Now I came across this video this morning on my Facebook feed:
Isn’t it great! 29 perfect celebrity impressions, performed perfectly in Rob’s front room…and a great song too. I’m definitely going to check out the album.
We have a culture where celebrity acts and bands are regularly impersonated…I’ve seen The Bootleg Beatles, Bjorn Again (Abba), The Doors Alive, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Noasis, Blobbie Williams and Take Fat…and they’re all great. And even if a band isn’t trying to sell themselves as a tribute band, most of the pub gigs and duos, wedding bands, Christmas Party bands and so on consists of covers…musicians playing other people’s songs. I did it myself for a while, I played in The Bogus Blues Brothers, Steeling Dan (a Steely Dan tribute band) and The Wiltons, whose primary material was 60’s classics by The Beach Boys, The Stones, The Beatles… (I shall gloss over my misspent youth playing Bon Jovi and Motley Crue covers…)
Now all this is well and good, and for many musicians it’s where we first were inspired to play, the way and why we learnt to play, as we emulated our heros. For me it was Mark King from Level 42 who inspired me to pick up the bass, and by the age of 15 I could play pretty passable performances of most of their repertoire, thumbs a-flying as I had my headless bass high around my neck and in the crook of my arm (it’s how I still play the bass today, although it admittedly looked decidedly odd in a metal band….) And for some musicians that is all they’ll ever do, play other peoples songs as a hobby, or even as a full time career. Now many of these bands have broken up or passed on, the only way of seeing them live is to attend a tribute concert, and it’s big business. The bands themselves spend a huge amount of time and money looking and especially sounding like their heroes. And it makes a lot of money too…the Australian Pink Floyd show has sold in excess of three million tickets in the time they’ve been impersonating.
How does this apply to worship?
For me as a worship leader at EBC, we do essentially the same thing, we play cover versions of other people’s songs. Whether it’s Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman, Brenton Brown or Rend Collective, our repertoire is primarily influenced by what is popular in other churches, and what fits with our congregations. And there is nothing wrong with this, we have to stay familiar with the songs which we use otherwise we will alienate our congregations. But I believe there is a line to be drawn somewhere, and we have to be careful we don’t take it so far that we try to emulate other musicians, the arrangements of songs, even the style and content of other churches. Just because it works in church x, doesn’t mean it will translate to your church. Just because Chris Tomlin sings it in G#, doesn’t mean anybody in your team or congregation will be able to. Just because Hillsong play Gretsch/Duesenberg guitars, it doesn’t mean you have to. And even if Joel Houston has a big beard and wears deep cut V necks and scarves, I will not sound like him if I do the same.
I sincerely love all of these leaders, and we use a lot of their songs in our repertoire at EBC because they are good songs, they resonate with me, and I know they are a good fit for our congregation. But I don’t go as far as trying to copy them. We change keys (often down a lot!) to make them singable by our congregation. We alter arrangements to fit our services, and our band lineups…we do have a strong and large team of musicians, but generally our band lineup is 5 -6 people, so we don’t have the luxury of multiple guitars, complex harmonies and keyboard loops. We have a double bass player who is great, but double bass sounds significantly different to an electric bass. All of our musicians are of differing ability, they are all competent and I am delighted to have them in the band. But to accommodate them, we make changes so the music is accessible to all.
Find your own voice
And then we work together and we develop our own voice. I don’t sound or look like Joel Houston, and even if I had all of Nigel Hendroff’s Gear, I could never play guitar like him. Our drummer never plays like Travis Nunn. I don’t have any singers who harmonise like Christy Nockels or Kari Jobe. But I do have a passionate and dedicated team of musicians, who know their own voice, and use it to glorify God in our worship. And that is all I ask of them.
So be yourself, find your voice, practice, play, learn and enjoy.
And be your own, individual perfect, as only you can be. As perfect videos and songs often are nothing of the sort….