The Storm Inside

Have you ever experienced an indoor storm? Do you know acquaintances who cause a whirlwind when they walk into a room. Do you have friends who just can’t ever seem to shake the cloud that follows them around…and they make sure everybody knows about it?

This week at EBC we’re starting a new series called Climate Change. Now I know the instant reaction is to think of global warming, changing weather patterns and farting cows. OK, so maybe not gaseous bovine creatures comes straight to mind. While our series is weather based, it’s looking at the climate we bring with us wherever we go. And we all do, whether (or weather?) we realise it or not.

Travis memorably sang “Why does it always rain on me“. I know if I’m in a bit of a fug, I can bring it home, pass it onto my family and drench them all with my cloudy mood. Fortunately I don’t (think?) I do this very often. Similarly, I have friends who will bring a ray of sunshine and happiness into all situations…no matter what. I love spending time with them, and more often than not will gravitate towards them in social situations (as will inevitably everyone else!).

Horrible Bosses

This clip, from the wonderfully dark comedy Horrible Bosses sees Kevin Spacey playing one of the meanest spirited bosses you could ever hope to not meet. He’s been tagging Jason Bateman’s character along for a promotion, getting him to work overtime, weekends, doing far more than he should… and he’s then awarded it to himself…along with a pay rise and a bigger office. And of course, rather than lending a sympathetic ear and being a “listening” manager, he instead berates Jason for calling his grandma “Gam Gam”. Makes you want to throw him out of the window. Or find a big stick.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Are there people you avoid because of their climate? Or do you have a climate of your own which means you’re the one who is excluded? The thing is, climates, like the weather, are changeable. It doesn’t have to rain all the time (even if you live in wales), just as life isn’t always sunny. But unlike the inclement weather which we experience in the UK, we do have a choice. We can decide if it’s always going to rain on us, whether we can give our in-laws a frosty reception, or choose to cast out a few rays and share some sunshine.

What’s your climate? Do rainclouds follow you? What would it take to share some sunshine?

The Fraction Principle

You may well have seen this clip already, it’s doing the rounds and I have been mailed it several times…but if you have or haven’t, it deserves a second (or fourth…) viewing:

Awesome drumming! The guy has chops…and kudos to the leader for keeping it going while he plays his flamaramaparadiddlecues (I know they’re not real…I am a drummer…but anyhow….)

Teenage Kicks

When I was learning bass and guitar during my teenage years, I was a typical “bedroom player”, in that I would come home from school and then spend hours alone in my room, learning songs and riffs off my favourite cassettes (I am that old…) and eventually CD’s (but not quite that old…). Whether it was the thundering thumbs of Mark King from Level 42, the guitar solo from Living on a Prayer or the jangly riff from The Beatles And Your Bird Can Sing, I would be lost in listening, learning and memorising new and old tunes. It was great…albeit not a very social pastime.

Something we learn as a worship team at EBC is about playing as a band, playing within our limits, and listening to one another. This is something which can only be learnt as a band, as it’s an important communal aspect to playing you cannot learn on your own. We usually have 5 – 6 musicians in our Sunday morning band, and while we are all of different abilities, if we all played to our maximum then it would be a big mess of noise…free jazz, a smorgasbord of notes! We learn to make space both in terms of frequency, and notes. Let me break this down a little.

Frequency: At its most basic level, we can split our sound frequencies into three; bass, middle, and treble. Bass is occupied by the bass guitar and kick drum, treble is occupied by cymbals, the attack of the guitar and the sibilance from our voices. Pretty much everything else (drums, guitars, keys, vocals, violins, cellos, banjos…) fills the middle. But there is crossover….the piano and drums cover the bass and treble frequencies, and the bass and guitar move around depending on how high or low they are played on the neck.

