It seems like for years that a main thrust of those of us who teach and train worship teams has been to bring an excellent performance ethic into an already overflowing heart of worship. It comes as something of a surprise then that in our current COVID shaped landscape congregational sung worship has been chained (limited by governments fearing churches could become super-spreaders of the disease) with the result that the sung worship we’ve been training for has become diminished in its scope. Our on-line services are valiantly streamed with songs embedded in the hope that at home people will be joining in with gusto. But have you ever tried doing congregational worship on your own accompanied by your laptop speaker? Immersive it is not! Even with the rest of the family joining in, I suspect that there will be an abundance of self-conscious worshippers.

In thinking and praying about this I wonder what the future direction might be? As a result, I have some ongoing thoughts which I hope may help, particularly those in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

  1. All of that excellence must not be forgotten but needs to be channelled into getting the one or two songs you as the worship leader will sing as polished as possible. Yours may be the only voice heard. Let it be in tune and in a key to suit your voice. Let the music support and embellish that vocal. Let it breathe in order that the gathered few allowed in the building (depending on the size of that building) can at the very least reflect on the goodness of God and the depth of the sung lyrics (as opposed to being offput by a shoddy piece of singing or playing)
  2. If it is up to you to choose, pick songs which draw you to worship or praise, or which draw from the depths of your spirit offerings of thanksgiving. Be authentic to the gift that is within you. After all, people cannot in this current time join with you in song. But they will join with you in an act of worship if you are worshipping.
  3. Repetition in this season is of limited point. So pick songs which are already lyrically rich and which allow your congregation (both in the building and watching on-line) to reflect upon the depth of meaning of a song. This isn’t a plea to return to classic hymnody, but you would certainly find some rich veins to mine there.
  4. Since the congregation are currently not allowed to sing, there may be a case to find songs that they don’t know which are nevertheless worshipful but away from the normal staples of current public worship. CCLI has Hundreds of thousands listed. If the congregation don’t know them, they will be less tempted to join in regardless. Oh, and by the way, if they do join in, that could cause quite a headache for your pastor…  
  5. If they are not allowed to sing, what else can they do?
    I think spoken recitation and spoken prayer can be done – masks on please!
    How about reciting a Psalm? (Choose wisely!)
    How about doing a call and response prayer?
    How about borrowing some formal liturgy?
    In this season your job as worship leader isn’t just about choosing songs and singing them in services (not that it ever was though) but it is about finding ways to engage the congregation under your care so that they worship God. When the music fades worship leaders step up and still manage to create a space where worship happens, it’s just not sung worship.

This is a difficult time for worship teams and musicians. Perhaps it’s time to lay it all down again in an act of sacrificial worship that at the right time we will be renewed and ready to serve.

God bless all of you in this season

There rages a controversy across the world of worship leaders and singers. It can be summed up like this: we are here to lead worship, not to perform! This is taken as an immutable and reverential truth. Of course, it is just plain wrong! Before I dig down into what I think is a healthy and a right way to perform as a worship leader, let me first give you some background colour.

Step back to the era around the time of the reformation. Church was a pretty divided community. You had the priests along with the choir who would perform the services, and who would do so behind a highly decorated, tall wooden screen, by the high altar. The music was fabulously complex, often taking a couple of pages just to convey the first syllable of the word Hallelujah! Songs were sung over a congregation, not by a congregation. On the other side of the screen were the gentry, the peasants and all other communicants. Cathedral worship was a spectacle and in a world prior to TV, often the only visual entertainment to be had freely. Cathedrals themselves were remarkable spaces, filled with great creativity both in architecture and in art. Stained glass windows wrought ever changing beauty throughout the days and seasons both inside and outside.

Into this world strode the great reformers. Their understanding of scripture, freshly translated into vernacular European languages from long hidden Greek texts, brought new insight across the world of theology and its practise. One of the five principles they championed was The Priesthood of All Believers. For them there was no division between congregation and priesthood. We are all one in Christ – a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation. Another hugely important principle was the pre-eminence of the word of God. Gone were the books of traditions from previous teaching. The scriptures were no longer the preserve of the educated Latin trained priests – no, they were available in the common spoken language of the people. And gone were the elaborate songs. Instead, hymns of praise were raised using the language and music of the folk who attended. Martin Luther famously put fabulous lyrics to German beer drinking songs, the familiar tunes aiding the spread of this new Lutheran, reformed theology.

