Church music: a little research

September 14, 2008

Well, after finishing my long-term interim church position, I decided to do a little “research” over the past few weeks and visit some worship services that have piqued my interest. Realize, I’m not trying to determine what is “good” or “right” – that varies from person to person. Mostly, I just wanted to make sure that my images of contemporary, blended, and traditional church music were still accurate.

One church my wife and I attended was most definitedly contemporary. Whatever you think about this style, I happen to enjoy it as part of my personal worship expression. However, this church was particularly excellent. I’ve been to contemporary services that were “too loud”; this experience was definitely loud enough, but the sound was so clear that the loudness was not prohibiting my participation in worship. Big plus!

The service was well-led, and had a visual excellence that matched their audio presentation. Was it too “over-produced”? Not really; after a couple of minutes, the “TV studio-quality” perception took a back seat to truly honest worship. The great part of this is that the worship team was not showing off, or acting like “holy rock stars”. Even in traditional and blended settings, that kind of attitude is too prevalent, and it totally destroys honest worship.

And if you met the members of this team ‘in the wild’, I doubt you would ever recognize them as ‘contemporary’ musicians: a late-40/early 50-something worship leader (sorry, shaving your head can’t totally hide your receeding hair line – but it did look good), a drummer and a probably-40’s bass player who’d be at home in any ‘regular’ job, 2 pleasant 30’s-ish ladies as backup singers – either could be your neighbor across the street. Just plain folks, but really into sharing their hearts through music.

People my age and up (50+) sometimes have a tendency to ‘dislike’ contemporary music. Too bad they haven’t gone to that church!

Everything else that my wife and I attended fell into the ‘blended’ worship category – sort of…

Actually, one ‘blended’ church was a definitely contemporary setting, except that they have an orchestra, keep a choir involved and still use a grand piano onstage. In reality, they are contemporary – just not “typical” contemporary. The great thing is that it works, and they have lots of people involved in worship.

Another church used much the same approach, but missed the mark a bit. Similar resources were in place, but the music selections and energy level were less enthusiastic. The choir was really good and very energetic though.

The last church in this review group advertised their service as “blended”, but it was actually a traditional service – with orchestra, organ, and a huge choir. However, it was quite informal in dress and mannerism. The energy was good, and the congregation was just as friendly as you might hope to expect.

So I hear you thinking – “which one was best”? Sorry, wrong question! There’s no such thing as “best”; we simply have a Lord who deserves our best, whatever it may be.

I did have a great time visiting in these places, and I’m thrilled that all of them are available to express our worship to a deserving and almighty Lord.

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Listen closely…

July 27, 2008

When you listen to a piece of music, what do you listen for? Most of us listen TO music that we are reasonably familiar with and listen FOR those clues that make us comfortable. If you’re my age, that could mean ‘classic’ rock and roll. If you have my academic background, that could mean ‘classical’ music. If you share my spiritual heritage, that could mean ‘traditional’ church hymns. Or not.

Years ago, a teenage friend (I was about 24-25 at the time) told me that I was ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘stuck in my ways’, that I ‘would never relate’ to the ‘younger generation’. Ouch! Since then, I’ve tried to drink often from the firehose of new music that gushes from our culture – even some odd bits for a guy my age.

So, when a co-worker told me that her son had put out a new CD, I was interested in hearing it. But when I found out that his instrument of choice was a Nintendo GameBoy, part of me wanted to discount his efforts immediately. Thankfully, the more reasonable part of me decided to give it a listen… and found a nice surprise.

This guy has some real talent! If you’re expecting ‘bleeps and bloops’, you’ll find a few, but only a few. Once I looked past the limitiations of the instrument, I found that the music has a lot going for it, such as:

  • A strong sense of melody, very unexpected for this genre
  • Rich harmonies, voice leading, and untypical chord progressions
  • Use of the instrument to mimic/suggest other instruments
  • A sense of form and structure

As I listened, I got the feeling that I was seeing a good artist at work, one who had deliberately chosen a box of crayons – the box with 16 colors. It’s not that the artist can’t control color, the point is that the artist chooses the limitations of the media. And he has done well with his choices.

So if you’re interested, and you can listen past the GameBoy stereotype, check out CCIVORY on myspace. The album is called “TO LOVE AND TO HOLD”; my favorite track is Satellite Sky (#2), but I also liked #10, #11, and #12 among the others.

Listen closely, and past the stereotype; surprises await.


