Thinking Out Loud

August 27, 2015

Wow Series Celebrates 20 Years

Wow Hits 2016Christian bookstore shoppers have made this item a staple for two decades now, and in many of them, it is the top selling CD of the year overall.  The WOW CDs were patterned after the NOW CDs which were sold in the general market. The idea behind the compilations was to present the best available songs, but without the label restrictions usually associated with CD samplers. To accomplish this, The WOW Partnership was created involving the major Christian record companies. Additionally, bonus cuts allowed the participating companies to introduce newer artists.

The CD series has its own page on Wikipedia:

WOW is a series of annual compilation albums featuring contemporary Christian music. The birth of the WOW record project can be traced Grant Cunningham, A&R Director at Sparrow Records. In November of 1994 Grant made a business trip to EMI Limited in London, at the time was the parent company of Sparrow Records where he noticed that several British record labels were issuing an annual CD of top-rated songs, known as the NOW series, containing collections of pop songs. Grant brought the idea back to Sparrow. Sparrow executives suggested a similar project be developed for Christian pop music and Grant was assigned the task of getting the project off the ground. The WOW franchise represents the most successful collections of Christian music ever issued.

Released in late 1995, “WOW 1996” was the first in the WOW series and the first recording put together by the three major Christian record companies of the time: Word Records (now Word Entertainment), Sparrow Records (now part of EMI Christian Music Group), and Reunion Records (now part of Sony’s Provident Label Group). Still today, after each submitting label agrees to a reduced master royalty, the final decision on the tracks to be included is made by committee. Production, marketing, and distribution for the “WOW Hits” series is handled by EMI Christian Music Group.

Wow Worship LimeThe Wikipedia page has two more paragraphs,one of which I added this morning, and deals with the huge popularity of the more recent WOW Worship series. That series began in the fall of 1999 and are named by the color of the cover, possibly in a nod to the timelessness of some worship songs. There have also been hymn collections and Christmas collections, and in the U.S. the WOW Gospel series highlights the best of urban and mass gospel choir-inspired music.

With WOW Hits 2016 due to release mid-September, I found it interesting that one writer has already suggested ten songs that didn’t make the cut. (If you’re looking for some tunes to listen to, he has the videos embedded in that post.) Furthermore, just to show what a coveted prize getting on the Wow complications is, Josh Andre also offers twenty songs that he feels should be considered for WOW 2017. Somebody takes this really seriously!

These albums always make a great gift. For the the recipient, they represent an instant commercial-free playlist, especially for people who live on the fringes of Christian radio reception or are completely foreign to the contemporary Christian music genre. The 2-CD sets are now usually made available in both a regular and deluxe edition, the latter containing more bonus cuts, but the standard minimum is usually 30 songs, making this a great bargain.

Happy Birthday to WOW!

August 11, 2015

David Wesley’s Music Crosses Demographic Lines

Basement PraiseAs of last night, he had 27,629 YouTube subscribers. Four million views. Not too shabby. He performs and records and posts YouTube videos under the name David Wesley and we’ve had numerous contacts since he moved into our neighborhood a couple of years ago. I’ve linked to his videos before, but today I want to fully feature a couple of the more recent ones.

His album is titled Basement Praise and it’s available through the various channels listed below. And yes, he wears a different hoodie for each part and somehow manages to keep track of them!  These are new tracks that aren’t on the album, but the quality is consistent to the a cappella sound you’ll hear on Basement Praise.


Physical CD: Collide Media
iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/…
CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/david…
Amazon: (pending)
Google Play: https://play.google.com/sto…

YouTube: DavidWesley on YouTube

Facebook: David Wesley Music

August 4, 2015

An Alternative Worship Menu

Filed under: Christianity, Church, music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

I don’t get to lead worship now as often as I once did, but enjoy writing on the subject from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the platform. Recently Worship Links contacted me about doing a guest post for them, which ran last week. (I told they they’d have the first chance to run it.) Now it’s time for y’all to have a look at it here.


article for Worship Links

The Hidden Menu

The Roland keyboard our church bought more than twenty years ago had 32 basic sounds, but if you held the “A” bank key down at the same time as you turned on the power, a larger, 128-sound hidden menu unfolded. While we didn’t use them all, we used them frequently, though most of the time Piano-1 was the default setting, as I suspect it is at most churches.

