5 things learnt from our weekend

So we’re back from our church weekend away (long time back actually…just taken a while to recover…), and it was great…really great. The weather was incredibly kind, the infrastructure (marquees, generator, toilets and showers) worked really well, the shared aspect between the two churches was wonderful and we all had a great time together. This didn’t happen by accident, so I thought I’d post about some of what we learnt in the planning from our weekend away:Tents

  1. Prepare your music in advance: We were going to be in a field for four days, so unless we brought a photocopier, we would be stuck. And similarly, rather than bringing all of our music, I figured it would be easier to select a short list of songs and then prepare folders for the weekend. That way, if it got lost, it wouldn’t matter.
  2. Rota your band in advance: I already knew who was coming, and I knew how many sessions we needed to cover. What I didn’t know for sure was what songs and feel would be required and when…but I simply rota’d a general band lineup for each session based on who we had with us.
  3. Get all of your sound and light working in advance: The weekend officially started on the Friday evening with a celebration, but some of us were there from Thursday evening preparing the lights and sound. We brought our lighting system from EBC, FBC brought their PA, and between us we had a pretty good set up which worked well all weekend.
  4. Soundcheck: Now this was slightly different from a regular Sunday, as we were going to have several different bands for each session with no time between for soundcheck. What helped us was using the In Ear Monitoring system from FBC, so we were responsible for our own stage mix. Which meant the engineer was only responsible for the Front Of House sound. We did do a line check on the Friday afternoon to make sure all was working.
  5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: None of this would have been any use if we didn’t have a band. So the planning extended back weeks, confirming who was going to be there, confirming the songs (with the band and the church office), confirming what we were going to bring, confirming everyone’s responsibility and when over the weekend.
  6. All of the above (and much much more) meant generally the weekend went really smoothly. So much so that we’re already talking about plans for our next joint weekend in 2017.

And out of these things, what can we apply to our Sunday mornings?

  1. Prepare your music in advance.
  2. Rota your band in advance.
  3. Get all of your sound and light working in advance.
  4. Soundcheck.
  5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Simple really…

Now apologies for being offline for a week, point 6. should be “allow for recovery”….normal business has resumed and I shall be posting on Thursday… Have also been busy putting this together, my other job:

But is it “Christian”?

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year, and I’ve been sourcing and using all sorts of different artistic media for well over a decade now, and something we’ve always done at EBC is use a mix of Christian music, worship music, and secular music. Similarly our media, TV clips, movie clips and illustrations are sourced from many different backgrounds. Now I know this doesn’t make us radically different to a lot of churches, but at the same time, I would argue that we are still in the minority, especially in the UK.

The clip is a song by Josh Garrels, an artist I discovered just hhis year when he released his new album Home. His voice and artistry is, to me, a thing of absolute beauty. His songs profess an exploration of faith, although maybe not in the traditional church sense. These aren’t songs of worship, but again I would argue that they are worshipful. There is a clear spiritual thread which influences and runs through all he does.

I’ve read interviews with very famous Christian artists and songwriters where they have stated they only listen to “Christian” music, and I’ve also seen shows where the biblical direction to “be in the world but not of it” is taken to a literal extreme…so apart from living on planet earth, everything else (TV, music, relationships, shopping, phones…) is completely unacceptable.

What I’m not saying…

Now I’m not advocating incorporating the latest Lars von Trier movie into our Sunday services, or covering a Slipknot or Eminem track in it’s entirety as part of the benediction. But we acknowledge that our God is The Creator, and that we are all made in his image. So we should not be surprised when we see a spiritual influence and acknowledgement in so much art, be it paintings and drawings by past masters through to modern songs and films.

I am a drummer, so aside from having thick skin and only being able to count to four, I am well used (especially in the past) to receiving general grief from those who don’t believe drums belong in church, let alone secular and contemporary songs. Yet here we are, leading worship on electric guitar, using clips from current TV shows and movies and making use of an extensive lighting array.

…but what I am saying…

And for those who wouldn’t usually set foot in a church, if they get invited and then experience a song, or clip, or illustration which they are familiar with…well it puts that element into a completely different light, and hopefully also gives them a new understanding. We’ve used scenes from Harry Potter at Easter…a better allegory for willingly giving your life for others I’ve yet to find, we’ve used songs by Pink to illustrate family breakup, clips from Big Bang Theory, Friends and Outnumbered which show relationships in a far better setting than we could ever create. And they all raise questions, get us thinking, and set us up to be able  to then answer some of these questions with biblical truths.

The message never changes, it has remained the same and relevant for over 2,000 years. But the medium we use to communicate and share the message has to change to fit into culture. And to fit into culture, we have to understand it, and use it.

