Ricky-Bobby at Church

I talk with my hands to the point that it is hard to type my blog entries due to the excessive use of hands while expressing my thoughts.  So why did I use have so much trouble figuring out what to do with my hands during worship.  Now granted I play guitar so I avoid the awkward “Ricky-Bobby-esque” moments of not knowing what to do with my hands during worship.  I mean I could see everyone around me at church and other worship events raising their hands but I never understood why.  My more charismatic friends never understood my hesitations and questions, I mean it’s a part of life for them.  They are born with lifted hands.  So one day, who remembers how long ago, I decided to dig a little to figure out why we raise hands.  I mean I talk so much with them (and Xtina and other diva’s sing so much with them) why didn’t I use them when worshipping?

There are two main themes I came across when digging into this subject, Supplication and Blessing.
Supplication – to ask or beg for something earnestly or humbly. Stretching forth one’s hands is a gesture common in many different cultures to implore another person to help. One thing we represent when we lift our hands in worship is a desire to invoke God’s help. It also seems to be deeply connected to more than just the physical person as well, it reflects the inner person. “I stretch out my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6). Hands mirror the soul stretched out to touch God, “… for to thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul” – verse 8 – “Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven” (Lam. 3:41, NIV). The lifting of hands is an outward representation of a lifting of the inner being to be in communion with God.

The other major theme that showed up was Blessing. We lift our hands in blessing to God. David lovingly calls to his faithful God: “So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name” (Psalm 63:4). “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6). “To lift up the hands” is a gesture that expresses adoration in the context of worship.

So why do you lift hands in worship services? Why don’t you? I mean I myself am not the most demonstrative worshipper but understand that some people are and really connect that way. So what do you think?

Friday Funny 6.11.10

It seems i have not had a lot of time on my hands this week as my normal blogging has taken a back seat to everything else going on lately. But somehow in the midst of a crazy schedule I have managed to collect a ton of hilarity. One could argue (quite well) that the little free time I do have could be better spent. But regardless I hope you enjoy the fun. Let’s start with a video apropos to the current world situation.

I knew it! Wonder how long the it took to develop the grunt remover?

All dog’s go to heaven? Well just to be safe.

Ahhh yes; like a record Jesus, right round, round, round.

The tag line at the end cracks me up!

I'm sure it was created with the best of intentions but really? The Catholic Priest model has been discontinued.

Non-Lyric Lyrics in Worship. La De Da De De: Scatting for Jesus

Have you come across a worship song that used the lyrics La La La before?  You know what I am talking about those songs that have sections or parts where the voices are acting more like Martin Sexton mimicking a horn section than actual lyrics with any message.  Lincoln Brewster has done this in a number of songs, Hillsong from time to time, and numerous other worship artists have used non-lyric lyrics.

So how do they translate into our worship services?  More progressive and younger churches seem to have no problem incorporating them.  They find that those moments connect well with their congregants.  Some congregations don’t use them or even omit those parts from the songs.  “It just feels awkward singling fa la la la la” I heard someone say one Sunday after service.  It got me thinking about how we view those moments in worship.

Personally I like it, I don’t see much difference from using your voice as an instrument and a actual instrument covering the same part.  And music without lyrics can and should be used as worship.  On the wall of a German Opera House a quote reads, “Bach gave us God’s word, Beethoven gave us God’s fire, Mozart gave us God’s laughter, God gave us music so that we may pray without words.”  I love the idea that in those moments you as a church become a corporate instrument all playing the same part.  But that doesn’t remove the awkwardness one can feel while in worship and singing the words they remember from the smurfs.

As a worship leader do you teach and instruct on the benefits of non-lyric lyrics?  Do you just remove those parts from those songs?  Do you shy away from those songs?  Or do you just simply continue on with them and hope people eventually make the same connection (as if you will ever have 100% understanding and participation in anything)?  My tendency is to teach and instruct for that would be a defining quality of a worship leader (I would hope – to teach and lead people in worship).

So if we can view those moments are truly a part of our worship, and a part of our music then I say we continue to sing without words when appropriate and worship our Maker.  In scripture we find a number of references to music outside of singing used to worship the Lord. (Psalm 21:13, 71:22, 135:3, Ephesians 5:18b-19)  Let our voices be a generous instrument unto the Lord, continue to worship, raise your arms in praise, clap your hands, and to feel the presence of God wrapped around you in melody and song.

What do you think?  Do those moments make you feel connected or awkward?  Would you rather always use words or can simple syllables be worship?

Christian Music or Christians Making Music: Into the Fray

Ok Ok I admit it, I watched the red carpet coverage of the 52nd Grammy Awards yesterday.  Make all the comments you want, I know, I regret the decision now but on the bright side I have a good jump on best and worst dressed – what?  Anyway now that it’s out we can move on.