In our family, the term “hidden menu” became synonymous with a whole lot of things. When the car CD player quit on a road trip, we were forced to scan the FM dial from top to bottom, and finding nothing to our liking, I said, “Where’s the hidden menu?” We don’t have cable or satellite and don’t watch a lot of television, but on one search throughout a rather large number of broadcast signals, my wife turned and said, “Try the hidden menu.”

Sometimes I find myself in a worship service where I keep thinking there’s something else we should be doing with that time. As someone who has spent years leading worship myself, I think I approach this time with a positive attitude, but there are days when I consider the possibility that just listening to the original recordings of the compositions and singing along might be an improvement on what the worship team is attempting. Or doing a morning of classic Christian camp and retreat songs. Or rediscovering some obscure hymns. Or getting all liturgical and mixing readings with chorus or bridge sections of songs for which we don’t need projected lyrics.

Then, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that perhaps I had already found the hidden menu.

About a year ago I wrote a blog post titled Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing? It centered around an eight-minute video posted by the Rural Hill Church of Christ, who operate a summer camp, which has a section at the front of one of their buildings called The Singing Porch. With no musical instruments, these kids were singing with a passion and energy that would be foreign to many churches, especially those small to medium churches trying to do today’s modern worship songs but without the luxury of Hillsong’s or North Point’s band, and thereby forced into a situation where the audience stands politely but is afraid to truly sing out.

I did some further exploration of the Church of Christ, and particularly their a capella music tradition. I listened to YouTube videos for hours. I kept coming back to the above mentioned video, especially “Let it Rise” and the part at the six-minute mark where they show a few seconds of “Get Right Church.” I know I might not be able to sell this at your church, but I kept wishing I could bottle some of this and take it to my church. Honestly, our relationship to many of the songs we sing on Sunday morning can only be described as passive. These kids were engaged.

Another way is possible.

That got me thinking about another experience we had, visiting an alternative service in an Episcopalian church and being introduced to the music of Taizé. This form involves taking very short lyrical fragments and building them into short pieces which are then sung in very easy-to-learn parts. It’s what we call a round in children’s ministry, but it wasn’t so long ago — recall “Father, I Adore You” — that this was part of weekend service sets. Taizé is more liturgical and more meditative. Call it soaking music for Anglicans. You can learn more at the movement’s website, or through a simple YouTube search.

Both the a capella style of the Church of Christ and the liturgical-flavored form of Taizé may seem too traditional for you, but studies over the past year seem to indicate that Millennials are looking for something more than what our Top-40 worship songs and bland contemporary Church architecture have on offer. The late Robert Webber proposed a model of blended worship that gave rise to the term ancient/future, but some of the surveys suggest some twenty-somethings are willing to just explore ancient.

I would wager to say that some of them are looking for the hidden menu, and I think you can consider other musical options without sacrificing the relevance of your preaching or the programs and ministries that everyone assumes are provide a younger demographic appeal.

August 2, 2015

What if Orange Was a Swear Word?

Filed under: guest writer, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A Guest Post by Lorne Anderson

Being subjected to a fair amount of hip-hop music at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has me thinking about language and its usage.

Hip-hop comes out of urban black culture, the inner-city ghettos of the United States. It is folk music in the true sense of the term (which has been expropriated to usually mean relatively mild singer-songwriters wielding an acoustic guitar). Part of its expression, a rebellion against the predominately Caucasian establishment, is the frequent use of profanity to shock and confront.

Img 080215I maintain that really doesn’t work. There is no longer any shock value in the words; society has changed. The words may still not be acceptable in church, or business, but their power to cause offense has been greatly reduced.

Yet every rapper and hip-hop artist makes liberal use of certain words, probably because it makes them appear controversial and contemporary, at least in the eyes of the average 13-year-old.

The words we find offensive vary from culture to culture. As a society changes (I would have said evolves, but that implies progression) the words deemed offensive can also change.

In my youth swearing had religious connotations. That is no longer the case in our post-Christian society. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is no longer risqué when no-one believes in God. Our “swearing” now deals with excrement and various sexual acts, especially ones still considered taboo. I suspect that fifty years from now the offensive words will be a completely different set than the ones we have today. But there will be something that can’t be said in polite company, we seem to require that vocal relief.

