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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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Doxology and Theology - Friday workshop notes

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Doxology and Theology - Friday workshop notes

The first breakout I sat in on was with Aaron Ivey from Austin Stone Community Church, on Shepherding Worship Leaders.  Here’s some key points and reflections…

If we are given the privilege and responsibility of leadership, one of those responsibilities is to shepherd and pastor those we are leading on our teams.  So we need to be…

  • Equipping and building those in our teams up to maturity - even with the small windows of opportunity we have with them (Eph 4:11-16)

  • Guard and protect them - especially from false teaching (Acts 20:28-30)

  • Humbly and gladly seeking to serve and share our lives with them (1 Peter 5:1-7)

  • Remember that we serve under the true and perfect Good Shepherd (1 Peter 2:25)


Three things (among many) that have the potential to derail this focus - borrowed from Henri Nouwen

  • A desire to be relevant.  Our teams need us to be in stark contrast to the culture that is so often crushing them.

  • A desire to be spectacular.  Reality check…Jesus is the one who is spectacular - lets not attempt to steal His glory!

  • A desire to be powerful.  Remember Jesus’ model of leadership - laying down power for the sake of His sheep.  Are we constantly laying down power for our team’s sake?


And a bunch of other random thoughts…

  • We need to intentionally make time to be with people - not just to get a job done, but to get to know each other better.

  • Related to the above - creative people thrive in community.  Are we intentionally making opportunities for and encouraging community?

  • Teams are built on foundations…what are ours?

  • We need to be vulnerable question askers.  How can I serve you better?  How have I failed you?  What are you dreaming about?

  • We need to create cultures of feedback.

  • We need to be leaders worth following.

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Doxology and Theology - Friday Morning Highlights

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Doxology and Theology - Friday Morning Highlights

I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to be here in beautiful (and freezing!) Kentucky at the Southern Baptist Seminary for the Doxology and Theology Conference.  Here's a Friday morning summary... 

Session 1 - Mike Cosper (if you haven't checked out his book Rhythms of Grace...you really should!) pointed out that the current cultural milieu (the 'water that we swim in') of immanence and "disenchantment" is in so many ways contrary to the transcendent and "enchanted" reality of God's Kingdom.  It seems that transcendence is off somewhere above the ceiling, and history and depth and rootedness is under the floor, so we find ourselves stuck in a room of immanence - where what matters is the now, the observable, the programs and solutions and metrics.  These are the values and ideals and realities that not only shape the cultures around us, but that also impact the way we engage with God and with each other.  But in the same way that stories and habits have shaped present this culture, we need to be telling stories and learning habits that show us the Kingdom of God, where things are more than they seem - where two copper coins are more than great riches, where to gain your life you need to lose it, where defeat is really victory.

Session 2 was three mini(ish) talks...

Mike Bleecker reminded us of the amazing gift and privilege of having God's Word, and encouraged us to fill and surround everything we do with the Word of God - both figuratively and literally - his lyric slides often have related verses at the bottom or between verses.

Keith Getty shared 3 goals for their hymn writing

  • That God's people would learn their lived faith (not just doctrine) through what they sing
  • That they would inspire the holy act of congregational singing to be just that - congregational singing!  That they would write songs that would blow you away, not just have 'singable melodies'.
  • That they would be hymns that we might carry with us throughout our lives

Third up was Harold Best.  I'd like to share with you what Harold shared...but there's no way I could do him justice!  I'll post it up when it comes available, and then you'll see what I mean.

More coming soon...#

Read the highlights from Thursday night...

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Some thoughts from Dox&Theo Thurs night

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Some thoughts from Dox&Theo Thurs night

So right now I'm in Kentucky at the Doxology and Theology conference.  I'm going to try and keep giving quick updates as we go - but you can always stream in as well at

Last night we heard from Don Carson on John 4, and Paul Tripp from Col 3.  I'll need to go back over my notes from Don's talk, but here's a few quick thoughts and challenges from Paul...

The danger of idolatry is never more present than in moments of the supposed worship of God

  • We're all hardwired to seek, but it is also that we have life in its fulness already in God (Col 3:3-4)
  • Therefore it is an act of Gospel amnesia for a believer to seek life - identity, affirmation, validation - anywhere else
  • Our leadership of corporate worship will either affirm the fullness of life we have in Christ, or reveal we are  gospel amnesiacs.  What does my heart seek in the midst of serving in worship ministry?

