Sing Unto the Lord

Song choices
May 30, 2007, 5:10 am
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Hey all.
I got an e-mail from a guy in our youth group the other day asking about a post he had read at the garage hymnal blog in response to the Briefing article on Hillsong and whether to sing Hillsong songs or not. I thought I’d post my reply to him because it explains a little of why we choose the songs we do at Church.

Yeah, I’ve read that garage Hymnal post. I like the way that Andy writes. He doesn’t give his views he just humbly questions those of others. I admire someone who can write without arrogance but with humility and a genuine love of the truth.
You may or may not be aware that in our church context there are people who hold all kinds of views on whether to sing Hillsong or not. At Youth the general rule is (not saying it’s the best one, or the worst one) – “There might not be anything intrinsically wrong with the song but lets avoid causing any problem and find good songs elsewhere”. My personal view is that I would be happy to sing a song no matter where it came from if it is the best song to sing.
By best song I mean: Does it speak truth (with no grey areas), Does the music match the words in a helpful way that is easy to sing and captures the right emotions the words are seeking to portray, And does it fit with the whole direction of where the night is going or what the over arching theme is.
Often I find that the best songs to do this with are the songs we write specifically for the purpose of matching these three criteria. Why look for songs elsewhere if they don’t match what you are looking for when you have people who love to write new songs right at your doorstep.
The other category that fit this are hymn texts put to music that can reflect the words in an appropriate way for our time. The reason Hymns are so great is that many were written by guys who were deep thinkers who make me feel dwarfed in their understanding of God and of language and how to use language for God’s glory, and that there are so many of them, it’s easy to find texts to match what we are studying.
That’s why although I would have no problem singing a Hillsong song, I haven’t found any lately that have jumped out at me to match these criteria in the best way possible. It’s important not to just choose songs because they are popular in Christian circles or because new comers will know them. Lot’s of things have been popular before in Christian circles that are bad! We choose songs to lead our congregation in giving appropriate praise to God. This is our chief aim.

Hope all this helps.


Musos and reading
May 29, 2007, 12:32 pm
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I am still getting some responses back from the last post so I should be able to put up some thoughts by Friday.

I’ve been reading through a series of posts Bob Kauflin wrote in January last year about Christian musicians and why they don’t read theological books. He said that in his experience musos don’t read many christian books as a general rule. He then explains several reasons why he thinks this is the case. His reasons are:

1. We don’t understand the purpose of theology
2. Studying theology is harder than learning a new riff
3. Learning theology takes time
4. We think we can know God better through music

You can look them up here and read more.

One thing I’d like to point out and expand is why Christian musicians should read more theological books.

The musicians and singers at church lead the congregation in magnifying God’s name and his glory together as a people. We are the ones who choose which songs best fulfill that role and which ones don’t. We arrange the music depending on what we are wanting to teach the congregation about God and how their affections should be ignited towards him.
Too often the musos in church are the guys who want nothing to do with deep thinking. They are the shallow, touchy-feely people who sit through the sermon thinking about the awesome arrangement they have put to the next song. They love vibe over truth. They enjoy the feeling of a good set but miss the cut of a faithful sermon. They love the idea of God because the idea fills them with a sense of mystery and love and awe but if you start talking to them about doctrine they yawn. This is all of course a generalisation.
First and foremost, Christian musos (or Cruisos) should be people who love God’s word. It should be God’s revelation to them that inspires them to praise him.
If I spent all of my married life telling my wife I loved her – I loved her so much that I just had to sing – all my days the only relation I have with my wife is to sing to her about how great she is, but I never spend any time getting to know her, then whats the point! How much do I really love her? Perhaps I just love singing about her.
Cruisos should want to sing because they have a passion for God’s word. I wish more guys came to me and said ‘I have been reading … in the Bible and it has made me feel overcome with a passion for God’s glory. I’m so keen to sing to him with his people tonight!’
And if Cruisos are people that are passionate about God’s word then their next greatest passion should be those things that help them read it better – those things that help them get to know Christ better. If I loved my wife then I would do anything I could to get to know her more. And if I love Jesus the way that so many songs I sing say I love him, then I will be doing all I can to know him better.

That’s part of the reason why I revamped this blog. I want it to be resource for musos not just to help them think about music, but rather to help them think more about Jesus. I pray for a music team that exists for God’s glory above all things. I pray for a music team that love to read God’s word and love to read those books that help them see him better.

Keys players and freaking out
May 26, 2007, 9:59 pm
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Everything I said in that last post might be well and good if you have a band that can improvise and work with chord charts. I’m blessed that the guys I play with are skilled in this way. But what if your piano, trumpet, flute, strings player has no idea how to work a chord chart out? What then?
We had the same problem with these instruments in our context. Most woodwind or strings players have been trained to play within an orchestra setting, and most Piano players have been trained through AMEB. Both of these factors go into having musos who love being told what to do and who struggle with improv. This doesn’t mean they are not skilled, they are probably very skilled, but they haven’t yet learnt the art of making stuff up.
My hope is to post up here this week some ideas for developing this skill. I’ll get some thoughts from some guys who have gone from scores to chord charts and see what they found helpful.
Watch this space.

