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Songwriting

Melania Trump, rickrolling and worship song writing...

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Melania Trump, rickrolling and worship song writing...

This week saw twitter go into overload in response to Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican convention.  It seemed like her speech writers had lifted significant chunks of her speech from a 2008 speech given by Michelle Obama…and then left a knowing ‘nod and wink’ in the form of what may be the highest profile rickroll ever!

The weight of our words

Here was one tweet that caught my attention.

 

Its a significant point - the words our Pastors preach must be able to stand up to that kind of scrutiny.  But lets raise the stakes even higher…imagine if your words are going to be not just scrutinised, but memorised and even adopted by other people as their own expressions?

If you’re aiming to write congregational worship songs, then that’s what you’re aiming for - that people would take words that you’ve penned, and embody them and use them as their own expressions of worship, prayer and praise to God…that’s a huge responsibility!

This was brought home to me recently in a profound and humbling way.  I’ve just started a new role at EV Church, and we’re still very much in that phase of getting to know people, and discovering all the mutual friends and random connections.  As I spoke with one lady, she shared that “I only just realised you wrote that song "You Loved Me"…I’ve sung that to my daughter every night for the last four years!”  That floored me!  I never would have considered that as I was writing that song years ago - that it would be a significant piece in forming this little girls understanding of God’s love for her.

When you’re song writing, do you consider that these are words that might be sung to an infant at bedtime, or held onto in the hospital ward…or become the last words of men facing the firing squad.

We can’t know where God might someday take the song we’re writing at the moment.  But there are definitely things we can do now to strengthen our songs - however God might choose to use them.

Fill our words with The Word

Col 3:16 shows us that songs are a gift from God to "let the message of Christ dwell richly among us”.  So lets aim to saturate our songs with the message of Christ!  And not just settle for stand alone ‘soundbites’ of scripture (I call these ‘muesli songs’ - they are full of little chunks of goodness…but they don’t make any coherent sense!)  Aim to write songs that help people know and understand and embody sections of scripture.  As I prepare for a conference based around 2 Peter 3, Michael Morrow’s “We Belong to the Day” comes straight to mind as a great example of this.

Keep writing

My personal observation (and my own temptation!) is that many songs seem to be ‘finished’ far too soon.  Sometimes we can idolise the creative process - “That’s just the way it came to me”.  Sometimes they might be rushed out to make a deadline - a preaching series or recording project.  Or maybe we’re just eager to share them!  But I think another serious issue is that we often lack the knowledge, experience, tools and skills to helpfully engage in re-writing.  If you’re serious about songwriting for congregational worship, then we must keep growing in our knowledge of God’s Word and how to handle it with integrity.  (Maybe start with How to read the bible for all its worth)  But we also must continue to invest in and grow in our songwriting skills -  how we can better use words, rhythms, rhymes and metaphors to carry and communicate these profound truths.  And to that end, I can’t recommend Pat Pattison’s material highly enough - get a hold of “Writing Better Lyrics”.  But why not take the time out to work through his free Coursera course.  Or, even better, do it as a group or team, so you have shared skills and vocabulary to encourage and critique one another.  Which leads to the next point...

Involve others

If you just want a song to sing for yourself, then don’t worry about this!  But if you’ve got any desire that it might be a song sung by someone else…then it effectively ceases to be ‘your’ song - it becomes their song too.  So why not start with that assumption, and get other people involved in the writing stage as well - seek out co-writers and collaborators who can help in the processes of writing and rewriting.  Run draft songs past your pastor to get feedback on the theology.  Carefully consider and respond to other peoples criticisms…they often have good points to make, and they could strengthen the song.  It can be hard and humbling work…but its definitely worth it!

Finally, if they are words that are worth sticking…then we need to work at writing phrases and melodies that will stick…but that’s a conversation for another day!

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Songs for around a hospital bed...

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Songs for around a hospital bed...

A few people have noticed a recent tweet from Kevin DeYoung...

Kevin put this challenge to us at the Sovereign Grace WorshipGod Conference last year in a sermon from 2 Cor 4 about being faithful to prepare...prepare people in our churches for suffering and death by pointing to the "absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory" that lies ahead of us.  If this question has challenged you as well, can I suggest listening to the rest of the talk.  (The rest of the talks are great as well...you can find them all linked here)  It impacted me deeply, and I really wanted to respond with some songs that might play this role.

