I have been on a most interesting musical journey this past week.
I am currently in the studio recording with some great musicians. For at least the last few years I have been wanting to do an album of some of the best, most sung songs that I have written for worship and it seems that now is the right time. Some of these songs are knocking on 20 years old so they are familiar friends to me. What has been fascinating through the studio journey is that these familiar tunes have become encompassed by whole new music arrangements and moods which have taken them to a new place. They sing the same but feel so fresh.
Incidentally, the process has been enabled by several insertions of good, hot tea which seems to work wonders for musicians’ fingers and brains. Could this indicate we do church the wrong way around? Maybe tea, coffee and biscuits should come first – food for thought.
I then found myself pondering a little deeper and my thoughts went down these lines: so many of our church sung worship services have become stale and predictable and, dare I say it, boring. Could it be then that the issue with our musical worship is two fold:
1 We just don’t rehearse enough.
Many churches are happy to go with the idea the the musicians turn up when they will and all muck in together to create a joyful cacophony and alas this usually means the music being delivered to the standard of the lowest common denominator. I like the idea that musicians arrive sufficiently early to run through all of the songs before a service. But this should be a bare minimum, checking links between songs and making sure everyone knows what they are doing. To expand repertoire and style a team of musicians need to gather away from the pressures of church service during the week and spend quality time learning the songs so that they become embedded in our musicianship and vocalisation including that we have learned to play and sing them without charts or lyrics.
2 When we rehearse we just don’t do it well enough.
Often the way it works is this: in rehearsal we get a chord chart and aim to go from start to finish. If we can do that then the song is done and dusted, ready for public consumption. No wonder then that they all end up sounding the same. We are going to have to learn to dig deeper. That will mean a change of approach to the point where we all come having prepared the songs having already learned to play and sing them ourselves. The point of our rehearsal now is not to learn the song but to learn how WE are going to play the song, ie we are going to work on arrangements. This will require an investment in time before rehearsal preparing our own charts and if necessary learning new chords or practising difficult transitions. Could I suggest it means investing time into listening to and learning songs from a variety of styles so that this can be brought to bear in any new arrangement.
So, back to my time in the studio: working with some top class musicians I have been challenged musically as the songs have veered off on unexpected and delightful pathways and as a result have had to relearn songs that I wrote. I could no longer play them the way I always had. Chord choices and voicings had to change to accommodate a new approach, along with strumming patterns which now needed to vibe in a different way. Whilst the tune stayed the same greater attention to the detail of phrasing and pitching of notes had to happen since this was a recording – once captured it will be that way for all time so it’s got to be right and it’s got to be good. The shaping of the vocal tone too came under scrutiny with choices on the part of voice to use and how hard to sing in order to get the he right tone. This is all valuable grist for the mill of singing the songs live. I can’t just rock up and sing any more, I have to think about how I am singing. The chords are not the same so the old embedded ideas have to be overwritten and you know what that means? I have to rehearse, yes, even my own songs!!
So let me leave those thoughts with you along with the encouragement to examine carefully your own patterns of rehearsal along with your musical delivery when you play. Let’s have a conversation then about the costs of rehearsal pinned against its benefits.
The process behind "Sing a new song"
I have been on a most interesting musical journey this past week.
Dave, your points about rehearsal seem to me to be obviously right, and I found myself asking,”Oh, isn't that what other peoplle do?” Of course, I guess it's pretty tough if you have to play every week (and I don't see how that can really be a good thing), but if you are fortunate enough to have enough musicians in your church so that you only have to play every few weeks, then it's a great opportunity to use the in between time to meet up with your band and play. That's what I do with my small group, and we don't always play plugged in – it is just as valuable to have an accoustic practice in a living room with a cajon, and it's often more relaxed and productive. I get the impression that some churches have such large bands that it must be very hard to get people together to practice in this way. Maybe smaller, more intimate music teams make life easier,as people resourses can be more efficiently used. I'm just amazed when I see Hillsong-type videos on Youtube, with about 20 poeple on stage (it seems). We produce perfectly good sound with 4 -5 people (max), and the personal dimension remains.Regarding keys and arrangements, I like to have that largely thought out before the rehearsal in the week (Monday for us), and then also to play through on Sunday morning before the service, where we meet 90 minutes before the service begins at 10:00. It's good to have the best part of a week to practice at home, but even a Friday night is OK. I couldn't imagine any possibility of delivering quality, in an atmosphere of worship if we only got together on the Sunday….
Interesting what you say about old songs taking on a new life as you go through the recording process. As someone who writes songs and normally sings them alone with a guitar (and sometimes bluesharp), it's a beautiful and humbling experience when I sometimes get the band to join in, with a harmony vocal or two, and a little more instrumental fullness. I think it's a healthy thing to like your own songs – but to be pleasantly surprised by them anew, and then to realise that people are blessed and helped by them – that's special, and you realise the gift that God gave you finds fulfilment when you share it 🙂
I hope your CD brings many blessings to many people, and that the creative juices keep flowing!