Canada is a bilingual country, so I have been exposed to French-language profanity also. Much of it still seems to be to be religiously based, despite French Canada (Quebec) being perhaps the most secular area of this post-Christian nation.

Maybe profanity hasn’t evolved as quickly there because the church was so dominant in that society for so long. It is so culturally based – unless you are a French Roman Catholic I don’t think exclaiming “chalice of my tabernacle” (a direct translation of one of the most popular curse phrases) really has much effect.

So what if “orange” was a swear word? The entire hip-hop industry would wither and die. Rap is all about the rhyme, and I have heard some very creative rhymes with English (and French) swear words. But there is no word that rhymes with orange.


Lorne Anderson is an Ottawa-based communications consultant working primarily in music and politics. He can usually be found online at randomthoughtsfromlorne.wordpress.com

July 24, 2015

The Day The Audience for the Music Died

…and they say modern worship is repetitious…

There is no denying that there’s been a slowing down in the production of the Gaither Homecoming video series, aka the Gaither Gospel Series. For the uninitiated, these concert videos — appearing first in 1991 on VHS and later switching to DVD — featured a large cast of singers performing a mix of old hymns and southern gospel standards. A trip down memory lane for people of a certain age, I suppose.

Back in the day, we couldn't resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

Back in the day, we couldn’t resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

The Wikipedia page for the series lists just under 100 titles, though it is in need of update. In its peak years, there were five or six new releases annually, also available as audio product on cassette and later CD.

(In America, the term gospel can mean two different things. The country-inspired, Nashville-flavored sound is usually termed Southern Gospel, while the large choirs historically coming from the African-American Church is often simply called Gospel or Mass Choir music. The Gaithers are the former category.)

The series, promoted through a weekly television show that was in reality an infomercial for the videos, was a major cash cow for the Gaither organization, their distributor, and retailers. Mark Lowry, a stand-up comedian who was also a member of the Gaither Vocal Band once quipped something to the effect that one of the most significant moments in the history of Christian music was the day Bill Gaither bought a camcorder.

But lately, the production of new titles has seen a somewhat sudden decline. There could be a number of reasons for this:

  1. Bill will be 80 in March of 2016, so perhaps he just wants to slow down his own pace and take it easy.
  2. The Christian retail industry is not in good shape generally. Over the years the U.S. base price for the series has dropped from $29.99 to $19.99, but price reductions are not enough to get people to buy.
  3. The faithful already have shelves and shelves of these things. There is such a thing as going to the well once too often. Also, the novelty has worn off.
  4. Many of the key compositions have now been preserved for posterity. This is significant because while some of the hymns and gospel songs exist on YouTube, many of those versions don’t have the feeling that many associate with them.
  5. Some of the target demographic are simply dying off.
  6. Some people who are moving into the target demographic are nostalgic for a different type of church music.
  7. Many of the videos were based on live concerts that are costly to stage and film. Some of the key personnel have done their time and don’t want to hit the road anymore. Last one out be sure to lock the bus.

More recent releases have focused on a new generation of southern gospel artists, such as Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, but even with appearances by people like Michael W. Smith or even Michael Tait, the concept just isn’t transferable to a generation accustomed to picking and choosing the songs they like and then downloading the mp3 or mp4.

Nonetheless, today we pay tribute to the Homecoming videos. They weren’t my personal preference, but there are definitely a key entry in any history of Christian music.

July 17, 2015

Crossover Songs from the Past

In the early days of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artists simply hit the streets with their music, often selling records out of the trunk of a car. As distribution solidified and the concert scene got more sophisticated, Christian solo acts and bands started dreaming of elusive crossover hit; the record that would go viral (though we didn’t have that expression back then) in the secular mainstream.

Often this became an obsession. One speaker at a conference I attended was quick to remind attendees, “If you’re going to crossover, you’ve got to take the cross over.” It was a good lesson and perhaps a bit prophetic, given the number of songs today that could easily pass as boyfriend/girlfriend love songs. When you factor in that the norm today is vertical worship music, it makes the love crush songs seem even more desperate for acceptance.

In the middle of all this however, something more significant was taking place. What I would call reverse crossover songs. To a young Christian, hearing these bands reinforcing their faith would be a huge encouragement. Today I want to highlight three of these songs, and if I get direct messages on Twitter or comments here with other suggestions, we might do more of these again some time. We’ll start with one that was in the link list a few weeks ago.