At the end of his talk, he quoted the first point of the Heidelberg confession - it seem to be the perfect framework for such a song...

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
— Heidelberg Catechism - Q & A 1

Who is our strength?

Verse 1

Who is our strength, our comfort sure? 

Who in the shadows will sustain?

Our only hope in life and death

Is that our Saviour's love remains

For through His blood He satisfied

Our every debt of shame and sin

So now our lives are not our own

But heart and soul are Christ our King's

Verse 2

No condemnation now we fear

The lies of Satan hold no power

Though once enslaved by sins deceit

The righteousness of Christ now ours

No height or depth, nor life or death

Can separate us from his love

And not a hair fall from our heads

Outside the will of God above

Verse 3

Come, Holy Spirit, breathe within

Assure us of eternal life

The rich inheritance prepared

For the beloved bride of Christ

Until that day, when You return

Come to redeem those whom you own

Renew our minds, restore our souls

So we may live for You alone

Until that day, with all the saved

We fall in awe before your throne

Renew our minds, restore our souls

So we may live for You alone

Who is our strength? Copyright © Trevor Hodge 2014 www.trevorhodgemusic.com 

You can find the words and charts free to download on my Patreon page - just click below.

 
 Visit the Patreon creation page to download charts, words and find out more about becoming a Patron.

Visit the Patreon creation page to download charts, words and find out more about becoming a Patron.

 

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Don't just be a consumer...be a Patron!

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Don't just be a consumer...be a Patron!

Over the next few days, I'm going to be uploading a few new songs - you'll be able to check them out and download charts and lyrics at www.patreon.com/trevorhodgemusic.  But if some of my songs have been a blessing to you, I wonder whether you'd consider becoming a Patron?  Through Patreon, rather than purchasing a product - a recording of the song (which fewer people do these days with the convenience of Spotify, Pandora etc) - you can support the person and the process, so I can dedicate more time to writing songs that you can use in your churches.  If that sounds intriguing, then spare a minute to check out this video that explains how it all works....

I would love to have you on the team!  You can check out more on my Patreon page, or comment or email me if you'd like to know more...

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The art and craft of songwriting...and worship songs...

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The art and craft of songwriting...and worship songs...

I'm currently sitting at a local cafe digging into 1 John and Psalm 63...in the 'fertilising' stage of writing some new songs.  But I've been happily distracted by this brilliant post from @shaungroves that raises some really important questions and critiques (I'd suggest anyway...he's trying to be a bit more diplomatic!) about a lot of contemporary worship songwriting.  A bunch of us from @Kirkplacechurch spent 6 weeks with @ptpattison studying songwrinting with this free online Coursera course (HIGHLY recommended if you'd like to be stretched in your songwriting skills) - and I was left with these same questions...and more!  Have a read and let us know what you think?

"I have a theory. I think worship writers have parted with standard songwriting practices because they’re creating with the live experience in mind. So their priorities are much different from those of a traditional songwriter.

Participation, for instance, is a top priority for the worship music experience. To ensure our participation on Sunday morning, lyrics and melodies and song forms are simplified to the point that standard practices are broken.

Because when we participate we want to feel something too, writers and producers give us a lot of long-building crescendos, emotive guitar swells, drum breaks, and other production techniques that stir our emotions during the live experience. And they don’t put as much effort into crafting lyrics, which tend to be thought of (right or wrong) as tools best suited for eliciting thought rather than emotion.

We don’t want a great song. We want a great experience. And that’s what worship writers are giving us.

This is either resulting in good hockey or bad painting. I don’t pretend to know which. What do you think?"

Read the whole article here...

BTW - its given me a new appreciation for great worship songwriting...like this song from @dustinkensrue and @StuartTownend.


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Stuart Townend - Do we really need more worship songs?

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Stuart Townend - Do we really need more worship songs?

Totally agree with Stuart in this article...and would plead with you to keep offering 'loving suggestions' if you think I'm falling short in any of these areas!!