Notes: We can play fast and slow, we can use lots of notes or be sparing. Chordal movement comes into this equation as well, for something like How Great is Our God has only four chords which go around and around, whereas How Great Thou Art has almost a chord per beat at points (this is from the transition from organs/keyboards to guitar…you can usually tell when a song has been written on guitar or piano based on the key and the number of chords!) And if we’re a really hot drummer, we can squeeze at least 1208 beats in per minute…always useful during ministry time…or Oceans…

Application?

How does this apply to the band? Well, if I’m playing acoustic on my own (which sometimes happens), then I am the bass player, keyboard player, guitarist and drummer. So I will strum pretty rhythmically (drummer), use the full range of the guitar (bass and keys) and lead. But if I’m then joined by a bass player, I should drop off the bottom end of the guitar to give them space. And if there’s a keyboard player, I may play in a higher register (or get the keyboard player to play higher). If we have a drummer too then there’s less need for me to be so rhythmic, as the bass and drums (the rhythm section) can drive the song for me. Paul Baloche has a great video which explains this really clearly:

The Fraction Principle

Brian Doerksen calls this The Fraction Principle, in that you play to the nth of your ability depending on how many musicians are in the band. So if there are five of you, you play to a 5th of your ability. The rationale behind it is if everyone plays 100% to their ability all the time (look back at our drummer friend…), then it’s going to get tiring for everyone and ultimately detract from the song.

Same with the notes….why play several when one will do. The congregation hasn’t come for a jazz gig, they’re not going to applaud your knowledge of the mixolydian scale or how your keyboard player is able to vamp over a Fdim7flat5 with a boogie woogie left hand. Our congregations are there to be led in worship, which is what we’re there to do.

So the next time you’re rehearsing with your worship team, listen to everybody else around you. Are you giving each other musical space as I’ve outlined above? Does your keyboard player have a heavy left hand? If you have two guitarists, are they mimicking each other, or do they make use of a capo and/or the dusty end of the fretboard? If any of this rings true, make some changes. Arrange it as a band. Listen to CD’s of the songs you’re using. And in time, it will become second nature.

How 2 rehearsals are better than 1

This week we’re back to our normal routine again, having had the summer break…which means we’re back to our regular Tuesday night rehearsal slot.

Band Rehearsal

Now I’ve talked about rehearsals a lot. Probably because we do it a lot. But, a bit of history: We used to (around 5 years ago) be one church with three separate congregations who met at different locations. With three separate teams. As the leadership structure of the church has changed, as well as various other contributing factors, we are now in the position of having several meetings but now all in the same building. This has led to bringing all of our teams under one roof, and honing our song list, rotas and rehearsal schedule.

This has been a gradual process….the 9:15 band used to rehearse every other Friday, the 11:15 band every other Tuesday, the 10:15 rehearsed on site before the service…so the first thing we did was bring everybody together on one evening. This was fine when we didn’t have many musicians, as there was space for everybody on stage and enough inputs in the sound desk. But as time has gone on the band has grown (which is a great problem to have). And after having a few rehearsals when everybody turned up, and we had three to a microphone, more guitarists than a Passion concert and the unsolvable problem of how to share one drum kit between three drummers…we had to change our process.

New Regime

After a bit of deliberation, we have settled into our new pattern, which works like this:

The band for Sunday has full use of the main hall for their rehearsal, and they go through the set as if it was Sunday. Being in the same position, using the same instruments, being plugged into the same equipment means that come Sunday, there shouldn’t be any surprises and the services will go smoothly.

At the same time, every other Tuesday (as we have another group who use our church on alternate Tuesdays), we have a second rehearsal meeting in our backrooms. This is for everybody in the band not involved on the coming Sunday, but also open to any new team members and also for anybody who may want to attend and see what we do. We use this time to refine the songs which we are already doing, learn new songs (especially at the beginning of a term), work on our techniques together and also have the opportunity to share in some prayer together. I’ve also been able to set aside this time to have sectional rehearsals, so we had an evening with just the guitarists, or concentrating on the sound team with the band, and I have a music theory 101 evening up my sleeve at some time in the near future.