While watching the red carpet coverage I was excited to see The Fray do a quick interview.  I wasn’t as excited to see it with Ryan Seacrest but hey what do I have to argue I was watching the red carpet pre-show on E!  Here is what struck me to start a debate in my own head (those happen quite often).  Surprising to me, Seacrest asked about the bands Christian (faith based) background.  He asked if that type of lifestyle made it hard to to exist in a Rock-n-Roll world with a different moral center.   I was actually taken back a bit when the question was asked.  I didn’t expect faith to make it into the discussion at all.

I wasn’t surprised by the response from The Fray but at the same time I was.  Their response was simply: “when we set out we had no specific message, it was all about the music.”  It’s the same thing you have heard from many artists of faith – We are not a “Christian” band we are just Christians in a band.  I get it.  Heck I’ve used that to describe myself and my band in the past.  It was really coined to distance a band from the CCM world.  Than in itself is not a bad thing.  Let’s face it CCM music has a history of being poorly written, poorly produced music that lacks soul (my personal opinion views todays popular music in the same way).  When you heard the term “Christian Band” you automatically associated it with less than professional music.  So I get it, I really do – most CCM today is worship music anyway, which is it’s own sub-genre of a beast.  I also get the whole “known by our actions and not just by our words” thing too.  Positive lyrics, and being different than the industry around you is a good thing – good role models are much needed.

But on the other hand what is wrong with saying “Yes, I am a Christian and I write music from my life experience of being a Christian.”  Or saying that “My faith has made me live a life different from the world and I hope that comes through in my music.”  What if “Christian’s who make music” wanted to actually change the perception of Christian music rather than remove themselves from it.  Just thinking out loud here and trust me I totally get the argument for making music and letting people interpret it themselves.  Sometimes I just feel as if it is a copout.  It’s an easy way to keep a target off your back.  It’s a way to keep the mainstream audience interested.

If all the world knows of you is your music, lyrics, and what you say in interviews or in concert and all you do is shirk the title of Christian because of a bad association then what are you really saying?  Again don’t get me wrong I am torn on which side to fall.  I think that the Christian hipster quiet witness is cool but at times I also feel there are times to stand up and say “Yes I am a Christian and it effects every aspect of my life.”  To just say that it’s all about they music seems wrong to me.  It’s all about Christ, the sacrifice and the grace.  If that doesn’t make you want to let the world know in direct terms then I don’t know what would.

What do you think?  Which side do you fall on?  Is there a right side?

Just thinking out loud.

5 Reasons Worship Bands Should Use Click Tracks

We started about 2 years ago to shift towards utilizing click tracks in our worship services.  It started during rehearsals for an Easter production and has been a staple ever since.  I have to admit it hasn’t been the easiest transition for us to make but looking back, it has been one of the best moves we have made as a worship band.  The click track is a humbling beast that makes the best musicians feel like rookies at times.  I remember sitting at my piano as a kid with that wooden triangle of doom clicking at me as I practiced for my recital.  We have not always had the greatest success with the click but it has become a comforting friend more than the nagging foe it use to be.  I have come to love the many benefits of playing with a click track.

5 Reasons Why Worship Bands Should Use Click Tracks

  1. It keeps the band together.  Worship bands – ususally – do not have the opportunity to play together as much as they might like.  And we all know the more you play together the tighter the band is.  But the click track can help this problem.  For the same reason a click i used in the studio, one should be used live.  If someone is slightly in front of or behind the beat, it can muddy up the mix – and remember a better mix starts at the stage.
  2. It controls the tempo.  You may say duh! That would be the definition of a click track.  But when a band becomes very familiar with a particular song, they can easily speed up the tempo of that song.  It can become less of a challenge or boring when you are so familiar with a song.  But after watching performances where tempo felt right, it was clear that it was way too fast. Remember the congregation, they need to be able to be comfortable with the song.
  3. The advent of Visual Worship.  As visual worship becomes more and more prevalent in churches, bands will need to be able to meet the call of technology.  Timing creative videos with live music is something that connects both aurally and visually thus allowing the worshipper to engage in a new and exciting ways.  If your band can stay with a click track, you can open up new possibilities for your worship service and congregation.
  4. It allows for loops, lo-fi drum samples, and if needed filler instruments to provide sounds you normally cannot provide with a live band.  If you are morally oppose to having instruments other than live (and I can understand that argument) then this is not the point for you.  But if you need pads, strings, horns, or even the occasional staple instrument then playing with a click enables you to do this with pre-recorded tracks and loops.
  5. It makes you better musicians.  We need to continually sharpen our skills and strive to be better at our craft.  Playing and practicing with a click will do just that, ask any studio musician.  It only benefits your ability to feel the beat and stick with it.  Again, remember the best musicians in the world can at times be humbled by a click track.