A little night music… on the street

June 19, 2008

Just returned from New Orleans for a few days of business. Being the “birthplace of jazz”, I had high expectations of the street music scene. Bourbon Street seemed mostly to be a lot of “good time” music, mostly rock & roll and country blarining from whichever bar you were passing by.

There were some welcome and notable exceptions, though. A couple of places had real jazz going on inside, and it was fun to stop and listen. Old time jazz was evident, especially in some of the restaurants. Fun!

Street musicians were not as well represented as I expected – until the night before last. Just as we were walking up Canal Street toward the hotel, we heard a roaring, raucous, high-energy group of guys “giving it all they got”. It was great street music – not just one guy wailiing on a harmonica or a guitar (though we heard both and enjoyed that as well). Two trumpets, three trombones, bari sax, tuba, bass/cymbals player and a ‘percussionist’ (cowbell!). We listened for about 30 minutes – and they played non-stop. People were dancing in the street and having a blast.

Now that’s New Orleans.


Some bass-ic fun

June 16, 2008

I had the opportunity to go to a get-together with some of my technical friends last night. Nothing unusual there, except that this time they had a little ‘stage’ set up with a piano, drums, some mics, and a couple of guitars. I had a little advance notice, so I brought one of my basses along. (Not the basses in the chorus, an electric bass guitar…)

It was the usual ‘what do you want to do?’ kind of get together – we ended up doing some 12-bar blues, ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘Get Here’, and a Beatles tune or two. Next time, I’m going to bring some fake books – there were a lot of “I know this, but can’t remember the words” experiences.

That’s why I took the bass – just tell me what key we’re in, and off we go.

I still can’t immediately visualize where I am on a 5-string as well as a 4-string; I need more practice.

It was fun, musical, and I had the chance to make some new friends. That’s a good evening!


Back in the saddle again…

May 26, 2008

ouch! It’s been a long time since my last post… life does just get in the way like that.

Concert season for GA Festival Chorus is over, and we had a great season. I enjoyed the opportunity to direct the large group; it was truly a joy.

The church choir is still going strong as well, but summer is creeping in on attendance and attention span. That’s pretty normal, though.

I’m looking forward to 2 new summer projects. I’ve started in on a tune written by a friend at work- I hope to bring some studio impact in on that. Next up will be a bit of circuit-bending, just to see what fun noises I can coax out of some “sound toys” rescued from yard sales and the thrift store.

And maybe I can get back to some blogging!


“New” basses

March 11, 2008

I’ve been on a bit of a bass guitar kick lately. Rather than spend $$$ on a single more expensive bass, I’ve purchased 3 less expensive used basses in the last 6 months. In order of purchase:

My 3 BassesDean “Playmate” acoustic bass. Who names these things? I’ll probably have to put a sticker over the headstock before I play this in church. However, a local guy on Craigslist sold this to me for a great price, and I like its sound. Reviews of the bass from around the web say that it sounds reasonably decent considering its $150 list price; my experience is that it actually sounds better than some acoustic basses at more than twice the price. Unfortunately, the passive piezo pickup (say that 3 times really fast) gives an uneven and wimpy response. I do like having an bass that doesn’t have to be plugged in.

Squire (by Fender) 5-string. Another Craigslist deal. It doesn’t have the traditional Fender headstock or body shape, but it plays rather nicely and sounds fine. “Everyone” seems to think that a 5-string is really great, so I decided to give it a try. After a bit of practice, I’m not so sure a 5 fits into my long-range plan, but time will tell. I’m really a fairly basic player, so having the extra ‘range’ turns out not to be so big a deal.

Yamaha RBX360 4-string. This one came from Ebay, but the seller was local. We were able to meet and avoid shipping costs, which was rather generous on his part. I really like the small, light body on this bass, even though the lighter wood seems to gather dings rather easily. No more ‘headstock dive’, either.

None of these basses are expensive or prestigious, but they’re still capable. Maybe I’ll sell the 4 and 5 to upgrade, who knows? In the meantime, these are a lot of fun.


Rehearsal pacing

February 18, 2008

I was just reading an interesting blog post called I’m only going to say this once. It’s an interesting article that investigates a bit of the balance between rehearsal and repeating yourself as a leader (not fun). Hopefully, if I can

  • keep the rehearsal moving ahead and
  • create an expectation that I’m going to say something important

then I can repeat myself less and help everyone enjoy the rehearsal more. At least I try to…