It’s really hard to pick music for a volunteer church choir. When I consider a piece of music to put in the hands of my volunteer choir, I evaluate it on three dimensions: Is it smart? Is it pretty? Is it accessible?
The resulting venn-diagram of appropriate music that fits these three categories leaves just a sliver of repertoire at our disposal. Bach cantatas are smart and pretty, but rarely accessible for a volunteer church choir. The hundreds of newly composed anthems published each year are often pretty, almost always accessible, but rarely very smart.
Here are a few that I’ve found to be gems. My choir loved all of these, and have sung them again and again when we need to just relax and sing something we all enjoy. I hope these are useful to you!
1. The Comfortable Words
Text from the book of common prayer (Matthew 211:28 and John 3:16)
Music by Andy Piercy (c) 2015 IQ Music
Arranged my me, here: The Comfortable Words
4. Take Courage My Soul (The Storm is Passing Over)
By Charles Albert Tindley This arrangement by Barbara Baker available from Boosey & Hawkes is decent, though I’d prefer it down a few steps for the tenors!
Because I work at an awesome church with awesome musicians, and we regularly utilize melodic instruments as part of our worship team, I have written hundreds of instrumental parts over the past several years. I don’t want these sitting on my computer for only us to use, so I’ve made them available here for folks who might have a willing viola player but no training in composition or orchestration. I often hear of music directors that have instrumentalists who want to play, but they just don’t know how to incorporate them in an effective and constructive way.
Here are a few of the parts I have written over the years. As you can see, the selection is limited to the instruments I regularly use (trumpet and strings), but parts could easily be adapted to other similarly pitched instruments as well. Trumpet parts are in Bb unless otherwise noted.
I hope these are a blessing to you and your team! If you do use them, there’s no charge and make as many copies as you’d like, but shoot me an email or leave a comment to let me know you used them.
The Charts and the Parts
Charts separated with | pipes | are separate parts not meant to be played together. Charts for “Viola and Cello” are intended to be played together
In Christ Alone | Trumpet
Indescribable | Viola and Bass
Man of Sorrows (Hillsong) | Piano and String Quartet
Oceans | Hillsong Music | Violin
Our Great God (Ortega) | Viola | Trumpet
Our God | Viola, Cello, and Bass
O God Beyond All Praising | Viola | Trumpet
Psalm 117 | Jered McKenna | Viola | Violin
Speak O Lord (Getty) | Trumpet
The Solid Rock | Trumpet
This is our God (Tomlin) | Viola
We Confess | Glenn Packiam | Viola and Cello | Viola Alone | Cello Alone
What Wondrous Love is This | Cello | String Quartet
Parts are also available as .sib files. Please contact me if you would like editable Sibelius files.
I love our sound guys. I love them because they are increasingly consistent, reliable, fun to work with, and eager to learn and grow. They respect me and the musicians, and they are always eager to help with additional services or projects. Though we are not a big church by any stretch of the imagination, we are privileged to have a team of 3-4 guys that give ~4 hours of their time on a Sunday to make sure we have excellent worship services.
Here are five qualities I encourage in our sound guys:
1. See yourself as part of the worship team. The person sitting behind the mixer has as much influence on the service as the worship leader. Remember that you are doing so much more than setting levels and muting/un-muting microphones. You are shaping the tone of the service, from prelude to postlude (or, from pre-service background music to post-service worship-team jam). The job of sound guy (or girl!) is not simply technical, it involves pro-active decision making, spontaneity, and creativity.
Take for example the rehearsal time. As the band is practicing the music for Sunday, listen to the form of the song. If possible, get a copy of the charts so you can follow along with the form of the songs. You should know when there is an extended instrumental section and consider boosting lead instruments as they carry a melody. If a song starts with just pads/guitar and boost those to support the congregations voice before the other instruments come in, then bring them back down to sit in the mix when the full band is playing.
Another example: If the service starts with a three-song worship set, try starting with the master fader 20% below unity to allow the congregation to settle into the space and hear their voices. By allowing the congregation to hear themselves as active participants you set an important tone for the worship service, our voices are important! As each song progresses, boost the master fader up with the energy of the song to encourage the congregation to sing out even more.
