I began this blog theme a while ago knowing it is a topic that will never die. And it hasn't. Always a conversation thriller and filler to those of us who choose songs for people to sing, or write songs for people to sing, or even, so I've noticed, for those who sing the songs. So here's an excerpt from a Musicademy piece and my response..

Many of our congregational worship songs simply aren’t congregationally singable in their original format, and if you change the format, the song just doesn’t work at all. Now I’m not saying we should get rid of creative arrangements, but I am saying that if the goal of worship song writing is to truly serve the church at large first, then all involved in the production and promotion of worship songs should take more of an active role in showing the average volunteer worship team how to make their songs more congregationally singable, playable and useable.  Read full article 

There seems to be a natural conflict / friction between worship songs to resource the church and worship songs to primarily be listened to, either on a recording or played live by a highly rehearsed and highly resourced band. 

The CCM industry prioritises elements such as production, arrangement, song originality and vocal performance in order to take it's place alongside other genres of music, but these elements do not automatically tick the boxes required for resourcing the 'average' church. The elements generally required for resourcing the church are more about accessibility, singability, theme content and playability. 

Sometimes all these elements converge wonderfully but more often than not, and especially nowadays as commercial music trends influence highly, it is up to the song selectors in churches and worship teams to be able to :

a) Tell the difference between a great song to listen to and a great song for YOUR congregational use. Usually experience sharpens our discernment, so make a note of what works and what doesn't and why.

) Learn how to best 'cover' the more demanding songs that are possible and you think fit your church journey and negotiate key changes, structure transitions in order to make them playable and singable

c) Bank those songs that really will not work in your current context and with your current team...no shame there...just sensible reasoning. The intrinsic song ingredients like octave shifts, complex patterns, weaving vocals and soaring guitar solos may render the song not possible. 

The term 'Caveat Emptor' comes to mind. In the consumer context this is a concept to warn buyers to examine, judge and test a product before purchasing. I think we should use this process when choosing songs for congregational purposes...let the song selectors do some caveat emptor-ing before using and releasing them onto congregations.

There are myriads of songs to chose from so look around and maybe even write some yourself that fits your situation, fits your church journey and fits your worship team. 

How do you choose the songs for people to sing?

INTRO : Over the course of my worship-leader life so far, I have probably compiled a million set lists for events, gatherings and conferences! At times I have hungered for a 'random song generator' gadget that would effortlessly and instantaneously choose the right songs for the right moment for the right people!  (Possibly a future feature for Google Glass?) 

I know we have access to theme indexes in songbooks and worship planning software, but I suspect the job of song selection will continue to be primarily a human task, divinely rather than digitally inspired! So, how do we do it? And...how should we do it?

Recently, I was planning an event with the help of a few people and the songs they chose were simply the ones they liked! How often do we fall into that way of choosing songs? Although it's a plus to play songs you like, it is not really the best way. This can lead to a narrow and predictable song list and not take into account the season, subject or people group you are serving! At another event I was aware that the songs selected failed to have a journey running through them, and so they were very singular and non-connecting and did not really guide or lead people through any systematic encounter.

I am of the opinion that the songs we choose for worship environments are very important. They can add substantial colours to the theological canvas; they can inspire and release thankfulness; they can convey emotion and pathos and they can articulate prayers and laments so very eloquently. As song-selectors we should not merely be guided by our own 'favourite playlist' but conscious of the importance of the gathered musical expression, we should aim to deliver a diet that is theological, varied, divinely-inspired, life-applicable, educational and with a hint of transcendence. In fact, a feast so full of nutrients, enabling us all to grow in faith, freedom and community.

More will follow...............

For all those who sing regularly and want to learn more about looking after the precious voice...read this article from PRS for Music.

As a self confessed gadget-freak and techno-taster I approached this book with huge digital multi-layered delight. Watson vividly explores how the digital era is affecting minds, changing behavior and ultimately, shaping the future.

I had already heard of the author through his work with the trend report What's Next?, and so was expecting good things. I was not disappointed. The rise of the screenager, connectivity addiction, multi-tasking mayhem, the threat to creative thinking, electronic euphoria, ambient intimacy....are amongst some of the fascinating subjects covered  and brilliantly treated with insight and interest. Each topic is laced with examples and questions and particularly provoking is his coverage of the effects of the digital age upon our ability to think deeply and initiate creative free play. In a world where the search engine is Queen (and will soon know us better than we know ourselves), where information constantly flows at us and where digital gratification is instant and relentless, what is there left for us to do or initiate? And, is more always better? In a culture of 'rapid response, we are so continually available that we have left ourselves no time to think properly about what we are doing'.