Jesus Loves Me

As we approach the Easter weekend, I’m sure you have your services and content in place, and are preparing to remember Jesus’ death on the cross this Good Friday.

I stripped our stage at church bare this morning, so all we have is an illuminated cross. We have an agape meal tonight, and joint all age services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I know Christmas is great…but really, Easter is our most important time of the year.

I love this new song from Chris Tomlin. I remember singing “Jesus Loves Me” back when I was in Sunday school (as it was then), and the line still resonates:

Jesus loves me this I know, ’cause the bible tells me so.

It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that, does it?

Jesus, He loves me, He loves me, He is for me.

Jesus, how can it be, He loves me, He is for me.

Happy Easter everybody.

Nothing New

So we’re almost in April, the clocks change this weekend, and summer is almost upon us. Hurrah! This means I have the enviable responsibility of creating new rotas for the Summer term, and also the opportunity to revise our song lists for another four months.music pile

Now this is something I have talked about before here as well as our song list, which is generally quite small but revised often. When I come to revise the list, I look at what we’ve done over the previous term, and I also collate ideas from others about songs they have heard, songs which will suit our church and songs which may be speaking to us as a congregation. I generally listen to a lot of music, and when there is a new release from Hillsong or Passion, I tend to get hold of it, partly for my own personal worship, but also for inspiration for new songs for our church.

I also read a lot of blogs, and scan the CCLI charts to see what is popular in case there is anything I’ve missed. So I had a look at the US CLLI list, and the top 10 included 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, This is amazing grace by Phil Wickham and Jeremy Riddle, and Oceans from Hillsong. In fact, from the top 25 there were only four songs we didn’t have on our list.

Let’s do the Timewarp

What really surprised me was looking at the UK CCLI list. Sure enough, 10,000 Reasons was on there, as was Mighty to Save and How Great is our God. But generally it was all stuck in a bit of an 80’s timewarp. Sure, there were some great songs on there (which we still use also), such as Faithful One, Blessed Be Your Name and How Deep the Father’s Love. But there were also still such classics as Shine Jesus Shine, Be Still and Lord I Lift Your Name on High.

Now I’m not saying these are bad songs, I acknowledge we probably run a fairly progressive church in terms of our music and media, and I don’t have any issue with hymns and older songs if they are right for the service and/or context…we have both on our list and always will. And I know everyone has favourites…I am still the biggest Level 42 fan, and just this week have been revelling in the latest release from 70’s AOR rockers Toto! But what troubles me is that these lists seem to stay so static (I check them every term, and I worked with Kingsway UK on a project some years back)…when there is so much great music out there. I don’t advocate throwing everything out and starting from fresh, but I also don’t agree that we just stick with what we’ve always done. A change will do you good…

Church and Culture

I was at a conference last week on Church and Culture hosted by Mecklenburg Church, and something (among the many things) they did as a church was take their congregational songs and rework them into a more contemporary arrangement…yes, we were introduced to breakbeat worship. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t convinced…but then it probably isn’t supposed to appeal to me and my culture. And they didn’t do it every week, or for every song. The point is, they were doing something different to reach out to a completely new demographic. And we do the same in our own way, we use contemporary secular songs, we use media from today’s TV and films, we have a worship team…this blog is here to share all of those ideas with a wider audience.

If we haven’t updated the songs we use on a Sunday for 30, 40, 150 years…are we serving others, or are we just serving ourselves? Do we use Shine Jesus Shine because it’s the best song to worship to, or to illustrate a point…or is it just the leader’s favourite? If we as churches are never looking to change our music, our culture, our outreach, then we will continue to shrink and decline as we are seen as more and more irrelevant in today’s culture. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to knock Graham Kendrick or dismiss the effect which one song can have on a person…

I spent most of January looking at “new“, and at the end of April we will have our new songlist for the summer. It will include some songs from the new Passion album, it will include the new old song I talked about here, it will also have hymns, old songs and classics. I just hope the next time the CCLI UK report is updated, it will see some of the same changes.

Easter Ideas

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that Easter is just around the corner. Well I say that, but I’ve only just noticed I hadn’t organised a band for our Good Friday service…doh! Anyhow, I thought this would be great opportunity to share some of the songs and medias which we have used over the past few years… So, without further ado:

Thief by Third Day: I’ve always found this an incredibly powerful song, telling the story of Jesus’ crucifixion from the perspective of the thief beside Him. In fact I’m working on a script which could be used as part of an Easter service inspired by just that.