I hope you found this helpful.  There are some minor pitfalls and common misconceptions about playing with a click track.  I will address them in a later post.  For now I hope you are encourage to venture in to new areas of worship music or are encouraged in the  path you are already taking.  Playing with a click track is something I have come to view as vital to our worship services.  Do you play with a click?  If so was it a challenge getting your team to play with one?  What disadvantages do you see?

The tempo is the suitcase. If the suitcase is too small, everything is completely wrinkled. If the tempo is too fast, everything becomes so scrambled you can’t understand it. – Daniel Barenboim

God Bless

Tech Review: Audix Microboom

In the quest for ever better sound we recently purchased a pair of Audix Microboom MB8450 microphones.  In my opinion micing a choir is one of the biggest challenges in almost any situation, especially when you have a live band in relative close proximity.  We have approximately 50 people in our choir and have experimented with a number of different microphones and techniques.  Our Sactinasium gives us a unique problem in that we are naturally fighting the dreaded “tunnel” sound.  Anything can easily sound like it’s in a tunnel if you are not careful in our room.  That makes micing a choir that much more difficult.  Before trying the Audix setup we were using 4 Shure SM81 microphones.  Spaced pair on the outsides – set about 3′-4′ above the choir – and an XY pair set lower in the middle of the choir to closer represent what I was hearing from the directors position – about 4′-5′ from the choir.  This worked pretty well for us, the microphones sounded decent and we were able to get some decent volume – but not enough for me.  The other major disadvantage was the obstructive large stands we had to use to achieve this setup.

So when researching new microphones I wanted something that was sleek and sexy but packed a big punch.  I wanted something that was mobile and not permanent (i.e. no hanging mics – it had to be able to move to satisfy all the different setups we use).  It also had to have a good gain before feedback but at the same time a natural sound (harder to find that combination than you may think).  I came across about 3 different micing solutions that met my criteria – at least on paper.  Earthworks, CAD, and Audix all produce similar products. Sadly, I was able to rule Earthworks out immediately – I just didn’t have the budget – but honestly think that they would have been the best choice if money was no object.  Both basically use a sleek boom pole system with a mic attached at the end.  I was first attracted to the CAD model because it had “on the fly” pattern selection.  I ended up choosing the Audix, one because of past history with their equipment, and two because there are multiple microphones that work with this system.   Ultimately it came down to that difference.  They actual microphone for the Audix system appeared to be a higher quality microphone and Audix produces a number of other microphones you can upgrade to if ever needed.  With the CAD system, yes I have pattern selection, but I am stuck with one microphone – that I don’t view as comparable with the Audix.  I felt with the Audix system more money went toward the microphone and with the CAD system more money went toward the selection system. Also, more press has been given to the Audix system in major Church Tech and Worship Leader trade publication.

After receiving the Audix Microboom’s I quickly set them up and was in love with the look and mobility.  I would quickly fall in love with the sound and performance as well.  I am not going to sit here an quote you the technical specifications for these mics – you can easily find them online.  I am going to review these mics from a worship leaders perspective rather than a tech head perspective.  And plain and simple they work.  They have received rave reviews from worship leaders, tech directors, and more – you can find them on their website.  I am another one in a long line of worship leaders falling in love with these microphones.  They simply work.  With just two of these microphones I was able to get more volume than with four of the pencil condenser microphones (and i wasn’t fighting phase and cancellation issues with 4).  With very little EQ I was able to achieve a very natural sound.  Still think they slightly give you a slight tunnel sound you get from so many low quality hanging choir mics (but I think once again that most of it comes from our room).  But anyone with any knowledge of a sound board and an ear, will be able to achieve wonderful choir reproduction from a sleek and sexy microphone package.

If you have the money and are looking for the same qualifications in a choir mic system, I would only assume the Earthworks system would produce incredible results (of course if you are willing to spend that much on choir mics you have a plethora of large diaphragm condensers and other high quality microphones to choose from).  For the money the Audix Microboom system provides great natural sound, excellent gain before feedback, and a sleek and mobile package.  In my 6 years at Grace Church, we have not had this much natural sound or volume from any other combination we have tried.

What do you use in your church?  Have you used any of the other choir micing systems?  What is your best choir micing solution? Tell me your opinions on the matter.