There was so much in this book to inspire and caution me but I want to highlight a few associated thoughts in relation to worship. As a worship co-ordinator I spend a lot of time leading a musical expression of worship...resourcing and facilitating creative space for seekers to dwell in the presence of God, imbibe the spirit, deepen faith, gaze upon God, be transformed, engage with life.. and as I read some of Watson's observations, I realized again how the digital age is challenging and diluting some of the precious jewels of our worship environments. Let me look at 3 aspects...

SHALLOW THINKING - Because we live on hyper-activity mode, our thinking has become more shallow and divergent. A worship encounter requires a deep and at times, contemplative pattern of attentiveness rather than a drive-through, log on/log off approach.  Are we able individually to be intentional about taking time to think deeply with Christ and are we able to help create an environment for a collective deep engagement with God when the mass default thought pattern is shallow and fast?

RAPID RESPONSE - Web culture is fast, fragmented and NOW. How can we become disciples of Christ who are able to wait and be persistent and patient and not simply expect rapid responses? Maybe we give up or move on too quickly?

SCREENAGERS WANT INSTANT DIGITAL GRATIFICATION - There is a consumer mentality approach that we can easily take into our relationship with God...so that God is like a drinks machine...we press a button (sing a song) and out pops the can!! (emotional receiving) 
How can we develop a culture that is content in the waiting zone, like the Psalmist - HOW LOVELY IS YOUR DWELLING PLACE - even when no apparent instant reward is in sight....!! 

The cultural identifiers that Watson highlights are vital when we think about developing a culture of God-seekers....journey takers not hot-spot tourists!

SO.. have we noticed any of these effects? Maybe we have identified a short attention span during prayer or meditation, or the inability to journey into the depths of an encounter with God? Maybe it's the 'what's next' words that transmit invisibly, but oh so loudly, from the congregation every 3 minutes? IF we believe that dwelling and abiding in the presence of God is important and IF we are sincere about nurturing focus and deepening the journey....how can we learn personally to do this despite our digitally-carved behavior and how do we encourage others to spend quality time searching the heart of God above google? 

Those are just a nano shuffle of thoughts that struck during reading this excellent book...but OVER TO YOU..Does any of this resonate? And how can we contend for the precious jewels of a deep worship encounter? .....individually or together!

In the genre of worship music, are we missing the taste of diversity? Earlier this year an opportunity to lead worship and speak at an Arts gathering in India was very exciting for me and here are a few thoughts from my trip.....

 I love the food, the people and exploring the fascinating cultural changes that are happening fast…but more importantly, I was enthusiastically expectant about the music. I imagined a rhythmic-fusion between East/West, a cross-cultural mash up of indigenous and established ‘rock’ instruments plus vocal cords re-arranging syllables and sounds in ways that my more western perspective delights in…

As I observed and participated in various worship encounters, each passing day brought another dose of a style I can only label as ‘Hill-Jesus Song-Culture’ . Please hear me, I am saying nothing negative about Hillsong or Jesus Culture – on the contrary, I am thankful and full of respect – BUT deeper questions emerged. Where is the authentic, indiginous, ancient enriched, future-innovative, musical voice of India? Do they not believe they have something unique to nurture and express?

On a wider scale, I wonder if the globalisation of worship music for mass consumption is silencing and surpassing cultural stylistic differences – and so it’s goodbye to geographical creativity and diversity and hello to ‘the worship brand’. The ultimate conclusion will be that wherever you collectively worship in a contemporary fashion, the same song, style and delivery awaits! I am aware that influence plays a big part and there is nothing wrong with being inspired by other people, genres and sounds but if it represses the authentic indigenous expression or sub-conciously infers that ‘THIS one way is THE way’ – then we will all become victims of creativity-theft.

We are born originals and God’s design is infinitely vast and diverse! These are two things I intentionally try and remember whenever I travel to train and encourage the creative class so that a ‘one-single-currency’ does not operate within the global sound of music!

Appeared first in musicademy...a great place for practical worship training 

    I AM..

    A restless pilgrim taking steps to participate in the creative journey. I love the fusion of music, ideas, innovation, spirituality and technology..


    April 2013
    July 2012