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.

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….

All About Love

As a bonus Friday extra from yesterday’s post which was All About Love…here is Steven Curtis Chapman and All About Love.

See, told you it was All About Love. Happy Valentine’s for tomorrow

We’ve got CD’s, tapes
And videos, radios and TV shows
Conferences, retreats and seminars
We’ve got books and magazines
To read on everything from A to Z
And a web to surf from anywhere we are
But I hope with all this information
Buzzing through our brains
That we will not let our hearts forget
The most important thing

Is love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love
It’s all about love

Now they’re fighting in the Middle East
And they’re fighting down on 7th street
And there are fights in my own house on given days
It’s like something’s lurking deep inside
That can’t seem to be satisfied
But life was not meant to be lived this way
‘Cause it’s true for every man
And woman, every boy and girl
That our only hope for living
Here together in this world

Is love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love

This is the reason we were made
To know the love of our creator
And to give the love He’s given us away
Yeah, the Maker and the Father
And the God of everything
He says to love love love
He says love love love
Love love love
‘Cause after all it’s all about love

God says, love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love
‘Cause after all it’s all about love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love

What Love Really Means

You probably can’t have failed to notice it’s Valentine’s Day this weekend (if you have, go ahead, there’s still time to get flowers/chocolates/card/iPad (if you follow the Apple ads) etc….) Have you ordered? Good. Let’s carry on…

Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love….as Ewan McGregor sang to Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Love makes the world go round. The Truth About Love. Love, Love me Do. Strange Love…I have over 500 songs about love in my iTunes library, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote an entire album for his wife called All About Love (it’s great), whether you’re an incurable romantic or have a heart of stone, you can’t escape it. And this song by J.J. Heller is just incredible in words, melody and sentiment.

I’m currently reading Andy Stanley’s new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating…and while I am only just on chapter three, it is (like all of his other books), an essential read. Chapter one is called “The Right Person Myth”, and it unsurprisingly looks at finding Mr or Mrs Right. Spoiler alert: there isn’t one. You should read the book, but I’ll give you this quote:

“Looking for the right person is a great idea as long as you don’t assume that finding the right person ensures everything will be all right”.

The right person doesn’t mean everything will be all right. Now I am a self confessed incurable romantic, Love Actually, A Lot Like Love and Notting Hill are firmly (and proudly) in my top ten movies of all time, and I have an idealistic image in my head of my wife and I, strolling into the sunset arm in arm, happily ever after. Now clearly my wife chose me because I am Mr Right, I am obviously a great catch and who wouldn’t want to be married to me but we work really hard at being married, which is why we are still happily married. Of course we’re very compatible, there was an attraction there initially which has only grown over time, and we genuinely enjoy being together…which helps. But it’s not like it every day…I know there are days Hannah would quite happily push me out of a window… probably deservedly.

The Bible is of course full of love: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son; Love your enemies; Love your neighbour as yourself; Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

God’s story is a love story, He who loved his people, He who wants the best for us, He who is forgiving and loving. And we as Christians are called to love… and if we loved more instead of judging, comparing, condemning or generally not being interested in others…wouldn’t the world be a happier, better place? And I’m not resorting back to sugar coated happy ending movies again…if we did love our neighbours as ourselves…and they did the same…and so on…how different would everything be? That may be incredibly simplistic…but a little bit of love goes a long way.

So this Valentines as you exchange gifts with your beloved, or send cards to your secret crush, or maybe just sit at home quietly disapproving of the whole consumer driven cardfest and overpriced roses gone mad…try to remember what love really means.

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please…
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day
She’s the woman whose husband has run away
She’ll go to the gym after working today
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed
And she says…

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew

A New Old Song

Do you ever listen to albums, and find sometimes a big song will pass you by? I mean, there are always the catchy singles which pique your interest, and sometimes there are songs which touch you on a personal level (which no one else seems to get in the same way). But how about track number seven you maybe didn’t get to…or track number 9 which is sandwiched between the third single and the bonus track.

I listen to a lot of music, I can say partly because of my job at EBC hunting out creative ideas and songs for the worship band…but mainly because I just love listening to music all the time. Like all the time. I have big speakers on my home computer, little speakers on my office computer, an iPod dock in the car, DAB radio in the kitchen, bluetooth speaker for my iPad…I am generally always connected, and subsequently listen to a lot of music.

And from this I pick songs for Sunday, revise our song lists, find performance songs and videos and share some of the spoils here with you so you can do the same for your church. But I’ll hold my hand up and say I have missed some corking songs from albums I’ve had for a while. They may not have been obvious at the time, and sometimes they are rearranged or performed differently…which just adds some special sauce to an already great song.

Planning together

Today we met with our friends at FBC as we’re planning a joint service for the beginning of February. Rachael and I are going to lead the combined band, so we did what we did last time…compared song lists to see what matched, which songs both congregations would know. But I also thought it may be a good opportunity to do some new songs (and she also had a copy of their new song list so I could peek at what they were doing…FBC are currently revising their list just as we did…cutting it down to something more manageable). Rachael asked if I knew “Guardian” by Ben Cantelon, as they had recently introduced it and it had been really well received. I had to say no, never heard of it…but if you think its that good…lets do it!

