The Ghost of Lyric Presentation Past, Present and Future

Some of you may remember the implementation of worship lyric presentation as it happened from hymn books to the current video projection.  While not terribly old yet, I too remember the beginnings of the process. After moving from hymn books to chorus books (those little books with just the words to more “contemporary” choruses printed in them) to overhead projectors and clear plastic lyric sheets, to powerpoint and beyond.  Man those were the days leading worship with a wonderful volunteer crouching or sitting next to an overhead projector switching the clear plastic sheets on which someone had copied verses and choruses and all the wonderful call and response parts that formerly resided in neatly bound books.  The only control you had over the look was to use neat fonts like comic sans to give it that cool and modern look – oh yeah you know you used it don’t lie.  If you were hip enough to be able to afford color ink that would print onto these clear plastic sheets you could change the color between bridge and chorus.  Or maybe you hand drew each one which was really the only way to create anything unique and visually interesting for more than a few seconds.

The church quickly began to employ the power of computers and powerpoint to give life and color to the lyrics and backgrounds for really the first time.  It wasn’t long before the desire for a more spontaneous approach to the order in which lyrics were displayed (more non-linear rather than a set linear order and structure) and you saw the creation of certain plugins which led to basically the worship presentation choices we have today.  We seem to now sit in a world of almost endless possibilities as far as how we display and present lyrics for the congregation to read in order to participate in worship.  We currently employ the use of the recent phenomena of song tracks which give motion not only to the backgrounds but the lyrics as well.  We’ve come a long long way from overhead projectors and clear plastic sheets.  But where do we go from here?  How in the world is there anything left to add to the way we present our worship lyrics (which also begs the question as to why employ these current and future technologies and ideas – but thats for another post)?

I was watching and episode from ChurchMediaDesign.tv on the Hologram Church.  Now granted that particular episode had nothing really related to presentation of worship lyrics per say but I think it did without even knowing it.  The episode focused on a new technology that allowed for venue churches to move from showing the pastor on a large screen to employing hologram technology to make it appear as if the pastor is standing on the stage.  Basically moving a video feed of a pastor from two-dimensions to three-dimensions.  Know my personal opinion on that idea is mixed.  I mean I get it but as of right now it compares similar to the new advent of 3D movies that really just create a little bit more depth of field than the regular 2D version.  I personally don’t see much difference in the two movies and would rather save my money than have minimal depth of field effect.  Just the same I am not sure how different a 3D version of a TIVOed pastor would be from the 2D version but do understand the idea visually of looking at a Pastor that appears to be walking around on the stage in front of me versus a large screen where it is obvious that he is being piped in from somewhere else (once again that is a topic for further discussion at another time).

Here is how I foresee the technology being utilized by the church in the near or distant future as cost is the determining factor of time.  Imagine seeing Fee take the stage and as they lead in worship the lyrics appear to be onstage with them, appearing to physically take up stage space.  Imagine Fee being able to interact with those 3D and moving lyrics by walking in-between them, around them, and through them.  Imagine those lyrics moving, changing, morphing, and becoming like set pieces that add to the worship experience.  Imagine Chris Tomlin singing a song with the African Children’s Choir who appear to be on stage with him and the lyrics they are singing.  I think the possibilities of this hologram technology have many  more applications that just a virtually present pastor.  Drama set pieces, three dimensional backdrops, sermon illustrations that interact with the preacher, the Gorillaz leading worship (ok a bit of a stretch but they are one of the pioneering groups of this technology), the sun rising behind 3D lyrics, 3D environmental projection and so many more applications that the future church can run with and employ to share God’s love in a new and powerful manner.

How do you see this hologram technology being used by the church?  Does this seem too “out there” (remember drums seemed that way at one time as well)?  If not hologram lyrics, where to you see worship lyric presentation going in future?  Comment below.

Creating Worship Space with Light: History Sets a Precedent

I love new ideas brought into worship. If you have paid attention to the evolution of visual media in the modern church you can see a very cool worship experience emerging. You probably remember the days of overhead projectors and clear lyric sheets. And you probably were overjoyed when powerpoint slides made their way into the realm of worship. A recent phenomenon has begun to emerge in churches around the world, and that is visual worship in and of itself – moving lyrics that make powerpoint look like overhead projectors with colored markers, environmental projection, and more to the point of visual worshippers creating a kind of sub culture within the church.

Surprisingly I believe that these are not new events but ones stemmed out of a long tradition of visual aids in worship. From the cloister of Cluny (not to be confused with the cloister of Clooney – devoted to a handsome earthly being not a all powerful heavenly one) who used ornate decorations to draw the worshippers attention towards the heavens, to the dual of the iconoclasts and iconodules over pictures and art being used as “visual worship” in a sense, to architecture itself designed as an aid to worship. Visual worship is a great new creative aspect of modern worship that has historic roots in church history.

Creating worship space became an important element in Christianity as it continued to spread.  During the Medieval period, especially with Gothic architecture, we can see special attention being paid the creation of worship space.  As Robert A. Scott points out, “The Gothic cathedral was intended as a space where people could get a taste of heaven.”[1] It is important to note how this was achieved, as again, it sets precedence for the use of film or visual mediums in worship.

The entire structure of Gothic architecture was centered on medieval theology.  The buildings were to “mirror” heaven as the theologians imagined it.  From the layout of the building – often cross-shaped – to the verticality of the structure – intended to raise the worshippers’ eyes towards heaven – every part of the building was intended to aid in worship; it was a “monument in applied theology.”   All this considered, the most important feature of Gothic architecture, was light.  Light was so important because in medieval theology “light was the principal and best means by which humans could know [God].”[2] As Robert A. Scott continues; “In essence, new structures and forms were invented to solve problems created by theological purposes.”[3] This is extremely important to note, the needs of the worshipping community gave rise to new technology.

With such an emphasis on light, medieval architecture quickly incorporated the developing art form of stained glass windows.  Stained glass windows allowed plenty of light to enter the worship space, as well as act as a specific work of art to aid the worshipper.  As technology improved, the quality of the “stained glass”[4] art did as well.  These windows used color and shape to present theology, doctrine, biblical stories, lives of the saints and more.  In fact they were sermons, which “reached the heart through the eyes instead of entering at the ears.”[5] Originally intended for the illiterate members of the congregation, the windows became important works of art for everyone who saw them.

In stained glass, light shines across colored frames in order to tell a story, edify, serve as homily, and act as visual sermons.  In much the same way, in film and visual mediums, light shines through colored frames, to tell a story.  Film and visual mediums, when employed correctly can achieve the same effect and serve the same function in worship as stained glass windows.  With the emergence of newer and newer technology (digital projectors, screens, HDTV, computers, and more) film can be used in conjunction with the architecture to create a modern worship space with traditional ties.  The argument for visual worship then is not a new one but rather one with historical precedence.

Check out worshipvj.com for more modern examples of visual worship.


[1] Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003).121

[2] Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise, 131.

[3] Robert A. Scott, The Gothic Enterprise, 132.

[4] The term is a misnomer, as stained glass is only one of the glasses so employed. It is more the result of a process than a glass per se, as it is produced by painting upon any glass, clear or colored.  Nevertheless, although the word stained-glass is inaccurately used, usage has so fixed its erroneous meaning in the public mind that in all probability it will continue for all time to be applied in naming colored windows and their glass.

[5] Caryl Coleman, “Stained Glass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 7 Apr. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14241a.htm>.

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