In short, ride those faders! Listen, listen, listen, and adjust as needed.
2. Be the first (ok, maybe second) person to church. Remember: If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late…well, don’t be late! By arriving at the same time as the worship leader you can both get a head start on running lines and setting up microphones so that when it’s time for sound check things are ready to go.
Talk with the worship leader about time expectations for the morning. When is the band expected to arrive? Are the expected to help setup as well? By making clear expectations about arrival times and rehearsal start times, Sunday morning setup and rehearsal will be much more productive and everyone will be happier!
3. Think like a musician. Be creative, especially during rehearsal. Listen, listen, listen. Are the musicians balanced? Are the singers able to be heard but not overpowering? If it’s too “loud,” can you identify what frequencies are too loud? Remember that you are the only member of the band that can actually hear what it’s like in the house, so use your ears! You don’t have to be a musician yourself, but you do have to know music, and know what sounds good. Even away from the board you can think like a musician. When you listen to music in your car or on your headphones, think about the mi, the EQ, how amazing the kick drum sounds, and how you would achieve the same sound. Consider it all “sound guy practice!”
4. Communicate. Talk to your musicians. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to help you shape the sound. Ask for each musician to play by themselves while you set gain, EQ, compression, etc…
While they are playing, consider their performance and how you can help them achieve a better sound. If a vocalist looks timid, them down in their monitor and tell them to sing out. If a guitarist is strumming to harshly ask them to move their strums away from the bridge and towards the fingerboard. Check mic placement. There are so many simple ways to influence tone before it gets to your board.
Part of your job is to make the band sound as good as possible, but sometimes the ‘raw material’ leaves something to be desired! Maybe you’re trying to shape a song to have contrasting dynamics but the band is playing everything medium-loud. Feel free to (kindly and respectfully) offer suggestions regarding dynamics or articulation. If the bass is boomy and muddy, EQ might help, but so will a cleaner attack and quicker release from the bass player or dampening the kick. If you’re thinking as a musician, then you know there are often a number of ways to fix a given problem. Consider the musician – how this real human playing this real instrument before you reach for that EQ, fader, or compressor.
Of course giving advice to singers and players is a sensitive topic. Read more thoughts on communicating with musicians here.
5. Never stop learning. There’s always room to grow and improve your craft. Learn what every button, knob, and fader on your board and rack does. Learn about your tools: EQ, compression, reverb, gates, delays, and how to use them. Research new gear upgrades. Learn how to identify frequencies to nip feedback in the bud. Learn how our ears respond to sound pressure and how to make it sound “full” but not “loud”. Audio engineering takes decades to learn and master and there is so many resources out there. Not sure where to start? Check out blogs, listen to some live soundpodcasts , visit other churches and see what they do, readlotsofbooks and magazines.
And here’s the cool part – I get to be a part of their newest collective, the Worship Design Collective. I join a team of ~20 other contributors: a community of thought leaders and practitioners — worship leaders, pastors, creative directors, entrepreneurs, songwriters, professors, artists, theologians, and farmers (perhaps both literal and figurative) — committed to networking and encouraging worship leaders with the richness of the Wesleyan theological vision and tradition (though I am not part of the Wesleyan tradition, I have some good friends that are). As one member mentioned on our first conference call, it’s kind of like The Avengers of worship leaders, though instead of saving the world, we just hope to encourage each other in designing and leading worship with excellence in the power of the Word and Holy Spirit – though maybe those goals are more similar than I think.
Even after 4 years of worship leading, I feel like I’m still just a beginner as a worship leader, but I’ve also gained some wisdom along the way, and I’m excited to be able to share my thoughts with a wider audience than just this personal blog. Some folks on the blogging team are way more experienced than I am, so I’m excited to learn from them as well.
If this collective sounds like something you may be interested in being a part of, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. Here’s where you can find us:
And here’s a video of Seedbed’s Sower-In-Chief, JD Walt, sharing a bit more about the vision behind the Collective:
So check it out! My future blog posts related to worship will be cross-posted here and there. Be sure to comment/share my posts (not here, but on the Worship Design Collective site) when they come out :-). I heard a rumor that the blogger who gets the most page-views wins a free toaster.