So we completed our order of service, arranged rehearsal time and then went off to our next meetings. When I finally got home in the afternoon I typed “Guardian” into my iTunes search, and apart from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (great album, great movie), I got two further hits. Guardian from the New Wine Stand Together album, and Guardian (feat. Ben Cantelon) from the Worship Central album. 2013. I had it all along…in fact I’d had it for some 18 months, and yet it had slipped past me.

It Doesn’t Always Have to be New to be New…

So the point of this ramble, and to bring this blog back into line with my January theme of New is: Don’t always be in a rush to look out for a new song that you leave some good old ones behind. Don’t wait for the 2014 songs of the year list to be published before you revise your song list. Don’t be afraid to revisit those albums from 2009 which had a great song on it and 9 others you didn’t notice. Don’t even be cautious about introducing some classics from way back…a lot of hymns are timeless, and its apparent from a lot of live worship albums that these hymns (when contemporised and with an added chorus or bridge) are incredibly popular and just as impactive as they were 50,100, 150 years ago.

What New Old Song can you introduce this Spring term?

A New Wooden Box

So this Sunday I was delighted we had a couple of new band members, Yatrik and Anouch. I’m always keen to grow the team, and they did great. And aside from all I’m about to say, the church is always encouraged and happy to see new faces on the stage!

Not the most graceful of instruments to play...

Not the most graceful of instruments to play…

What was of most interest to me though was what Yatrik was playing. He’s a keyboard player, and a bit of a drummer (which I intend to make full use of at a later date), but he’d mentioned he had a Cajon he plays. And as this Sunday was a communion service (as are all of our second Sundays), I thought the Cajon would be a great addition to our more contemplative band lineup for the week. Now accepted that the Cajon is not the most graceful of instruments to play, and a lifetime of percussing on it will probably result in a really bad back. But the sound it produces is really superb, and we amplified it through our system but putting a bass drum mic in the sound hole at the back…instant sub bass along with some snare slaps from the wire at the top. We were delighted in rehearsal!

What’s That Box?

I had so much feedback from the congregation, as did Colin (who was leading) and Yatrik. “Where did the drums come from”?, “Was there a percussionist?”, “What was the box you were sitting on?”, “How does it work?”, “How do you spell that?” and so on. It was amazing the effect having a different instrument on stage had to the congregation.

We didn’t do anything else drastically different, the band lineup was keys, bass and four vocals (some great harmonies as well), and the song selection was from our usual list…nothing “new” there. But the impact from making as small a change as having a Cajon in the band made a significant difference to those who were listening/singing/worshipping.

So this January, as we continue to look at goals and new things for the year, why don’t you try something different in your music team? You may not have someone talented enough to play a wooden box, but maybe you could have an all acoustic week, or an all electric week? Try something more hymnal with some harmonies, or if you regularly have a choir, put in a contemporary song. Guitarists, try a higher capo or different pedal. Bass players, experiment higher or lower on the neck. Drummers, buy a Cajon, use a shaker, change your set up. Don’t play!

A Change Will Do You Good

Change is always good, and as I’ve discussed before, we revise our song list every term, use different band lineups every week and mix up the different sorts of media, drama and interactions which we use in our services. But all of theses changes are subtle and none too drastic…in order to keep the congregation with us.

So this Sunday, why don’t you try something new? See what a difference just a small change could make to your services.

I want to add that Anouch had a great voice, which received plenty of great comments as well!

Today is Beautiful

I’ve been home a couple of days with my middle daughter, Naomi. She’s been full of cold since the weekend, so we made a visit to the doctors today. Now I know it’s a cold, and she was getting a bit wheezy (hence the appointment), but we really weren’t quite prepared for “Congratulations Naomi, you’re the sickest patient I’ve seen this morning!” Turns out the cold is developing into a fever, and she also has a chest infection which has the beginnings of bronchitis. Lots of medicine on the way, and a few more days at home on the sofa with some good movies (currently watching Pirates of the Caribbean…I am trying to work…I am trying to work…).

This may be the strangest opening to a blog post ever (at least for me), but through all of the above (and the days which have preceded it), my Naomi has remained resilient, can’t wait to get back to school, and still has a big smile on her face. When I have a cold (and of course I’m talking proper Man Flu here), I just wallow in bed. (It is, thankfully, a rare occurrence in the Kerslake household).

This coming Sunday we continue with our Christmas series at EBC, Waiting Here for You. The tagline is “While we are waiting on God, we are waiting with God. God is there the whole time.” There are times in the waiting where you can start to think you’ve dropped off God’s radar. It’s easy to think you’ve fallen through the cracks, or even worse been completely forgotten by God. From your vantage point, there’s only silence. God has not forgotten you or His promise. If you feel like you can’t make it one more step, or if you’ve already stumbled and hit the floor, He is holding out His hand.

Today is Beautiful

This song by David Dunn sums it up. Today is Beautiful. Every day is beautiful. We all have good and bad days, moments we will remember forever and times which we will happily forget and try to lose in history. Interviews, exams, relationships and doctor’s appointments which don’t go the way we planned or expected. But wherever we’re at, and whatever we’re doing, we know we’re not doing it alone.