This has meant we are able to make much better use of our rehearsal time without taking up extra time in the week….I don’t know about you, but we already have so many meetings and commitments during the week that I don’t want to make demands on extra evenings with our band.

Benefits

Of course this requires a bit of administration, I have to keep ahead of what music we’re using and specifically plan what we’re going to do with our extra rehearsals. And I keep these fairly open…for all of the reasons above, and as we already have commitment that our band will be at rehearsal for Sundays, I am willing to cut them some slack for any additional rehearsal time. That said, most of our band come regularly enough, and seem to enjoy it! And the benefits have been huge to us all as a team…it means we are all meeting and playing together more frequently, we are learning the songs quicker and also growing much better as a team.

Now I don’t know how you schedule your rehearsals with your team…I have experienced all from weekly rehearsals three weeks out from a Sunday right through to pulling it together in the hour before a service. But I can recommend maintaining a regular frequency for all of our musicians, so they can grow musically, technically, spiritually and communally as well.

What is your rehearsal schedule?

Meaningful Mailing

This week we have been slowly winding down to a long deserved holiday, but before we get away on Friday, I still have the task of putting together the worship team rotas for the autumn. This is something which usually starts around 6 – 8 weeks out, as I try and coerce dates and availability from my team for the coming months. This happens with varying degrees of success. I started off by creating a paper form for everyone to complete, and I also set up an online submission as part of our worship team website. But these days I default to email as it is the general communication of choice.

But of course, everyone is bombarded in their inbox every day, and the last thing I want is to add to the pile of junk, while also making sure I get a response where it’s needed. So, wherever possible I follow the rules below when contacting my team.

The rules:

  • I only send emails to the relevant contacts. I have a “Worship Team” group email which easily allows me to send to all, and then I often copy (cc) others when needed (senior minister, sound team etc). They know if they are copied it doesn’t warrant a response.
  • I don’t send a long email, I try and keep it to the point as much as possible, and make it clear both in the title and the body of the message why I am contacting them and what I’m expecting in response. And if I am expecting a response, I also give a clear deadline as to when I want to hear back by!
  • Where possible, I try and keep each email about one subject. So if I’m planning rehearsals, sending the songs for Sunday and collating dates for the forthcoming rota, they will go out in separate emails. Otherwise confusion reigns, and I will either scare off my recipients, or create total confusion for myself in the responses (will be there/what key’s song 2/I’m on holiday 12th…) Of course this does mean you’re sending multiple emails, but as in point one they should be targeted (rotas will be sent to all, rehearsals and Sunday songs will usually only be sent to the week’s band).
  • I try to be consistent with regards to the days I send emails…especially when it’s for Sunday song and rehearsal reminders. Some of my team are so used to this now if I don’t send an email on a specific day they will remind me! If only it was always so straightforward. So we have rehearsal on the Tuesday before the Sunday, I make sure the songs are in the church office on the preceding Thursday and the band have them too, along with a reminder they are in the band.
  • I have been office based in my other jobs for well over 15 years now, and yet it still surprises me the number of people still don’t use spellcheck on their computers, whether in outlook, mail or online…there is an option in all programs to automatically suggest corrections when typing, as well as the option to check all before sending. Com on peeple, it doeznt look professional wen u send out error strewn messages!
  • And related to the above, read your email before you send it. Not only for spell checking (which by now should have automatically checked itself), but also for the accuracy of the other content. I’ve forgotten attachments, sent the wrong document, got my dates wrong and so on. A cursory check through of what you are saying should mean you won’t make those mistakes.

Going forwards…

None of these pointers are failsafe, you can guarantee not everybody will reply, and you will probably have to ask more than twice. And even now (we go away tomorrow), I still don’t have responses from everybody in the band! But, I have a big enough critical mass which has allowed me to complete the rota and send it out in draft status for all to check and confirm. (And of course, I’ve already had reported back one mistake…of course it was my fault….).