Forever featuring Kari Jobe. I love this song, although we haven’t yet tried it congregationally (I’m not entirely sure it will work as a congregational song…please correct me if you have done it), it is still incredibly powerful and uplifting. Easter Sunday for sure. And more clips from The Passion of the Christ…

We use a lot of SkitGuys videos and scripts for our services (when we’re not writing our own material) because they are well produced, bang on message and generally just really, really good. This drama/video is called The Birdcage, and is worth a watch.

Nichole Nordeman and Crimson. She is the most amazingly poetical artist, I highly recommend all of her albums (there are only 4 to date, and nothing since 2005). We put this song to a very simple video just showing crimson drops into a pool radiating circles…an amazing song.

And lets finish on this: When Love Sees You, sung by Mac Powell (of Third Day) from The Story project, the corresponding album which was written by Nichole Nordeman (and every track on there is amazing)…this song (and this video) always just stop me in my tracks. Hope that’s given you some useful inspiration and ideas for Easter.

Step Away from the Microphone

We have a fabulous bass player in our team called Kat. She plays double bass rather wonderfully, and sings along as she plays…but she will not ever sing into a microphone. I’ve never actually heard her sing, but she is there to play bass and play bass only. And, I think it was on a conference we went to together, the phrase “step away from the microphone” arose, and has hung around ever since. Now this post is absolutely nothing to do with Kat’s singing (or lack of singing), and it’s not here to discourage anyone in their singing. Unless you’re our Senior minister…in which case, Chris, sorry, but yes, you must put the microphone away all together. (Chris will freely admit his singing ability is as good as my rugby knowledge. It’s really that bad. But we are praying for him.)

MicrophoneThis past Sunday at EBC we ended up with a slightly bigger band than usual, which was great. And we were continuing with our Follow series looking at the topic of Cost and what we need to give up to do something. Now among the songs I had chosen for the band was the song “Light of the World” by Tim Hughes, an oldy but goody which we don’t use as often, but which had the wonderful bridge “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross”.

When I was planning the rehearsal (you do plan your rehearsals, don’t you?), I thought it would be great to start the song on the chorus acapella. So we did, and it worked really, really well. I was fortunate to have a group of musicians who are able to harmonize without too much direction…in fact we even got an extra microphone out for our bass player (Graham this week) who wanted to sing some extra harmonies. We had a really good rehearsal, the music went very well, we had fun together, it was worshipful…it just worked. It just worked! So I was really looking forward to Sunday, I knew it was ready and should go well.

Sunday outcome

So come Sunday we did our services, and besides Light of the World we were also using One Thing Remains, Brian Doerksen’s The River and The King of Love. And I found that as we had a seven piece band (Cajon, Bass, two guitars, a violin and six of us singing), I was able to lead but hardly play, and I was able to Step Away from the Microphone. Now this may not be much of a revelation to some of you, and it is something I have written about, and have been working towards. But this Sunday I was able to actually do it without having to plan it too much…and it was so releasing for me, for the band, and I’m sure for the congregation too.

Karen (who was flitting between violin and vocals depending on the song) took the lead in some of the songs, the rest of the team handled either harmonies or male lead, and I just chipped in with some harmonies and the tune in certain parts. And it was the same with my guitar…especially as the songs didn’t require too much drive, I was able to sit back, strum, use some open chords and let the rest of the band carry the song.

The Fraction Principle

I have mentioned the fraction principle before, and it’s a post worth a revisit. But this Sunday we were really on it, each of us playing well within our limits and abilities, listening to each other and just being incredibly sympathetic to the songs.

Now that’s not to say we’re generally unsympathetic most Sundays and have a competition to see who’s the loudest/fastest/biggest show off (clue: it’s usually me….). But this week really stood out…and the feedback we got from the band (excited and slightly elated), the congregation (they noticed the difference!) and the leadership (we even got a small round of applause…!)…all went to illustrate how we had just eeked out a little something extra.

So please, try it. Rehearse your rehearsals. Use the fraction principle. Try something new. Step away from the microphone! And maybe something a bit wonderful may happen.

With Every Act of Love

Our Senior Minister came across this song, which is surprising, as his general musical taste is awful (Genesis/Phil Collins anyone….?) We use it last Sunday as part of our Follow series (from Northpoint), where we were looking at What We Wear…which, as you can probably imagine, is more than being just about clothes…

Collosians 3: 12-14 says:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

So compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love. Beats jeans, T shirt and trainers (which is my usual daily outfit…)

The lyrics to this song are just amazing, I am going to check out more of his material. But it is the bridge that to me is the most powerful:

God put a million, million doors in the world
For his love to walk through
One of those doors is you

What are you wearing?