My Naomi has always had this positive streak running through her which is infectious, she sees the best in people and situations and smiles and jokes and plays through it. Even on a day like today when she’s struggling with an infection which would floor some people, the smile and enjoyment and happiness is still there. Every day is beautiful.

God is with us always.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

OK, I admit, I am a Christmas addict! I Love Love Love Christmas…getting the family together, all of the food, carols, and of course decorations! Now I know today is the 2nd of December….but we couldn’t wait…so our decorations went up in the Kerslake house this weekend…yes, it was still November!

In years past we have looked at gifts and giving at Christmas, the colours of Christmas and their meaning, we did Simple Christmas which examined the main message once all of the trimmings and sparkles had been stripped out. This coming Sunday we start our Christmas series for 2014, and this year we have themed it on the phrase and song Waiting Here for You. This Sunday we’re using Come thou long expected Jesus, and the video above (from the SkitGuys) is superb.

Christmas is all about anticipation, whether it’s looking forward to holidays, getting the family together, or trying not to peak at the presents under the tree! And not just at Christmas, as we plan ahead we are waiting for holidays, birthdays, surprises…we even wait for the weekend to arrive! But waiting isn’t a bad thing, it can be a good thing because of what God does in the waiting.

Jesus’ coming had been foretold all through the old testament, but there were 400 years of silence between the last prophet in the old testament and Jesus arrival in the new testament. 400 years! My mum thinks I’ve forgotten about her if I don’t ring for a week or two…can you imagine what 400 years of silence is like?! And yet believers stayed faithful, scriptures were passed through the generations, and Jesus’ coming was anticipated, believed in and waited for.

While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time. It’s easy to bale on God at the first sign of trouble, to worry, make new plans and take shortcuts. But there is another way, the quiet way of rest and trust.

We couldn’t even wait to put our decorations up, and are so excited for Christmas day when we can give our kids their presents, pull our family and friends together and enjoy the celebration. But that is only 23 days away…I cannot begin to imagine what 400 years of patience and waiting looks like.

How good are you at waiting?

Carol Arrangements

Christmas Music

Do you jingle all the way?

It’s the most, wonderful time of the year! We are in full on Christmas mode now at EBC as December is almost upon us, our services and activities are all mapped out and most of them are planned, publicity has been distributed and the tree will be going up in the next couple of weeks!

Now a lot of our Christmas planning is quite straightforward, as the story stays the same every year and there are obvious themes and traditions that we will stick to. But one of the things we do sometimes struggle with is carols and carol arrangements.

Where to start?

There are thousands and thousands of worship songs, hymns and choruses, and many more are released every year. I’ve written before how we whittle down our song list to something that is manageable both as a worship team and as a congregation. While the new songs and hymns that are available to use seem to  grow exponentially every year, traditional carols and popular Christmas songs remain pretty constant, and as they are only really used for one month of every year, they don’t get an airing very often. A lot of traditional carols work brilliantly in a traditional setting…we had the privilege of attending some carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall some years back, and it was truly special to sing along with an orchestra, massed choir, royal trumpeters and the massive organ that is installed there.

But we as a church don’t have an organ, or a choir, and our band is based on who we have available to play, but also on the style of music that we deliver on a Sunday…which is primarily guitar and drums based modern worship*. Hence why we have a bit of a struggle come Christmas with our music. We have had many discussions in and around this topic in years gone by, weighing up whether we go full traditional just for the month of December, if it’s acceptable to do carols in a contemporary fashion with added choruses and drums, are we alienating visitors if we make recognisable carols too modern (even if the tune stays the same!) and so on. And to be honest, there hasn’t been an easy answer yet…if you canvas the opinion of five or 10 different people, you’re going to get 5 to 10 different answers!

I did it my way…

So what I’ve been trying to do the past few years, as we will do this year, is to strike a balance between the two. We have a relatively short list of carols that we will introduce over the month of December, and even then we won’t have a complete Carol Service as such until the week before Christmas. The carols that we do use are familiar, set in a contemporary style appropriate to our band lineup, but still retaining the original words and tunes. We make sure the tunes stay relatively straight as well….I have done arrangements where we put Silent Night into 4 in the bar and the like, but it seems to be a step too far for some! And the same with added choruses and new words…Chris Tomlin’s Joy, Unspeakable Joy is great, but incredibly high and too much for some! That said, we have used a version of Angels From the Realms of Glory by Steven Curtis Chapman that has the wonderful chorus “Come and Worship…”

At the end of the day, you have to do what works for your church, as you probably are doing with all of your worship.

How are you choosing and arranging carols this year?

*This also applies to choosing and arranging songs for every other Sunday of the year…if you don’t have five guitarists and a small choir, it doesn’t mean you can’t do Hillsong songs. And if your range isn’t that of a counter tenor and you’re more comfortable in a Barry White range, it doesn’t exclude all of Chris Tomlin’s repertoire. But it does mean you need to choose, transpose, and arrange more carefully…