As this new theology settled across Europe and the New World, it resulted in some interesting ecclesiological developments. In reformed churches there were no screens – no division. Buildings were simpler and deliberately not ornate or embellished. In order to show the pre-eminence of the word, pulpits were often tall, but designed so the preacher was not viewed easily. It was after all about the words spoken, not the speaker. Music was congregational and theologically rich. In essence it leaned far more heavily on the ancient synagogue model of worship than that which it replaced.

The flaw (you can see it can’t you!) is that the church God designed is for people and people have personalities and faces. Indeed, recent studies have shown that human communication is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. If you only listen to a voice without seeing a person, you dip out on over half of what is being communicated. Over half! Remember these statistics because they will be important in a moment.

So, we exist today in this dichotomy of reformed theological thought: we need to see someone in order to understand the totality of what they are saying or doing, but we don’t want to see them in case we are distracted or misled by them in some way. We are thus left in this awkward spot of thinking that performance is a bit of a dirty word when it comes to leading and being led in sung worship.

A worship leader’s role is to select songs, and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit’s leading take a group of people on a musical journey into an encounter with the heart of God. In doing that they are operating in a manner not so far removed from an ancient OT priest. Why do they get that role when we are all priests – surely, they can’t claim that role? Yet in church as we know it, they get to do what they do usually because they are musically and/or vocally gifted. They are on the worship team because they have demonstrated character over and above plain gifting. So if you are more musically gifted and can demonstrate character in spades, get on the worship team and serve in whatever way you can; musically, vocally, words, tech, lighting, set design, costumes…. I run ahead of myself here!

That worship leader’s job is only so much about music, only so much about the spiritual aspect too. It has a lot to do with leadership skills and communication. It is a part of their role to be a significant part of the welcome someone gets. They draw people into community through shared songs and experiences. They also draw them along on a journey, a story arc of song, striving to avoid musical manipulation and working hard to keep their intention pure. In order to do that most easily they take their place on a platform designed for visibility so that through their leadership, the congregation they are serving can follow them along sacred paths of anointed music. If their direction is unclear, there will be those who falter. If their example is impure then there are those who will be distracted.

The question then has to be posed – how does a worship leader lead?
They do it skilfully, prayerfully and they do it through their performance. When they sing, their voice lives every word of the song. If their voice does, their face should also. Their body language needs to match the song meaning, conveying the nuances of a deep personal life of worship and devotion put into practice. Put baldly, if it’s an exciting song – they dance. If it’s an intimate song they kneel. If it causes their spirit to rise, then they raise their hands. These are very simplistic examples. But recall our earlier statistics – body language conveys a huge amount of information to those who are looking on. The message the leader demonstrates will help the congregation on their journey of worship. To list all the options is probably not helpful here but I say to worship leaders that their leadership needs to be visible. They need to be the living embodiment of every song they are singing. (It’s worth mentioning that this goes for the whole worship team as well)

As I watch worship leaders and teams do their thing, I realise that it is this visibility which is so often an issue. To take an incredibly intimate part of you and put it into the public domain brings a level of vulnerability and exposure that many find uncomfortable. So, the ‘rabbit in the headlight’ stare is common, as is the ‘eyes closed- all the time’ security blanket! Could it be that a part of the root cause is that these worship leaders are having an internal monologue as to whether they should even be there? They know that they are stood in front of people and that means they are performers but, that deeply rooted Reformed theology suggests they should not even be seen – they are thus in conflict. I think it is time that we recognise that leading worship successfully is often down to performing well, an area that is often ignored when training is given. That means the worship leader is attentive to musical issues, lyrical issues, communication issues, spiritual issues, service connectivity issues, relational issues and so on for the team and for the congregation, in fact everything connected with a good performance. If I am training people to lead worship, then that must be a core part of their understanding – they are performers communicating with and leading a congregation.

Training to lead worship must then surely look similar to training as a performer. A musical performer, perhaps a singer/songwriter writes a song about some major emotional turmoil they have gone through. It then costs them to sing it because every time they do, they will be re-living an aspect of that emotion. But they do it because they realise that there will likely be someone else in the crowd who will have felt something similar. If they do not sing that song authentically then the song falls flat, and people don’t connect. For that performer it will likely mean a loss of sales. So they put their emotions on the line and sing – be it happy or sad. Their chief aim is to communicate, to resonate with their audience.