Some 'things above' that we are to seek.

  • Gods glory - there is NO glory for us in this.  To take glory is to be a glory thief.
  • Grace - we need the rescuing grace of Christ as much today as ever.
  • Redemption - everything we do is as ambassadors of the redeemer
  • Kingdom - we are building a kingdom...but who's?!

 

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Books, blogs and more...

Every time I run a workshop, I end up quoting or directing people to some talks, blogs, articles and books that I've found really helpful recently as I've explored some of the issues around music and worship.  So I thought I'd list some of them down here...

There's been a few talks from the Sovereign Grace Worship God conference that I attended last year that I've been really dwelling on and learning from - particularly thinking about how we serve, and the role music and singing plays in preparing and equipping people to respond in worship in all of life...and particularly in the hard times.  I've linked the blog summary of the event on Bob Kauflin's Worshipmatters blog (as always, there's heaps of other great articles there, so its worth looking around) and the two particular talks that have impacted me.

While we're talking about Bob, this talk he gave at the TWIST conference in Sydney a few years ago is GOLD.  Pastoring through song.

Another blog I've found really helpful is from Zac Hicks - Zac is the Worship Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and a very regular - and always insightful - blogger!  In particular, I found this post about the danger of letting our bands do the 'worshipping' for us really challenging - A Reason to Be Suspicious of Worship Bands

While in the States, I picked up this book. Its worth a read just for the first few chapters, which traces out the story of God gathering a community of loving worshippers - from before time began and to all eternity.  It is beautifully written, concise, and is a great place to start if you're exploring the big picture of worship, as Cosper draws from a bunch of other helpful books and articles that you could move on to.

This is a book I'm currently in the middle of...and need to go back to the start and work though slowly again - there's so much rich content packed in on each page!  Peterson's book Engaging with God is a thorough exploration of the 'big picture' of worship.  Encountering God together - as you've probably worked out - narrows the focus down to our worship gatherings.  In particular, the chapter on edification had a few lightbulb moments for me.  I'll post again about it once I'm through...

The other book I'm in the middle of (yep...I'm one of those 'pile of books all half read' readers) is Delighting in the Trinity.  Like me, you may have been tempted to place the triune nature and character of our God into the theological 'too hard' basket...impossible to understand, even harder to explain, and maybe not a critical factor in my faith.  If that's you, you need to read this book!  Reeves not only shows the importance of understanding and relating to our God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but writes with a infectious joy in these truths!  Again, I'll post again once I'm through it!

Anyway, I hope that you might find some of these helpful.  And please, keep the conversation going...I'd love to know what you've got lots out of recently?

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Worship, music and Col 3:16 - Prezi link

For those who have been to one of my workshops or training days, here's my prezi looking at some of the key things we can learn from Col 3:16 about how important music and singing is in our churches lives, and some things to think about as we prepare and serve in this ministry.

Some of it won't make much sense without me speaking to them.  For those who have been to a workshop recently...hopefully this is enough to jog your memory on the kay points.  For those who haven't - I will try and update the prezi file with more titles and notes so its a bit more self-explanatory!

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Worship Band Roles and Tips

Worship Band Roles and Tips

When I'm running church music workshops, one of the most helpful things time and time again is discussing the particular roles that the different members of a contemporary worship band play. Here is a quick summary...if you want to find out more, you'll have to come to a workshop!

So who's the most important person or role? God, of course! Yeah, I know it sounds like a Sunday school answer...but we can get so tied up working on the parts and lines and grooves, and forget who it is all for. It would be like working so hard on your harmonies for happy birthday, that you forget who's birthday it is! How are you preparing your hearts for leading worship? How are you practicing humility? Repentance? Dependence? Adoration? How do the songs your going to sing or play express your own worship to God? How are you preparing to make Him look great, not you?

Who's next? Well, let me tell you, they never show up for rehearsals or workshops. They probably never practice. They are a real bunch of amateurs. Its the congregation. Your role as skilled and experienced singers, musicians and leaders is to equip and encourage (generally) unskilled and inexperienced singers to sing and worship with passion and abandon. Some things to think about...