A friend of mine I met at the spirit and sacrament conference gave a pretty compelling pitch for looking into some of the old Moravian hymns. With common themes of love, self-sacrifice, humility, and sincere commitment to following Jesus, they are a great fit for any congregation. One in particular that was suggested is “Heart with loving heart united,” a hymn about the Church’s fellowship led by Christ. The text speaks for itself:
Heart with loving heart united, met to know God’s holy will.
Let his love in us ignited more and more our spirits fill.
He the head, we are his members, we reflect the light he is.
He the master, we disciples, he is ours and we are his.
May we all so love each other and all selfish claims deny,
so that each one for the other will not hesitate to die.
Even so our Lord has loved us, for our lives he gave his life.
Still he grieves and still he suffers, for our selfishness and strife.
Since, O Lord, you have demanded that our lives your love should show,
so we wait to be commanded forth into your world to go.
Kindle in us love’s compassion so that ev’ryone may see
in our fellowship the promise of a new humanity.
So I wrote the tune above! Let me know what you think in the comments:
Conferences are great. At the beginning of June I travelled to Trinity School for Ministry to attend “Spirit and Sacrament: Integrating Modern Worship with Traditional Liturgy,” a 3 day worship conference designed to equip and encourage leaders from traditions across the liturgical spectrum. It was refreshing to hear worship leaders, filled with love and wisdom, speak about joys and struggles, successes and failures, and to speak candidly about the heavy weight placed on our shoulders Sunday after Sunday. By the end of the conference I looked up to these leaders, not because of the size of their churches, amazing bands, flashy albums, or any other external success, but because it was clear that they have huge pastoral hearts, want to see Jesus glorified, and want to build up the church for the sake of His name.
I was also encouraged by being reminded of my convictions. As I met with fellow worship geeks from across the country, I was reminded that I am not so weird after all…or at least, if I am weird, I’m not alone! We all desire theological accuracy and depth in lyrics; elegance and economy in melodic writing; ways to draw the congregation into deeper worship expression; worship forms and models that help people become more like Jesus every week.
Liturgy was, is, and ever shall be CONTEXT-DRIVEN
Since the conference was hosted by TSM, and organized by Andy Piercy [web | twitter], Director of Worship Development for the Anglican Mission, Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was at the center of our worship. Piercy reminded us that when Cranmer first complied these texts and wrote these prayers, they were to a specific people at a specific time. They were a direct reaction and indeed a correction to the theological mis-steps of the Catholic church in that day. When the religious climate of the post-medieval church was fear, guilt, and shame, Cranmer sought to reveal grace and gratitude. The liturgy was not an end in itself, but a means by which the nation would be converted; from guilt to grace, from fear to gratitude.
Glenn Packiam [web | twitter | blog] also pointed out archeological evidence of this paradigm shift. He showed us this chapel fresco from medieval England:
Then he showed a modern restoration of what the painting might have originally looked like:
We can see clearly an exalted and ascended Christ at the top of the picture. Great! But looking closer we see naked figures being tormented by demons, impaled on spears. Packiam pointed out, that at one point, this may have inspired worship in an authentic way, we are not medieval Christians, so we can’t assume they see it the same way we do. Indeed, we must fear God and love God. The reformers decision to whitewash these details was not out of hatred of art, or of the traditions of the past, but to better align the message preached by the walls of the church to the message preached by the sermons, prayers, and other ministries in that current context. When the post-medieval church was showing a powerful Christ standing above the chaos and torment of the world and hell, Cranmer was showing that Christ said “COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. (St. Matt. xi. 28.).” Read more about that story over on his blog.
Of course we need both, but the lesson here is that if any one is too-emphasized, we need a correction. As liturgists, we ought to be seeking the right words for our context. Are we too comfortable in our sanitized Christianity that is all about love and not about personal transformation? Then we need the Holy Sprit to convict us of sin, and an encouragement to move from apathy to action. Are we burned out on empty religious gestures or tiresome church programs? Then we need the Holy Spirit to refresh our souls and lead us to truly rest. As a diverse church, we have people from all different perspectives who may be searching for different things. Some come to church to pray earnestly in a peaceful space, others come to worship through song, to be poured into through a convicting sermon. It’s our job as leaders to listen to the congregation, hear where they are coming from, and lead them to a greater love for Christ and the world.