So it is with worship leaders (and worship teams). They will have had some intense moments, caught up in the presence of the most high God. Out of those experiences perhaps songs or groups of songs have tumbled. For them to sing those songs is to explore those spaces where their lives have been (and are) laid open before God. And sing they must – with all the emotional possibilities that might ensue. There is an open possibility that the designated worship leader could be too overcome with God’s presence to even stand up. As they perform a song with all that it entails, the leader puts themselves into a position of openness before everyone else. Maybe rehearsal will have prepared them for the possibilities but often these moments meet us in surprise.

I trust this has drawn for you a form of parallel so that you can understand some of what is going on in a worship leader’s heart and mind. They stand in the role of communicator, connector, far more than just a singer or musician. In order to do that best, they must perform with all the skill that they have learned – and yes, performance is a learned skill – an art form in itself. Worship leaders – accept this truth – you are performing, and you stand before the King and before his people to perform – so do your very best. It may appear that a worship leader uses similar tools to a secular performer – but the secular artiste’s goal is to get everyone’s eyes fixed on them. Our tool kit might be the same, but our objectives are wildly different. The worship leader’s role is to use whatever means they have at their disposal to point people to Jesus. He’s the famous one and the absolute focal point, let nothing and no-one get in the way of His glory.

In late 2018 I had a chat with Andy Baker who was looking to stir up more songs from within the local church for the local church worldwide.

I felt that this was something whose time was right and I opted to join in with a group of songwriters who were helping to build some momentum for Homegrown Worship. You can read more of Andy’s heart and the story of Homegrown Worship and this link will also allow you to join their mailing list to stay informed about the future developments. You can catch the story of the various writers there too as their songs go public throughout the year.

Then, in a flurry of late year activity we submitted demos and started working on polishing, upgrading and re-recording them for radio ready release in 2019.

I was rather humbled to discover it would be me who would be picked to spearhead the new batch of songs for 2019 with ‘I’ll wait for You’. I was subsequently completely delighted to find that the song has been so well received, being taken up by many websites and making the Premier Christian Radio A-list playlist. You can catch it below – be sure to listen to it all – surprises await.

The intention for these songs is not just that they will provide you with a great listening experience but also that you can be equipped with all you might need to play it for yourself – here then is the lyric/chord chart.

I’ll wait for You

If you pop over to Homegrown Worship you’ll be able to access more detail about the song and how I wrote it.

Deep Joy

Dave

Though the day is long (Score)

Here is a basic topline/chord chart for this song.

For anyone who is fearful for the future, or who is feeling lonely, or who is under the weather, the circumstances and the struggles of life – this song is for you. You may face all kinds of issues but you need not face them alone.

 

 

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Christmas is a season to be jolly.

 It’s also a season when your average church musician and worship team is probably at its busiest, and often not that jolly as the image, borrowed via a meme on Facebook, shows! It’s usually because they are struggling with the songs of the season. For some their difficulty is with unfamiliar carols that contain music which is strange and difficult to play. For others, the issue is with songs which over the years have become too familiar and the difficulty for them is to bring new meaning to classic carols. And of course lastly everyone is struggling with lyrics which are, to put it politely, formal English and full of deep theology (for ‘deep’ read no one understands them)!

 Three challenges then.

 1. What about these strange Carols then?

Carols often feature music which would have been Organ driven and that means to keep the movement and the pulse in the music, the chords change every beat of the bar. Not so tricky if you are playing on a piano, but hard, hard work if you are a guitarist. Those passing chords are out of our normal comfort zone.

Things to try

Practice – every year towards the end of November I actually spend time playing carols in my personal rehearsal. I want them to be familiar. I want to own them. That way I can if necessary conquer those speedy chord changes.

Simplify – if there are too many chords to squeeze in, simplify the arrangement. Cut out those swift changes. Notice that by simplifying the chords you will automatically have modernised the arrangement. Shift them to keys which work for you.

Reharmonise – try experimenting with different chords or variations under the same tune.

