see the fruits of my labors.

A couple of months ago we had 2 young ladies audition for the band and they both made it.  One plays acoustic guitar and the other one plays piano.  What's neat is that I taught our new acoustic guitar player how to play  She has been taking lessons from me for a couple of years and has gotten really good.  I've also worked with the other young lady who plays piano on how to play certain songs with the band.  She has been taking piano lessons for a while (but it is more of a classical style), so I have been trying to help her get used to how songs are played within the current Praise and Worship style we use at church. 

What's great is that this past Sunday, I didn't have to play the piano or acoustic guitar.  I just got to sing.  I couldn't tell you the last time that happened.  And hopefully, as we train more and more people, there will be more instances where I just get to sing.  Maybe there will even be a day where I don't have to be the back-up drummer anymore (I am currently teaching someone to play drums-I know, scary!).

Worship Big!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Unified Worship

With this week's blog post, I would like to talk about a very controversial topic within the realm of church music:  Styles of Worship.  That's because music and worship styles have caused many problems in churches over the past 20-30 years.  Some churches have even split over what style of worship to use (which seems ridiculous to me).  But at the same point in time, I do believe that your style of worship is important.  I mean, if you were to ask someone to visit your church, what's one of the first questions they would ask?  That's right.  What style of music do you have?  Is it contemporary, traditional, or blended?  Now, here at MPBC, many people would say that our style of worship is contemporary.  We have a praise team, a praise band with drums and electric guitars, a worship choir, lights, screens, etc...  Others might say that it is a little bit blended because of the songs that we do (every once in a while we do a traditional hymn and a number of our "contemporary" songs are actually rearranged hymns).  I am fairly certain that no one considers us to be traditional.  But I don't consider us to be any of these.  My goal when planning worship services isn't to be contemporary, traditional, or blended.  My goal is for us to be UNIFIED.

Here's what I mean by that:  regardless of what song we sing, what instruments are played, or who is leading it, I want us all to worship.  I want everyone, young and old, to participate and to worship.  That's because worship isn't about styles or musical preferences.  Worship is about acknowledging that someone (God) is greater than we are.  And it shouldn't matter what type of music we use because I hope that we can all acknowledge that God is greater than us.  

I have known of churches and even worked at churches where song selection and song type was very regimented and governed by people and leadership within the church.  For example:  at every service, there were to be two hymns sung with piano and organ and 2 praise songs accompanied by acoustic guitar and keyboard.  This was what they decided a "blended" service should look like.  The goal was to have a little bit of everything so that everyone was happy.  But what typically happens in a service like this?  Instead of it making everyone happy, it makes everyone mad.  Instead of being grateful for the songs and style they like, people like to complain about the songs and style that they don't like.   

That's what is so great about Unified worship.  My goal is not to use a certain number of hymns or praise songs.  My goal is to lead people in worship of Jesus.  That's it.  And so, when planning our corporate worship times I don't worry about what type of songs we do.  They can be praise songs or hymns.  What I concern myself with, is will these songs help lead people to Jesus?  Can these songs be sung in Spirit and in Truth?  Can people come to church at MPBC and through the music and worship experience and have an encounter with Jesus?  Because that's the ultimate goal.  It's not about hymns or praise songs or guitars or organs.  True worship is about Jesus.  

So, maybe at some point in the future, when someone asks you what type of music your church has, your answer won't be contemporary, traditional, or blended.  Maybe one day we can even get past calling it Unified.  Maybe one day, your answer will simply be "We just worship Jesus".

Worship Big!


Monday, October 6, 2014

Being vs. Doing

It is an honest struggle in the world of worship leading to want to "Do Worship" instead of "Being a Worshiper."  I know this is a struggle that I often face.

God doesn't just want us to lead worship on Sunday or Wednesday. He wants us to BE worshipers. That is why He created us.

God desires our hearts and He wants us to live a life that worships Him every day, not just when we walk up on the stage or when we are in the spotlight. The most perfectly performed song is NO replacement for the barren heart.

We must always think about our goal as a worship leader. Are we building God's kingdom or our kingdom? Do we want the attention for God or for ourselves? Are we worried about our outward appearances or inward ones?

Jesus was pretty hard on those who were trying to impress people but whose hearts were empty.

In Matthew 23:5-8 He said, "Their (Pharisees) lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners , basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' or 'Reverend.' Don't let people put you on a pedestal like that." (MSG)

Those are really hard words for anyone who is more concerned about appearances than the heart. 

BEING a worshiper starts when we are alone. That time which we spend loving and serving God when no one is watching is what prepares us for the "leading worship" times.

Having a spirit of love and unity is crucial in order to bring others into the time of worship along with us. God can't use an unclean heart to lead others in worship or anything else.

Being a worshiper starts long before we lead worship in the church setting. It is much more that doing worship. It is BEING a servant, a worshiper of the Living God, 24/7.

Here is a question that I ask myself sometimes, "If my thoughts were being shown on the screen during the worship set instead of the song lyrics, would I be okay with that?" Geez! I hope so! That idea is scary for sure. At least it is for me. God sees what is in our hearts. He knows what is there. He is who we need to impress.

In John 4:23 Jesus says, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks."

Let's "BE" and not just" DO!"