Sing Unto the Lord

Rehearsal time
June 25, 2007, 12:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Our rehearsal times at CCEC are OK. We run them at 4 on a Sunday arvo. We only have about an hour before the band have to prepare for the set that night. We try and do something a bit different that can allow the band to try out creative ideas that a normal practise doesn’t have room for. Too often Sunday night practises are stressful because of the time restrictions. The four o’clock pracs are supposed to be less stress so more creative juices. We also have a look at the Bible and sing together. Its hard to fit everything into an hour – especially because musos love being late for stuff. How do you do your rehearsals? Do you only practise just before church? How can I make ours more effective?


contemporary music is contemporary
June 22, 2007, 2:06 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

This is a no brainer, but understanding where contemporary music has come from and why we do it may help us in being more intentional about the songs we choose and sing. Contemporary music comes from two different movements in history that converged in the 1970s. The first of these was the movement among churches in the last century to move from Hymns in corporate worship to ‘gospel songs’. To start with these new ‘gospel songs’ were quite good. They had simple riffs and taglines that people could remember and they were gospel focused. This wasn’t always the case. As the secular world developed it’s 20th Century individualism and humanist thinking, church music followed a similar trend. The popular gospel songs stopped being about the gospel and started being pithy moralist dittys that said a lot about nothing. Look at songs written in the 50s and sixties and sadly, this is the trend that you will see.
At the same time another movement was becoming a catalyst for change. That was the Hippie movement. Many hippies in America and elsewhere became disillusiond with their ‘free’ lifestyle and through the work of university groups and others, many young people started turning to Jesus. This is what has been called ‘the Jesus movement’.
New converts that were part of the Jesus movement found themselves excluded from traditional churches through a disapproving undertone that churchgoers gave to these new christians. The music didn’t suit them, the clothes and ‘starchy formalism’ didn’t suit them and so they formed their own communities. They created their own music based on the pop folk tunes that were big in the sixties and seventies. These new songs were stronger lyrically and soon churches began to sing them instead of the older gospel songs.
Contemporary music is designed to be culturally contemporary. It should be moving with culture. It should be relevant. Contemporary musicians should be to a certain degree listening to contemporary music in order to stay contemporary and engaging. This was the way contemporary christian music was designed anyway.
In Australia, things were a bit different to this and so there are different implications. Australia is culturally behind America. That means that for many of our curches we embraced this contemporary music but we didn’t go through the process of working out why to do it. The Jesus movement didn’t occur here to the same extent so the imediate need for contemporizing didn’t exist. What this has meant is that we have contemporary music with a hymn attitude. We treat contemporay songs the same way as we treated hymns. Are there ways that you can see that still happening – even now?

The spontaneity of contemporary music
June 21, 2007, 5:57 am
Filed under: Thinking Music

Contemporary music is spontaneous. Organ based – hymn music is designed in a way so that it will never change. An organist can play a score and hit every note just the way it should be hit. Generally, traditional hymn music changes chords on each syllable. So the organ follows and complements the vocal melody. The beat must be just so for the church to sing the song. There isn’t room for improvisation or spontaneous arrangement changes (by spontaneous I’m not suggestin you just go off on your own doing your own thing mid-set but I mean changing a structure on a given night).
Contemporary music is written to be disposable. I mean that in a positive way. The chord progressions are generally simple and chords are held for longer. There is room for a piano or electric guitar to improvise in space. This means that for contemporary music, more instrumental voices can be heard and expressed to proclaim God’s majesty. Contemporary music is fluid. It can be changed and molded without losing the essence of a song. For example… Blessed be your name can be played slowly or more subdued but it can also be played with a driving rythmn and a celebratory tone.
Contemporary music lives in the chord chart.
What I mean is that contemporary musicians should not feel locked in to a score in the same way as more traditional musicicians. Contemporary musicians are free to create within a song and thus can themselves be praising as well as serving through their strings/keys/skins.
Not only this, but also vocally. Contemporary singers are free to use dynamics in a way that traditional music could not. A singer can inflect emotion with their voice by introducing different volumes and accents. A singer can repeat a line over the top of the congregation or write new harmony and so continually create in praise to God.
This is why I feel that many who have introduced the contemporary music genre into their churches have missed the point. They still enforce a strict regime of following ‘the way it is on the cd’. They don’t allow their musicians the freedom to express themselves and they continue to enforce ‘formal diction’ in their singers (formal dction is pro-nounce-ing-your-word-sss-per-fec-tly. Its when the t’s sound like d’s and every K is heard loud and Klear through the mix). Contemporary music doesn’t follow formal diction. It is more like speaking. It is casual. It’s spontaneous and it serves us in teaching us not to worship the form but to worship the focus – our great God and his mercy.
With this freedom comes much responsibility but I’ll save that for later.
P.S – Photo is of me with the two most spontaneous people I know