Chord charts, lead sheets and postmodernism
May 26, 2007, 9:23 pm
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Recently I’ve been able to play music with some guys who go to a church in Sydney. When I first met the music director at the church she told me that they were planning on teaching some of the songs from our church’s cd (Wonder of the Cross). Her frustration was that while for our first cd we wrote lead sheets and provided them for every song, our second cd came with none. We also hadn’t put out many piano scores. She told me that while they loved the songs, it would be very difficult to teach them to a band without clear set guidelines on how to sing them. This bothered me because I had always assumed that there were lead sheets, and I was perplexed how other churches would be playing the song without them. I think that it would be a worthwhile project to come up with a resource like that so that other churches can find our music helpful in their contexts… That being said, when I give out music to my keys players, I never give them piano scores – I give them chord charts.
That’s because I don’t want them to feel locked down into one way of playing a song. I can see the importance of having a lead sheet because then the melody is set for the congregation, but piano scores and structural notes lead to a concrete, locked-in way of playing a song.
I think that as creators in God’s image, we are continually creating new things – for God’s glory. So when the band gets together on Sunday, they are going to create something new. It might be similar to other times but you would hope to never become stale and rigid so that each time we play the song it is exactly the same. I think that post modern congregations appreciate this. Post Modernism, while in it’s purest form is foolish and human-centred and non-sensical, can also help us as we think about how to ‘do’ music for our congregations. Post Modernism has been so accepted by our culture that now most younger people have a mindset that appreciates new things and different forms of expressing the same truth.
At CCEC nites we capture this by trying to create new arrangements of songs all the time. The tension is to do it in such a way that doesn’t confuse the congregation but rather helps it see in a fresh way, the truths a song contains. So much church music can become liturgical in the way that we approach it eg. “the verse must repeat twice and then a chorus with a certain predictable lick in the musical interlude”. And so the congregation finds the song predictable and belts out the words without having to engage with them – like driving on a road you know well. But just like driving on the road, you never notice little changes or nuances because you aren’t concentrating, you are just going through the motions of driving. The exact same thing can happen to a congregation when singing a well known song. But if you change the song enough to make people notice, they will be forced to re-engage with words and ideas that they may not have previously. I don’t believe it is such a travesty in a post-modern culture to play a song very differently to how it was written. Often when I teach a song to my music team we get the chord charts and do our own arrangement of the song before we ever hear the artist themselves play the song on a recording. In the end we may go with the original arrangement, but we will never stop creating – even with old songs.

Stephen Lungu and a great encouragement
May 24, 2007, 12:43 am
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Psalm 113 says “Praise the Lord. Praise O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD. Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.

At school today we had Stephen Lungu give devotions on this passage. He was a great encouragement to me in the way I go about my life… “always praise the Lord.” Often on a Sunday night or a Friday night when we are meeting together, the temptation is for musos to get caught up in the set and how the different arrangements will work, and all the mechanics and forget the very reason why we serve. We serve to praise the Lord. And we don’t just praise him when we meet together, we praise him in all things every day.

Mad big ups
May 23, 2007, 9:48 pm
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Mad big ups to Dave and Ian (Rodeo Clown) who have made the page look so much better. Thanks so much guys.

The kids don’t like to sing
May 23, 2007, 7:19 am
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I have been having an interesting debate with a friend about how to ‘do’ music at an event geared towards youth who don’t know Jesus. I’ll present the two views here and let you think about it. Give me your thoughts.

View 1/ We shouldn’t do music on ‘evangelistic’ nights because non-christian teens are already weirded out enough by sitting through a talk on the Bible. They don’t know why they are singing and for them to sing would basically be blasphemy anyway. If we are gearing a night towards them then it would make more sense to just have a couple of items. This isn’t to say we should never sing, but rather on these special nights we should make youth as accessible as possible. Paul became a Jew to the jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles.

View 2/ People are drawn to Jesus as they see his people worshipping him- in their lives, and as they meet together. Therefore, it’s important that on ‘evangelistic’ nights we do things the way we always do, but with more explanation for why we do it. When we sing we explain that as christians we are so overcome by God’s glory that we have to sing. The other thing is that you choose songs that teach those who hear them. Songs that present the gospel in a simple way. The New Testament expects that people will observe the way that we do things and think that they are foolish. There is no point in hiding. However the spirit makes sense of the Gospel and with their eyes opened, people see the importance of worshipping God and praising Jesus.

This is interesting stuff to think about as we plan for doing music at events. Thoughts?