But follow these rules, and you should be well on the way to getting more timely and consistent responses from your team.

How do you organise your communications with your team?

Keep It Shut – The Sequel!

Last week I posted with the title Keep It Shut!, which looked at keeping the main hall closed during soundcheck and rehearsals so that the congregation would not distract or comment while the band and Sunday team were refining the service. I realise that the title could be construed as referring to something other than just the doors…but for the sake of politeness, we’ll cLocked dooroncentrate here on keeping the main hall closed during rehearsals…

We put it into practice this past Sunday at EBC; clear and courteous signs were placed on the closed doors with a specific opening time and a polite request for early arrivals to stay in the lobby or back rooms. Everybody adhered to it, and there were no quibbles or questions. Or attempts to break down the door.

Lock the door!

The most positive effect was in the band and tech team who were able to rehearse and sound check without distraction. We don’t hold rehearsals over the summer, so our current band time before the service is even more precious as it is the only opportunity to run through the song arrangements as well as soundcheck. My wife was leading this week, and I arrived later with the kids for the service. There was such a palpable difference on stage, the whole band were relaxed, more happy and freely leading and worshipping. The sound was noticeably better than the previous week, with a good balance between the instruments and voices, and a clear lead. The musicians were almost enjoying themselves! And all of this, just from keeping the doors closed for an extra 30 minutes or so.

I have subsequently contacted the relevant people to make this a permanent arrangement for our morning services, (one of the benefits of my role is that I can make decisions like this without several meetings with elders and planning teams…) as it is clear that it benefits all. Well, with the exception of the early arrivals waiting outside. But then, does anyone really need to be at church that early before the service? Cakes are only put our after the 10:15 service. And there are usually plenty.

Happy Band, Happy Man!

Now I’m aware I am possibly preaching to the converted. You probably do this already. If so, great. And drop me a line about some of the other things I need to know about! But, if this is a new concept to you, and you’ve had many months, maybe even years of an audience for your soundcheck and preparation time, I heartily encourage you to Keep It Shut before the service.

Setting Expectations

Everyone loves a happy team. No one wants an argument. Disappointment is not a good way to start a Sunday morning.team

We have a team of around 20 in our band at EBC, and I’m pleased to say that they are generally diligent in their timekeeping and attendance, both for Sundays and rehearsals. But it hasn’t always been this way, and there are some weeks when it doesn’t all just come together. Just this past week, I had two drop out of rehearsal because of illness and a prior engagement. Which was fine…rehearsal still happened, although on a smaller scale, and Sunday went well, albeit with a smaller band. Because the decision, rightly, was made that if they couldn’t do rehearsal, then they couldn’t do Sunday.

Good Team

There are many elements that contribute to a good team, including good spirit, heart and passion, competence, reliability and the ability to work together. And when people come on team, I look out for these areas and try to encourage and develop them. And from my side I make sure that everyone has up to date and clear copies of the music, that they are regularly updated with meetings and emails, and that they know when they have rehearsal, what they are playing on a Sunday and that I don’t overburden when sorting out rotas for the term.

But I also make sure that I set expectations in return: if the band has signed up to play for a Sunday then they know that they have to arrive early, they need to keep the week before for rehearsal, it is their responsibility to have learnt the music and be ready for rehearsal and Sunday. The day can end up being long…we do two morning services, so the commitment is at least five hours of a Sunday morning. And that may be too much for some. But I’d rather be upfront about the commitment, and for my team to be upfront in return so that I have a dedicated and committed band every Sunday.

Job Description

This is something that I’ve put together over the years through learnt experience, and we have a Job Description for our teams, just as we do for our leaders and staff, so that they are clear right from the start about what is expected and how we do things. This means there aren’t any surprises, everyone knows what to do, and if there are ever any problems, we can roll back to the job description and affirm that we all agreed to it.