Rehearsal – the team need to immerse themselves in these songs too. If you change the arrangement, the team need to be on board with it.

 2. How to refresh carols.

There are some carols which are worth just leaving alone and accepting that they are what they are. But there are plenty of options for you otherwise.

Things to try:

Tempo – take a fast carol and slow it down, or a slow carol and speed it up. Sometimes a shift of 10 BPM can be enough to change the feel and freshen the song.

Groove – it’s not just the tempo, but also the groove, the feel of the song. Try a funky groove, a rock groove, a steady slow groove, a bit of gospel, some RnB – if you can pull off any of these, give them a go. If they feel like a good idea, rehearse it until it is great.

Listen – get a hold of what other people have done with some classic carols. I always loved Christmas albums which gave new twists on the ways carols could be played. One of those is Tijuana Christmas – Carols played on brass, with swing! What’s not to like. But it was one of those albums which challenged then changed my idea of what could be done. Of course, other Christmas albums are available, but listen to them and how the music fits together. It’s worth remembering that a Carol was a medieval dance tune to help celebrate the feast of Christmas.

NB. This is a skill which is worth using more widely since if you can tackle carols, you can tackle classic hymns.

 3 Theological or strange lyrics.

The lyrics of Carols can be a challenge due to their strangeness coupled to theological richness. Singers, there is only one way to conquer this:

Read – first off, Read the whole carol all the way through. It is remarkable how many people know the first verse of most classic carols but know almost none of the other lyrics. Read them all.

Mark – where are the awkward lyrical moments, and where are the bits you just don’t understand. If you don’t understand, you cannot sing with meaning! So, in our information rich age you can do some research on what that word or phrase actually means.

Learn – go beyond knowing the first verse. Learn them all. Maybe you look down a list of 20+ carols and that looks like too big a challenge. Well, break it down. Learn 2 or 3 this year, then refresh those each subsequent year whilst adding more to your learned repertoire.

Inwardly digest – the Christmas story is so enriching. To digest it is to understand it and to understand it is to live it.

 

So to all the musicians and singers out there, may I be among those who lift you up this Christmas. Thank you for all your hard work each year. And if these thoughts have come too late for this year, start planning now for next year, the make Christmas different next year plan! Sounding good already. Let’s work smarter next year and give ourselves a Silent Night 🙂

 

Hugs.

 

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If you think the website has been rather static for the last while, you’d be right. I’ve been focussing on studies for an M.Th. and I should get the results back soon. But here’s me leading a stalwart band of fabulous musicians, singers and technicians at Malvern Priory for the 2016 Graduation of Regent’s Theological College. I will be suitably robed and doing my fair share of ‘doffing’ next year.

In other news, not only is Glory & Fire available by CD, but it is available through all of the usual on-line sources. You can search for me on any of your favourite digital music providers and you should find me. Yeay!!

I also took the decision this year to make “This side of Heaven” available on-line as well. You can feel all warm and fuzzy this year listening to the marvellous Welliesongs of Christmas through your on-line providers, be that iTunes, Amazon or . . . That means digital copies available right to you pretty much anywhere in the world. You’re welcome !

You could try this YouTube video for starters:

Enjoy.

🙂

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The feedback we’ve been having from emails, letter and messages has been incredibly positive. The comments have come in from the USA, Australia, India, Kenya, Brazil, Sweden and many other places including the UK.

This CD is great is the common theme, so you definitely need to grab a copy.

To get a CD

We’ve made it even easier for you since you can now buy it from the Buy Now option at the bottom of the page

But you can also email us at

rundeepmusic@sky.com

with your postal address. You can pay  via Paypal, cheque or BACS.

£11.50 which includes P+P

Just last weekend we got the good news that will make it so easy to get hold of in all of the far flung corners of the world.

The CD is now available to download

Here is a link to the album on iTunes.

 also available on other digital media world wide.

If you aren’t connected to my FB page, you may be missing out on the news that at 11.26am yesterday my latest CD was delivered to my home. It has some familiar song titles on it, but you have just not heard them like this! They are EPIC and you neeeed a copy. Drop me an email at rundeepmusic@sky.com or message me for more info on how to get your copies. It’s not on iTunes yet so you need physical product. I look forward to hearing from you even as you look forward to the best music you’ve heard in ages. 

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.