5 Ways the Worship Leader is Responsible for the Sound…

Wednesday nights are a popular night for worship teams to gather and rehearse for the coming Sunday.  That is true at my church and most churches I am familiar with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a tension between Worship Leader and Sound Person.  And  I know the title of this post probably has church sound techs and sound techs in general cringing and cursing my name for the mere thought but hear me out.  I am in no way encouraging a Worship Leader to tell a sound tech how to do their job.  And I am in no way suggestion anyone on stage knows what it sounds like off stage or could know better than the person mixing.  Here is what I am suggesting… Better sound starts at the stage! In essence the job of the sound tech and sound system is to make louder what it is given.  So better sound going in – better sound coming out. (garbage in – garbage out – that ole chestnut)

Here are 5 Ways the Worship Leader is responsible for the Sound

  1. Number of Musicians: I realize that we want as many people to volunteer and connect as possible but do you honestly need that many guitar players?  Only use the musicians that are needed for a song.
  2. Tone: The way a song sounds is ultimately your vision.  I realize it is difficult to tell a guitar player or vocalist that their tone needs tweaked but remember it is our job to remove distractions from worship.  Encourage your band and ensemble members to find appropriate tones for the type and feel of the song.  This can make a world of difference.
  3. Rotate groups of musicians and not just members if at all possible.  The reasoning is that the longer a group plays together the better they understand each other.  They begin to play as a group better and respond better to spontaneous changes.  Something as simple as having a “jam” time will allow the group to gel better and provide better results for Sunday.
  4. Learning to play is easy, learning NOT to play is hard.  Don’t be afraid of space in your music.  Don’t be afraid to tell a player that they are overplaying in a section.  You are really acting as a producer of the song and worship set.  More can be said in the silence than 1000 voices together at times.
  5. Begin teaching your vocalist about what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear.  It is very very very common to continually want more of “me.”  I have been in situations where the monitors have become louder than the PA to satisfy people on stage.  How you ask? Begin by having your vocalists sing without microphones or monitors and minimal band to train their ears for the blend.  Then slowly add in monitors and band.  This is not an easy or short process but when people can learn to hear what they really need to hear (which is usually much more of everyone else and less of just them than they thing) your sound will only get better.  (also teach them how to work a mic)

These are not always the easiest to implement in every situation.  I myself am still working on all of these.  As worship leaders we are responsible for helping the sound crew do the best job they can do.  Starting down this path and keeping communication open between your sound crew, band, ensemble and you is paramount to creating better sound and a better overall worship experience.
Was this helpful?  What did I miss?  What is your advice (from worship leader, sound person, or church-goer)?

10 Things Every Worship Leader Wishes Their Sound Person Knew (and vice versa)

As a worship leader and former sound guy I realize there are areas of tension between the two positions.  The goal of the Worship leader and the sound person are identical – to provide as few distractions for the worshipper as possible.  I don’t feel as if those are necessary tensions and with just a little communication tensions could subside (at least until the following Sunday).

10 Things Every Worship Leader Wishes Their Sound Person Knew

1. Sorry, that equipment is not in the budget
2. I realize when I ask for more of “me” you just put your hand on the knob, looking at me without actually turning that knob while waiting for me to tell you perfect (tricky tricky)
3. An acceptable volume level is not when less than 10 people complain

Continue reading…

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: Memories and Resolutions

As I sit here watching the “We Need To Sponsor A Bowl Game” Bowl on New Year’s eve, it seems customary to take some time and reflect on the past year as well as look ahead to the year coming. Because an ordered list would mean I think organized thoughts, I will reminisce about the past year in no particular order.

Here are some of my favorite memories of 2009.

  • Celebrating 2 years of marriage to my beautiful wife
  • Graduating (with honors) with a B.A. in “Religion and the Arts” and “Multimedia Productions” from Belmont University. Woop Woop go Honors Program
  • Moving into our very first house
  • Building our very first house (well actually just picking out a few things and letting the contractors build the house – but they finally started on our pool!!!)
  • Rescuing (buying from a rescue agency) our crazy Shih-Tzu Sophie – think a furry Odie
  • Our Unconventional Dinner Theater that fed 150 families in our community a Thanksgiving Dinner.
  • Winning a Baden Acoustic Guitar – no really completely free, it was crazy
  • Being introduced to Settlers of Catan (I know I am a nerd but for real that game is awesome)
  • Moving from Part Time to Full Time at Grace Church of the Nazarene as Director of Creative Arts
  • Seeing a good friend come home Afghanistan (DUUUUUKKKKEEEEE!!!!!)
  • Story Chicago at the Paramount Theater
  • U2 and Muse in Atlanta!!!

Resolutions for 2010

  • Read my Bible more (not putting this on here because I work at a Church, I legitimately need to do better)
  • P90X – (no for real – and not to lose weight but hopefully put a little on)
  • Finding better quiet time
  • Read more (now that I have graduated and am no longer forced to read I can begin on the pile of books I want to read)
  • Take piano lesson (I should have never quit when I was a kid)
  • Take drum lessons
  • Start writing a book
  • Blog better
  • Making year 3 of our marriage better than year 2
  • Start living a better story
  • Move from theory and idea to action
  • Grow our Church Choir
  • Write more music