Now, I’m not advocating a 21st century Herodian edict, where any worship songs that don’t match up should be killed at birth… Although I think it might be helpful if those who work alongside us worship writers – pastors, publishers, event organisers, record companies – played a part in pushing us to write material that makes a meaningful and distinct contribution to the genre – and are not afraid to tell us when it doesn’t.
— http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgcworship/2014/02/04/do-we-really-need-more-worship-songs/
 
 

Help me dedicate time to writing new worship songs - find out more at http://www.patreon.com/trevorhodgemusic

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Different Songwriting Techniques #1

Sorry that the blog posts have been very light on of recent (ie non-existant!) The good news is I've been using that time to do lots of songwriting. Not that there's much to show as far as end results, but the input time has been great!

I don't know about you, but for me it seems like my songwriting times are often either drought or deluge...and not much in between! Usually I'll get an idea - a phrase or melody or "key idea" and work outwards from there...but without that initial inspiration, nothing seems to happen. But I've been trying a few different things to 'seed the clouds'...

Starting with Structure
This was inspired by Pat Pattison's great book "Writing Better Lyrics" - while its not written specifically for a church / worship music context, there's some stuff he points out which is right on the money. In his chapter "Productive Repetition" - he says...

"In most songs, you'll repeat a line (refrain) or section (chorus) two or three times. The danger is that once your listeners have heard something once, it will be less interesting the second and third time - like telling the same person the same joke three times in a row: Once you've heard it, it doesn't give you anything more the second or third time.

Your job as a songwriter is to make your repetition interesting and productive so that the same words deliver more each time....

...It might be helpful to think about a song as a stack of boxes that are connected to each other, each one getting progressively larger. Think of each one gaining more weight, the last being the heaviest of the lot."
Pattison, P., Writing Better Lyrics (2009, Writers Digest Books, OH) p. 55

As much as this is relevant for listeners...how much more so when we're asking people to 'own' and sing choruses again. How can we use the verses to help people sing the refrain with new perspective or relevance?

So I've tried kicking off with this kind of structure in mind - here's how it looks...



This is how I started with 1 Peter 1. The box on the right is the chorus - I wanted to gather some ideas that are central to this passage, that other sections expand on...in this case vs 3...

lyrics example.jpg
In his great mercy
New birth
Living hope
Resurrection of Christ from dead

Then the 1st block on the left is vs 1 ideas - primarily vs 6-7. We know they're linked to the central idea by the "In this..." that Paul starts with. I thought this would be a good 1st verse as it expands on the present implications of this living hope...

Rejoice
Griefs and trials
Suffering
Faith proved genuine
Of greater worth than gold

The second verse then focuses on the assurance of this living hope in the future - drawn from vs 4-5. Again, you can see how this section expands and 'fleshes' out what this living hope is.

Inheritance
Never perish, spoil, fade
Kept in heaven
Sheilded by God's power until coming of salvation in final day

In my mind this vs 1 / vs 2 order makes most sense, helping the singer to entering into and engaging with the song from their present circumstances. But you could also argue for the other way around - as Paul has it - to firmly establish the hope before getting to the present relevance.

The bridge then takes a different angle - we actually articulate our joyous response to this hope - from verses 8-9.

Have not seen him => Love him
Don't see him now => filled with glorious (inexpressible) joy
Receiving goal of faith => salvation

The third verse ideas come back to the central idea - our living hope, and express the 'therefore' ideas...what do we do now as a consequence - coming from vs 13-16.

Ready for action
Self controlled
Set hope on future grace
Do not conform to old ways
Be holy as God is holy

So having this framework at the start of the songwriting process was really helpful! It ensured that the song made logical sense, and remained true to the argument and thinking of the passage. And it helped created productive repetition - that each time we sing the chorus, we sing it with fresh insight from the verses.

So here's how it ended up...at the moment - I didn't end up finishing a third verse...but looking back at my notes maybe I should!!


Born Again

Verse 1
Rejoice Rejoice Through trials and pains
Take hope traveling through the darkest of days

Of greater worth than purest gold
Your faith - tested and proved - will be for His praise

Chorus
We’re born again into a living hope
Jesus You rose again out of the grave
We’re born again holy and radiant
Jesus the blood you shed is mighty to save
Mighty to save

Verse 2
In Heaven’s our inheritance
New life - never to spoil never to fade

Protected by God's mighty power
Until all is revealed when you come again

Bridge
Though now our eyes can’t see
We love you Saviour King
Our lips cannot express this glorious joy
And when at last revealed
In glory You will bring salvation
Bring salvation

© Trevor Hodge 2012

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