I am one of those doors. And so are you. But I’m not too proud to admit I don’t put on my compassion outfit regularly enough, or my kindness hat. Harry Potter had a cloak of invisibility which I was envious of, but I have a cloak of humility that too often I’m too arrogant to wear. And while I consider my self a gentle and considerate person, I know there are plenty of times my “patience trousers” wear thin. And I won’t mention my “love” outfit here for fear of it being misconstrued…but if all above and beyond was approached With Every Act of Love…well, as I’ve said before, the world would be a better place.

So clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Then with every act of love, be one of the million million doors that God put on the planet.

What could you change about your outfit today?

Turn it up!

Pretty much anyone who’s been in a band will have watched Spinal Tap, and I know from personal experience of rehearsing and gigging when I was younger, the situations, exploits and “band discussions” in the movie happened with surprising frequency in my bands (although I never had a drummer explode….so far) As Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist) explains here in this classic scene…all of his amps go to 11…

Now towards the end of last year at EBC we replaced our acoustic drum kit with an electric kit. It’s something we had held off of, partly as being a drummer myself, the sound and feel of an electric kit is nowhere near the same as an acoustic kit unless you spend a lot of money, something we couldn’t justify. But we were able to borrow a really good Roland V Drum kit from one of our members, so we thought we’d give it a go. And on the whole, it has made a huge difference.

  • Firstly, we have so much more space on stage, as it has a footprint at least half of what the acoustic drums had, and there is now no need for the large perspex screens we had around the kit.
  • This has also led to improved sight lines across the stage, as we can get the kit in a better position and again, no screens to peer through or over.
  • And the sound on stage has crucially changed immensely, whereas before we had to turn up the stage monitors to counterbalance the drums, now we can run everything at a much lower level. Which has also meant we on stage can now hear the congregation more clearly…they actually make some noise!

So far so good.

A little is enough?

But, and this is where the title of this post emanates from…everything has now got a little too quiet!

  • Whereas before the acoustic volume of the drums meant the PA had to be run at a certain level…now the level of the drums is dictated 100% by the soundman.
  • Where before if the drums weren’t going through the system (we did mike up our drum kit), you could still hear them over the system, now if the drums aren’t turned up enough by the soundman…they won’t be heard.
  • And similarly on stage, while we are able to have much quieter monitor mixes on stage…if we can’t hear the drums properly ourselves, then as a band we start to fall apart a bit…often the drums are driving the songs and creating the rhythmic glue which holds us together.

I’ve been to plenty of venues…not just churches…where volume is an issue to overcome. Just like the scene in Back To The Future where the teacher (Huey Lewis) stops the audition because “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”…limiting volumes is a hurdle to overcome especially when you have an acoustic kit, plenty of exuberant musicians and a large PA. But working out how to persuade the mix needs to be louder…is a different problem altogether, and something we are surprisingly struggling with.

We’ve done plenty of training in the practicalities of sound, so all of our team know how to operate the desk, where to plug things in, how to eliminate feedback, phantom power, DI boxes etc. And we’ve done training in how to mix, practical EQ, balancing the band, lead musicians and instruments. Everyone knows when to turn up, what their responsibilities are as a team, how to get the monitors set during soundcheck and how to problem solve during a service. All bases covered.

Subjectivity

But we’re finding more and more the actual overall level during a service is so subjective it is really difficult to teach. Everyone has their own mixing style and preference, which is fine within certain parameters. But how do you dictate what is deemed too quiet? How do you justify the drums are too quiet, when the sound man thinks they’re great? And when it is too quiet in the front of house, just as if it is too loud, you start to run into problems, as the congregation doesn’t engage, the mix sounds weak and without depth, and (based on the songs we sing), losing the drums often means we lose the drive from the band.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a problem I was ever expecting (having been on the wrong end of many comments as a drummer over the years) and I don’t yet have a definitive solution as it is so subjective…what I deem too quiet, others deem about right, when I think there’s not enough drums or bass…others think it’s nicely balanced for the lead vocals… What I am going to try is to employ a decibel meter, and then aim for a minimum level we have everything at. So I’ll keep you updated, and if you have any other ideas to counteract this interesting phenomenon…drop me a line, always interested in new ideas and discussion.

But in the mean time….Turn It Up!