Of course there is flexibility, I am pretty lenient and laid back when it comes to the team (that is just a personality trait of mine) and it is rare that anything untoward ever happens.

Setting expectations up front makes for a much happier journey for all involved.

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday

The Great British Summer. Ice creams by the beach, lazy picnics, ball games…umbrellas, day trips stuck in the car and board games in a tent. We are now not far away from the summer break, we are all as a family counting down to the holidays (it can’t come quick enough for some of us), and hoping for more seasonal weather this year.
Cone
It’s also the time of year at church when everything slows down; we cut back on services and our regular gatherings enter a semi state of hibernation as everyone disappears on holiday. We’ve tried various different ways of tackling this in the past…from crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, turning up on a Sunday and seeing who else is there, to closing down all together and saying “good luck….see you September!”

Opportunity

But summer is an opportunity…while the attendance varies hugely, it’s often a time for regular members to bring visiting family, or for visitors from other places to check you out while they’re on holiday. And if they’re greeted by your third best speaker, a team who aren’t quite sure how to switch on the lights, and a worship team of drums, recorder and banjo…they possibly won’t leave with the best impression, let alone come back/
So this summer, make a point of planning for the break:
  • While we know our leaders and volunteers will be away (and for sure everyone needs a holiday), we still rota for each week (we didn’t always do this)
  • We set a complete summer series so there is a consistent plan for our speakers to follow (this year it’s “Barbecues of the Bible…”).
  • We only have the one Sunday service each week, and it is all age…so no children’s work to rota, a reduced time commitment on a Sunday and more of the day to enjoy the (potential) sunshine.
  • I get holiday dates in advance from my band so I can make sure we have a consistent line up for each and every week…not always easy, but better than “seeing who turns up on Sunday…” (again, we didn’t always do this, and had some infamous bands including the six guitarists and a singer, or the “Black Keys” week, drums and guitar solo).
  • And we get commitment up front…everyone knows what they’re responsible for and when.

Summer plans

Don’t let this Summer vacation be a vacation of your congregation. I am sure you already plan every Sunday…so make sure you continue to do the same for your summer holiday. Or else this may happen….

Take the Bus…

Teamwork. We all know there’s no “I” in team, all there is a “me” if you look hard enough….go on, you just checked, didn’t you?

We looked at Badminton for One a few weeks back, where we were established community doesn’t work so well if you do it on your own. We can achieve so much more when we work together…and if we share our time and resources with those who have a common interest and are “on the ground” as such, our resources will go so much further and achieve much more.

Now this ad is admittedly for a Belgian bus company, and the message is to get more people to take the bus than drive…which of course is a very valid and worthy message, even if you don’t live in Belgium. But aside from the great message, and very funny animation, it does highlight the benefits from working as a team, partnering, and strategically focusing on goals together.

Tearfund

This coming Sunday our service is focusing on Tearfund, one of our world mission partner organisations. We have partnered with Tearfund for many years, although recently we have become even more specific with our links and are now supporting a church in Nambeo, Uganda. You can read a post about it here, as well as view some pictures. It is a great relationship, as we are much more focused on what we are doing and where rather than just giving money to a general cause. One of our congregation went to Uganda in 2013 with an aid organisation, and we hope to send a team out there some time in the future.

Dorothy Springer Trust

At the same time we have been doing amazing things in Sierra Leone with a member of our congregation who moved back there and his church in Sierra Leone, Regent Road Baptist Church. Again, there is a real focus as we have strong links and productive partnerships with all involved, and can see day to day the difference which is being made, both with the charity and also with the church and the work they do around Sierra Leone. I encourage you to read up on Abs story and the Dorothy Springer Trust  he is running in Freetown. I was there in February, and I can’t wait to be back again.

Working in community, working as a team, working in partnership. We are so much stronger and achieve so much more when we work together. So why don’t you try applying a “We” mentality rather than a “Me” mentality this coming week?

Are there areas in your life that you could make a difference with if you shared the load?