Given The Osmond Brothers Mormon (LDS) heritage, this song, He’s the Light of the World should come as no surprise. The lyrics have a high percentage of scripture borrowing with some lines you’ll recognize from The Sermon on the Mount.

This next one I was always aware of, but I don’t know if I’d ever listened to it at the time all the way through. (More on that at the end of this article.) This is the Chairmen of the Board, whose biggest hit was Gimme Just a Little More Time. This one is I’m On My Way to a Better Place. The quality isn’t great, but the lyrics are clear. (If anyone wants to send me a better quality mp3 by email, I’ll post it on my own channel.)

The last one we’ve featured here before, but it’s an always timely song. The Chi-Lites There Will Never Be Any Peace was also recorded by Christian band The Imperials.

Finally, the common link in all these is a radio show from that era, called A Joyful Noise with Paul Baker (aka Frank Edmondson). You’ll hear a telescoped version of these and other songs. With this, I have two requests. First, if anyone can tell me where Paul/Frank ended up, I’d appreciate it. Second, I’m trying to get my hands on a similar telescoped music demo of a similar radio show The Rock That Never Rolls with Brother Dale (aka Dale Yancey). I had a reel-to-reel version of it, but now I can’t even find that. I’d love to post that on the Lost Music channel on YouTube, sponsored by the people I work for, Searchlight Books. That show was light years ahead of its time.

May 29, 2015

Your Favorite Praise Song May Not Be For Congregational Use

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

March 16, 2015

The Sound of Keys: Modern Worship Instrumentation

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

If you track the worship sections of church service podcasts, you can’t help but notice a couple of subtle shifts taking place in what instruments are on stage. Some churches are manifesting one of these, others have both:

  1. The influence of Roots music or even Appalachian music, in particular the use of banjos, ukeleles and mandolins and compositions by bands such as All Sons and Daughters, Rend Collective and I Am They.
  2. The re-introduction of more keyboards, not just the use of what is called pads or textures, nor synthesizers which are being used for their digital samples of existing instruments or variants; but rather, the more raw synthesizer sound itself being used to drive the melody or create linear counter melodies or lines between verses.

For this writer, the second situation can’t happen soon enough. After three or four decades of having both Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and modern worship dominated by Nashville — most of the major record and publishing companies are physically based there as well — it’s time to refresh things by changing it up a bit, and allowing the UK or European sound to influence the sound of weekend church services. To date, both CCM and church worship in North America has had Tennessee’s country music looking over its shoulders.

That doesn’t mean the guitarist is done. Watching services this weekend at North Point Community Church as well as the ‘release party’ church service at City Church for Judah Smith’s new book Life Is _____, it was apparent that even though the sound was revised in several songs and very much keyboard-driven, the guitar player is still front and center providing leadership.

Where Christianity meets culture and worship meets the arts, there are always going to be opinions and counter-opinions, but trying new things is not harmful. If anything, keyboard players who were excluded from the team roster now have an extra instrument — a second digital keyboard of synthesizer — which can be included.

The resultant sound is bright, crisp and certainly inspiring.

March 1, 2015

5 Perspectives for Power Point People

While it’s not listed in the New Testament, assisting the worship leader or worship team by being the computer graphics or Power Point person is definitely a gift, if not a spiritual gift. Here are some things on choosing who serves in this area, or if you are that person, the qualities needed:

1. You need to be really comfortable around a computer.

The goal is to minimize distraction and allow people the freedom to enter wholeheartedly into expressing their worship to God. The last thing you want is for the computer to decide to run updates in the middle of the service, and you need to know how to make sure none of that happens, or what to do if something goes wrong.

2. You don’t get to sing along.

Unfortunately, as much as you may love musical worship, you will eventually run into problems if you decide to sing along with the congregation. While playing various instruments with a worship band there are times I get to sing along, but there are also times I need to focus entirely on a particular instrumental part. Sorry, but you need a certain level of detachment or you get distracted.

3. You need to know the songs.

Most worship leaders I’ve worked with have their weekend set(s) established by noon on Thursday at the latest. Make sure you have the list and then give the songs — especially the new(er) ones — a listen on YouTube, playing each one several times.