  • Are your song choices easy to learn and 'own'?
  • What keys work best for them? This is both an issue of vocal range (a general guide is to try and keep it between A at the bottom and D/E at the top) and finding out what works best for the song - ie is the chorus in a good register to 'belt out'?
  • Is the structure and leading clear for them to follow? Do you lead them into the chorus, or do they unwittingly find themselves in it a few bars in?!
  • Do your musical arrangements lift their voices and hearts?
  • Are you leaving room in the musical 'mix' for their voices to fit in?


Next we come to those standing at the front - the song leaders / worship leaders / worship servants / lead worshippers... In the end, they are the ones charged with the responsibility to lead the congregation, and keep thinking about all these issues above - so as musicians, we need to serve them and make their job as easy as possible. We can do this by...

  • Making rehearsals great! Prepare in advance, come knowing all the songs, don't noodle when they're trying to direct things, respect and follow their decisions about arrangements.
  • Filling them with confidence. Mostly this comes down to you being confident - knowing the songs and structures...but then following their lead if they choose to do something else!

Now to the drummers. You have so much influence. A consistent tempo and groove, and clear structural signposts make it really comfortable and intuitive for the congregation to join in singing. On the flipside, if the tempo is shakey and the structure is unclear, people will feel really uncomfortable...even if they can't articulate it as such! Here's some basic things to be aware of...

  • Keep it simple - play what is appropriate for the song, not what shows off your amazing chops.
  • Own the tempo. Use a metronome / click if you need to.
  • Dynamics and orchestration. This is not just a volume thing - for example, the amount of high frequencies you bring in through the cymbals make a big contribution to the energy of the arrangement.
  • Play in the pocket. If tempo is all about bar by bar rhythmic consistency, playing in the pocket is all about rhythmic consistency within the bar or groove.
  • Signpost the structure. You, probably more than any other instrument, give aural cues to the structure and where things are going. So make sure you know where you're going! For example, if you open the hats in the last two bars of a verse, everyone's going to the chorus, whether the song leader wants to or not!


Bass players

  • Keep it simple!
  • Like a tree with shallow roots will fall over, a band without strong root notes will feel precarious. Make sure you're confident and consistent with the chord changes.
  • People often talk about 'locking in' with the drummer - but that sounds a bit lifeless and regimented. I prefer talking about 'dancing' with the drummer (if that's not too weird!). You need to operate and move as one unit. Don't just think about the kick drum either. How can you bring life to the snare drum by when you choose to lift your notes?
  • You own the low frequencies - you can create dramatic variations in the arrangement by when you choose to add - or subtract - the low frequencies from the mix.
  • Following from above - try thinking about spaces as much as notes - like the musical equivalent of a Henry Moore sculpture!

Now to guitars and keys. Up until now, we have form, but not much colour - this is where you guys step in, adding tones and timbres to the framework set up by the rhythm section. But there's one big thing to watch out for in common for keys and guitars. When you learn piano or guitar, you generally learn it as a 'solo' instrument. Having such a wide frequency range, and the ability to easily play big chords, you can hold it all down yourself - the melody, the bass line, the rhythmic energy and the chords to fill it out. But this is probably the opposite of what you want to do in a band context! Here's some things to be aware of...

  • Frequency clashes. This is particularly important in the lower frequencies - two notes a semitone apart can sound OK up high, but the same notes can bring on convulsions in the lower registers...so the basic rule is let the bass player play the bass! Also, be aware of getting too full in the mid frequencies - where the vocal ranges usually fit. This can be a big issue for electric guitars - distorted sounds can quickly become dense and impenetrable Try and avoid close chords - ie stacked thirds...play with how you can spread them out a bit.
  • Rhythm clashes. Again, this is a matter of letting the drums own this, and work around what they are doing, rather than trying to duplicate (and muddying) the rhythm. In particular, pianos can try and force the rhythm by heavily emphasising the 2's and 4's - the snare drums role. Also, be aware how the acoustic guitar can sit in the same frequency range, and play a similar percussive role, as the hi hats. One common clash is when the drummer is playing a straight rhythm on the hats, and the guitarists is shuffling it...it can get really messy!
  • In general, think about how you can strip things back in order to have more impact. Rather than throw your weight around, chose your notes and moments to cut through. Fight like a ninja, not a sumo! Look out for opportunities to add melodic hooks and riffs. Use your colour to really give life and shape to the arrangements. Its getting late, and my illustrations sketchier, but I think you know what I mean!

So there you go - there's a few of my thoughts for what its worth. But I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions as well...what do you think?

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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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