So Help Me God

I’m just emerging from a particularly busy and difficult season in my life. Our senior minister has been pretty unwell since last summer, so I was doing a lot of extra work at EBC (which I really enjoyed doing) in addition to my usual responsibilities. But I only “work” at church 1.5 days a week, and the rest of my working week I work for my own company doing royalty accounting and specialist music business advice for musicians, bands and labels. And I am very happily married with three wonderful children…who are all at school, have homework, go to bed late and still get up early…(I thought it would all change once they were out of nappies?) And I do try (sometimes!) to have a social life and date my wife…who is also working full time! So with all of the above, and of course Christmas…I was (we were!) somewhat frazzled by the end of 2014

Now I’m pleased to say I’ve come out the other side, church have been particularly kind and given me a lot of recovery space in January (I felt semi-retired to be honest…but they assured me I am wanted back….) and now we’re at the end of February, I am right back into the thick of it. And we’re again ramping up…we did a great joint service at the beginning of the month with our friends at FBC, we’re planning a big church weekend in May, service prep is well under way. I’m in the middle of setting up a new limited company to take the music business forward, there is just as much homework to do, the house needs redecorating desperately (our middle daughter Naomi has been diagnosed with severe dust allergies, so we need to rip out the carpets and remove the soft furnishings a.s.a.p.) and we’re still attempting to squeeze in a social life and actually date.

When I were a lad…

I remember from when I was but a young boy (not that long ago…) we used to listen to the Kids Praise cassettes in the car, even today I can remember most of the songs which Psalty the Singing Songbook used to sing. Do My Best came from Kid’s Praise 5, Psalty’s Camping Adventure, and the opening line was

“I can do most anything, through Christ who strengthens me. Even climb a mountain when I’m four (even three!)”

I am sure that under many other circumstances we would have just crumbled, and there are still days when it’s the most we can do to crawl out of bed in the morning. But I know I’m not doing any of this alone. We work together as a couple. We do it together as a family. We share it all as a community at our church. And we do it all through God, who strengthens, guides, and carries us when it’s too much.

This is an oldie but goody from dc Talk…so the clothes may not have dated well, but the song and the sentiment are bang up to date:

You’re there when I call
And You’re there when I fall
Even though I don’t deserve it all
You, You light my way
Through the night and the day
And from You I will not stray

So help me God
To put my faith in You
So help me God
Before I come unglued
Call it my addiction
I can’t get enough of You
So help me God
To put my faith in You

I have days, and will continue to have days where I try to do everything under my own steam, and in my own strength. But more and more I’m learning that if I share the load, stop trying to do it on my own, and look to Him who is here for me…I can do a much better job of everything. So Help Me God. 

How to Play Oceans on the Drums

This coming Sunday we have an all age service, which has been entirely organised by our young people. They’re also going to lead it, Amy, our wonderful youth worker is going to do the talk, they’re going to tell a story for the children, prayers, announcements…the lot! And my marvellous daughter Abi is joining me in the band. I know it’s going to be great.

They also chose the songs from our list, including Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse and their reworking of Be Thou My Vision (You are my vision) and of course, Oceans.

Now I’m sure a lot of you have already seen this clip doing the rounds last year…in fact this video has had over 1.2 million views, and it’s an edit of the original! But in case you haven’t…here it is again. I particularly love watching the leader…despite the hero drummer getting in as many notes as possible (and we’ve all done it at some point….) even the double kicks…she carries on with the song as if it’s completely normal. Maybe it is normal? Would love to go to some of their rehearsals and see what occurs…

The Fraction Principle

I did talk about The Fraction Principle some time ago…this isn’t an old Big Bang Theory episode, but is a useful lesson from the ever wise Brian Doerksen. The theory goes you temper your ability according to the number in the group…so if there are five of you (as there usually are in our Sunday band), you play to a 5th of your ability. Which is not to say you play badly, but that you are aware of not overplaying to give everybody else space.

Of course everybody has different levels of ability and competence, but as a principle it’s essential to avoid the lead guitarist drowning out the piano, all of the singers trying to leader over harmonise, or even the drummer taking the spotlight from the leader in Oceans… There should always be space to add…whether it’s vocal harmonies, guitar and key riffs or tasteful (not tasty) drum fills. But notice the use of the word space there…if you all try and do it at the same time, it potentially turns into a free jazz gig…not necessarily what all of the congregation were expecting…?

Always be listening

I know this is something I have to be aware of…having a drumming background and only in recent years having more of a band around me, my playing style has by experience and necessity been very rhythmic and driving…something which works on your own or with a small group of musicians…but when we have a band including drums, keys and bass…I can drop back a bit…not that I always do.

I remember someone incredibly famous, (so famous, I’ve forgotten their name…), saying “musicality is as much about knowing when not to play, as much as it is about knowing what to play”.

So remember, fractions, space and taste. And how not to play Oceans on the drums….