Why I love Contemporary Christian Music
June 20, 2007, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I spend a lot of time devoting myself to defending the place of hymns in our church context. I have all the arguments and reasoning down pat and I’m sure that I rant about it probably too much! What can happen then is that we forget why we do Contemporary music. Sometimes you can get so good at arguing one way that you forget why you do things another way.
I think that often churches that want to be contemporary miss the point of contemporary music and why it is so useful. Over the next week I’ll put up a few posts that outline the question – ‘why comtemporize (I love making up new words)’.
Contemporary music has heaps of historical, cultural and musical implications that people don’t take the time to think about and so just charge in without being intentional just because everyone else is contemporary. I’ll try and put something up this afternoon or tomorrow on ‘Why contemporary music is different and how to use it well.’

Our Primary Muse
June 20, 2007, 6:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few posts ago I mentioned that I expected men like Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman and Lincoln Brewster to soon create more cross centred songs. WhatI meant was that these men write beautiful poetry to describe God our creator and Jesus our friend but less frequently write songs about our salvation or where Jesus ransomed us. I wanted to quickly outline what I meant and I want to give three reasons why the Cross should always be sung.

People (songwriters and cruisos) seem to find the creating majesty of God the primary muse for their reflection. What that means is that above all other things, people love to sing about the creator-ness of God. Another pillar of modern Christian song is an emphasis on vague statements about God’s God-ness. eg (I’m trying to make one up without bagging out any particular song) “You are High and wonderful, my God”.

This statement is true and so is the fact that God is creator, and we should keep singing songs about these things – but… should they be our primary muse?

I believe Christian song should be primarily reflecting on the cross. Heres why.

1) God is on about the Cross. All of his revealed word points to the cross. The Cross is where we see God’s nature and mercy and grace. Hebrews 1:1 says that while in the past God told us about himself in heaps of different ways, now he speaks through Jesus. Jesus who died. We meet God in the cross. Yes, he is the God who created all things, but all things find their fulfillment in the cross.

2) We can only worship God because of the cross. Heb 13:15 says that our sacrifice of praise can only come through Jesus. It is only through his blood that any of us dare approach God. We should be consumed for presuming to come before God and praise him, but we are not because Jesus death has made us holy in his sight.

3) Thirdly, the singing in heaven will all be the cross. Read Rev 5. What get’s the angels going? Jesus, the sacrificial lamb. We want to sing now about what we will be singing about then.

Keep writing and singing songs about the cross! There are so many more reasons why but these three were the first I could think of. We should be cross people. We should be cross singers. May we keep being cross centered and may Jesus work there be our primary muse to his glory!!

P.S – The photo is of the band ‘muse’. Check them out, they rock.

Resource frenzy
June 18, 2007, 9:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m on a bit of a resource frenzy at the moment. I thought it would be good if I stuck up here a bunch of sites I’m looking at that could be helpful in different ways..

Andy M posted abut hymns and comtemporizing (is that a word) them. One group that are brilliant at this and have already written new music or updated old music to hundreds of hymns is Indelible Grace.
They have a hymn book that is free to download with guitar chords, lead sheets and vocal sheets.
Another site worth checking out is Cyberhymnal. I have a link to them in my sidebar. The site is really daggy and the midi files that play over the top of some of the pages are atrocious. It is a good site for finding out information about hymns that you love though.

For sound and thinking about tech stuff… there has been a good post up on the Garage Hymnal blog this week about sound gear. I also found a cool blog from a guy who runs the sound team at Covenant Life church in the states. Interesting stuff.

For thinking about theology and music… I’ve been greatly encouraged by the free lectures you can download from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary school of Worship. There are heaps of great gems here. Particularly listen to the lectures from Dr Harold Best, Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, and David Peterson. Great stuff.

All that should keep you going for a while.

Hymns and arranging
June 18, 2007, 2:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Andy has some good ideas for updating hymns without changing the tune (not that there is anything wrong with that!) I am currently reading a book called ‘Exploring the Worship Spectrum ‘. It’s a book that has writers from 6 different church styles (Liturgical, Hymn based, contemporary, charismatic, blended, emerging) arguing their particular preference. Harold Best writes the article on hymn based worship and it is very good! I’ll post some more about my friend Harry later. Check out his website if you are looking for some great stuff to read.

P.S Just discovered Google Books! you can read ‘Exploring the Worship Spectrum’ for free here