4. You need to see yourself as part of the worship team.

That means attending relevant practices and being on time for the sound check. As much as you can track each song fully during the rehearsal process, you’re less likely to make errors during the actual service.

5. People need to form the next word before they sing it.

Your changes between slides need to occur slightly before people actually sing, because the brain needs to be able to tell the mouth to shape the words coming next. You can’t wait for the band to move on to that next line, you need to know exactly where they’re going so that you can get there ahead of time.

Again, this is not everyone’s gift. Placing someone in a position of trust here when they don’t have the necessary aptitude results in a messy slide presentation. I believe God wants excellence in worship. Band practices and rehearsals are a great opportunity for interested volunteers to see if this is a good fit. Otherwise, perhaps there are other areas of service for which they are more suited.

Bonus item:

6. People who do a great job with the worship slides might not do a great job with the sermon slides.

And vice-versa. Furthermore, in most churches the pastor’s sermon notes are often prepared in a different program than the program that runs the worship lyrics. They may even originate from different computers. The person doing the sermon notes need to focus on the sermon and intuit where the pastor is going next, even if the preacher stays somewhat close to a fixed manuscript. At this point in the service, a change in personnel may be the best way to avoid errors. This means your weekly schedule may mean you’ve got two different people working each service. But don’t change people in the case of multiple services; any issues arising in the first service — i.e. worship leaders spontaneously adds an extra chorus — are better resolved in the second service.

Writing about people needing time to form the lyrics reminded me of this video, where guitarists can see the chord that’s coming next.

January 10, 2015

Remembering Andraé Crouch

So I thank God for the mountains
And I thank him for the valleys
And I thank him for the storms he’s brought me through
‘Cause if I never had a problem
I ‘d never know that God could solve ’em
I wouldn’t know what faith in God can do.

I owe so much of who I am today to Contemporary Christian Music in general, and Andraé Crouch in particular. His passing this week leaves a huge gap in the music world, even if he had not recorded and toured so much in the last decade.

He had influence. His music was around at the birth of CCM and also prefigured today’s modern worship. That’s why you’re seeing such an outpouring on Twitter.

He was known both inside and outside the church at large, winning seven Grammy awards. The list of television and movie credits would be very, very long.

He mentored many Christian artists. I remember one telling me a long time ago how he sat down with Andraé and showed him a song that he’d composed. Andraé liked the song enough, but told him he had too many strong elements in it, that really he had three distinct songs and should take the time to run with each element separately.

Andrae CrouchHe loved his sister. Because he and Sandra were twins, he never told anyone his age, since that would have revealed her age, too; and women don’t like that!

His songs are in your hymnbook, if your church still uses them. Songs like The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, My Tribute (To God Be the Glory) and Soon and Very Soon. And if your church hasn’t purged all the old choir anthems from that room at the back, I’ll bet you’ll find his name on a more than a few songs like Through It All and Bless His Holy Name.

He overcame stuttering through singing. He had great difficulty getting a sentence out in his younger days, but once he sat down at the piano, the words flowed.

His music transcended racial boundaries. The 1970s saw Andraé at Christian music festivals belting out youth anthems like Jesus is the Answer, with white kids singing at the top of their lungs. His band, The Disciples, was mixed race.

He wasn’t perfect. He found himself in a bad place in the early 1980s, but ten years later he was pastoring the COGIC church founded by his father.

He was planning a tour for this month. He wanted to keep going.

His music made you smile. Bob Darden wrote in CT, that he “combined Saturday night with Sunday morning.”

Bye for now, Andraé. Looking forward to that day when all of us will jam again at the great big gig in the sky.


 

Vintage video of the band at Explo 72, the event that put the Jesus People on the map:

Audio-only of Andraé ‘doin’ church’ with Jesus is the Answer. For a few hours, at his concerts, everybody was Pentecostal:

The greats of Contemporary Christian Music — each one a star in their own right — comes together to sing backup on My Tribute (To God Be The Glory):

The way I first heard his music: The crackle and pop of vinyl records. The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power:

This last one is a Gaither video, he’s singing with Jessy Dixon. Soon and Very Soon We are Going to See the King. A reality for Andraé today:


  Related at Relevant: 7 Pop Hits You Didn’t Know Andraé Crouch Helped Create

Great Minds Think Alike: Long after I formatted this, I found a similar tribute at New Small Church.

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