A Modern Example
I was greatly encouraged by Aaron Niequest [web | twitter], who shared with us about a new liturgical service born out of the place you would least expect: Willow Creek Community Church. “The Practice” was created from the idea that worship is formative (thank you James K.A. Smith), and instead of thinking of a worship service like a classroom, maybe we should think of it like a gymnasium. By engaging in ancient devotional practices, we were encouraged to see worship not only as something we do to glorify God, but something God does to us. It is not only our expression of praise to God, but how God has chosen to communicate with us: through his word and the sacraments. This dialoguical perspective has a huge impact on how we plan and organize our worship services. At “The Practice”, instead of the worship service centered around a 45-minute sermon/teaching and relegating music to “warmup time,” the entire service is a smooth flow of spoken and sung prayers, gestures (physical participation is loosely encouraged with simple encouragements: “let the posture of your body reflect the posture of your heart”), and guided meditations. The congregation even takes 2-minute, 3-minute, and *gasp* 5-minute pauses in complete silence, listening to God and reflecting on scripture.
One step at a time
One thing that was made clear again and again throughout the three days was that all the discussions and examples are meant to be models; representations of a real thing, but not to be mistaken for the real thing itself. The lesson was not, “look at the awesome things we’re doing at our churches…here’s how you can make it happen at yours,” but real honest discussions about the struggles of ministry; with all the conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings you would expect.
One comment by Aaron stood out to me. He mentioned that early on in his “mission to liturgize” the culture at Willow Creek, and having recently “discovered” liturgical worship, he introduced a sung kyrie at the beginning of the worship service. This was met with a resounding NO from the congregation, as for too many people, it reminded them too much of “that Catholic thing I ran away from.” I couldn’t help but smile remembering that I did the exact same thing at TCC a few years ago myself. Sometimes you need to take a step back before taking the next step forward.
For those of us serving in Evangelical contexts, there is no one-size-fits-all liturgy. Every person has a unique faith journey and we all carry baggage and mis-conceptions about worship. As leaders we need to be wise in discerning the shape of worship each season. We need constant reflection and evaluation. We need to be sensitive and listen to the pastoral staff, the lay leaders, and the congregation. And of course to do all this, we need the Spirit’s guidance and power.
Speaking of baggage and mis-conceptions, if you are like me it is not a skepticism of liturgy that I need to fear, but exactly the opposite: a strong aversion to overly emotional worship. I remember many camps and conferences that used music, dim lights, and social pressure to manipulate awkward jr. highers into making commitments for Jesus. I have always looked on those experiences with a mixture skepticism and embarrassment. Today, with a decade (almost two!) distance from jr. high, I feel myself resisting any emotional response to music in worship, out of fear that it is not “real,” but put on or influenced by the music.
But here’s the thing: music is emotional. Cranmer’s prayers are emotional. They are evocative, stirring the heart and moving the emotions. When the church prays the prayer of humble access before communion: “we are not worthy even to come to this your table…but you are the same Lord who’s nature is always to have mercy,” I often get choked up. Relentless grace should create an emotional response!
The redemptive part for me was to hear several eloquent, thoughtful, and even well educated speakers share how they want to redeem emotions and help the church embrace worship not just in the mind but in the body and the heart, I was encouraged to give it a second look. We, perhaps rightly so for a time, emphasized intellect out of fear of a thought-less worship, but perhaps we need to reclaim the heart. I’ll admit, it doesn’t come easy for me!
Like I said, conferences are great! This one reminded me of that fact. With only 50 or so attendees, a simple schedule, and a very warm atmosphere of respect and love, the conversations were healthy, life giving, and energizing – which is a high bar to hit for worship discussions!
So if you’re interested in geeking out with fellow worship nerds, be sure to register next year for this conference! I’ll be there!