Thinking Out Loud

July 14, 2017

Having Fun With Common Meter

We’ve run this one by you twice already, but I still think you can enjoy this or do things like it, unless of course you’re a follower of Bob Kauflin, the Reformed worship guru who says you don’t mess with the original composition. That’s okay, Bob. You do it your way.

Cornerstone by Hillsong incorporates the lyrics of the old hymn, My Hope is Built, and then adds a chorus, “Cornerstone, Christ alone; weak made strong in the Savior’s love…”

My Hope is Built is based on a rhythmic structure called Long Meter or simply L.M. for short. If you grew up with hymnbooks, you know there was a metrical index in the back and it’s there for a reason. Well, actually it was there mostly for the amusement of musicians since most churches never did switch up tunes or lyrics. But some did, especially on Sunday nights, which wasn’t always taken as seriously as Sunday morning. L.M. is also 8.8.8.8. which means any song with that same meter will work, though I’ve suggested a few that use C.M. or Common Meter which is 8.6.8.6. (though I’ve added words in some cases or you have to stretch in others).

For what it’s worth, I like Cornerstone just the way it is; and I would suggest retaining the first verse as it connects well with the theme. So you would probably only want to choose no more than a couple of these, but I’d strongly recommending the idea of ending with the last one here.

Alternatives

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great redeemer’s matchless praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of His love and grace

He breaks the power of canceled sin
The prisoners are each one set free
His blood can make the worst ones clean
His blood poured out for you and me

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
But for the death of Christ my God
All earthly things I hold so dear
I sacrifice them to His blood.

O God our help in ages past
Our hope for many years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
Our strength and our eternal home

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved someone like you and me
We once were lost but now we’re found
We once were blind but now we see

No condemnation now I dread*
Jesus, and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him, my living head
And clothed in righteousness divine

People and realms of every tongue**
Dwell on His love with sweetest song
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their earthly blessings on His name

Faith of our Fathers, living still
In spite of prison, fire and sword
O, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that great word.

Praise God from Whom all blessing flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
And up above you heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

* All the verse from And Can It Be? work well here.

**I really like Jesus Shall Reign here, I just selected a single verse. Cornerstone is a song of declaration, some of these verses turn the song into an anthem of praise, with Christ as the Cornerstone. You might want to do your own research and find other L.M. songs that work. And yes, the title of this blog post is technically wrong, but I like it better than “Having Fun With Long Meter.” And if you’re British, Australian or Canadian, just change “meter” to “metre” the way the word was intended!

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

April 16, 2017

Passion Week Songs (8) – He is Risen / Happy Day

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 pm

We end our series of extra posts this week with two songs that celebrate the risen Christ. First, Paul Baloche and then Tim Hughes.

 

 

April 7, 2017

Ten Biggest Mistakes Made by Church Sound Technicians

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:51 am

Another lifetime ago, I worked extensively with both live auditorium sound and mixing in a recording studio or television studio environment. I wrote articles to try to make that world a better place, and there’s one — this one — that I always wanted to repeat here but couldn’t find the original copy. Today that changes. These aren’t written for the sound tech guy who is employed full time in a megachurch and oversees dozens of volunteers. Rather, this is for the guy in the small to medium church who does this on weekends and has to endure the “neck crane” stares of parishioners when something goes wrong.

Mistake #1: Failing to set the monitor level first.

If the platform or stage monitors are working at all, they can be heard from the console with the main speakers turned off. While musicians and speakers will ask for these be more finely adjusted, they can be set to a respectable level and the entire system tested through the monitors before the main speakers are brought into play. A two-person team is a better minimum crew, but you can get more done from the back than you realize.

Mistake #2: Failing to use ‘middle balance’ on equipment.

Microphone and media inputs need to be calibrated with the main output level so that equipment is operating best in the middle of the range available. Levels for multiple singers should be “matched” through proper attenuation even before the monitors and main speakers are turned on. If the whole system is running too hot, levels may appear to be low. Sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond the sound board and reconsider the main amplifiers levels, which are often at the level when the system was installed. If the system is too cool, individual channels have to be turned up higher. Professional operators like to keep things around “7” (not “5”) for better fade-ins and fade-outs.

Mistake #3: Channel clipping

This was often heard back in the days soloists would sing with soundtracks. The song would have a wonderful, professionally-produced sustained chord at the end, and the soloist would replace her microphone on the stand and the pastor would get up, and the sound person, in a total panic, would just cut the track. Not even a fade. Of course sometimes, you’d get the opposite, the person whose turn was next would feel they couldn’t move until the track played out and they’d stand there like a deer caught in the headlights. The point is that channel clipping still happens, especially with increased use of video clips.

Mistake #4: Misreading the house

This error falls into one of two categories: Either the sound person is placed in a part of the auditorium that doesn’t represent the acoustics the average audience member is experiencing; or the sound levels were set in an empty room and a now full house is simply absorbing a measurable portion of the sound. (In northern states and Canadian provinces, this actually increases if people bring winter coats to their seats.)

Mistake #5: Mixing by fader only

Anyone can turn up the volume. To do the job well, one has to listen to the tonal balance and set equalization positions on each individual channel. This is where a philosophy degree is helpful. For example, let’s say the soprano singer’s voice borders on shrill. Do you try to suppress that, or do you allow the tonal filters to let through what the music director must have liked when he auditioned her? You can’t just turn down her high end so she sounds like an alto. Some people were taught you don’t touch the EQ on the channels once the program begins. I disagree. Can’t hear the words? Try turning up the high end to enhance to consonants and make word-definition clearer. Use the mid-range to bring out the vowels. Turn up the bass to add richness and rhythm. Don’t make major changes in the middle of a song or sermon, but feel free to make small adjustments. Just make sure your speakers are handling this without distortion — especially with bass — and make sure fader levels are brought down when tonal filters are opened up. Also, have the overall EQ of the room checked every 3-4 months using whichever method you prefer, a white noise generator or a spectrum analyzer.

Mistake #6: Not explaining equipment to users.

Even a well-seasoned audio guy needs to be told as if he’s never seen the equipment before. When it comes to platform participants, this doubly applies.  It’s also good to go over basic care of the board and microphones, and reminding soloists not to point mics toward monitors, cup hands over mics, and not leaving mics on the floor. Do your mics have switches? Make sure they remember this. Does the pastor need to switch on his cordless mic? This often saves batteries, but so many times speakers are intent about their sermon content and forget this important step.

Mistake #7: Playing the wrong media.

Anything that needs to be inserted into a machine during the course of the program needs to be well labelled. Back in the day, tape machines had a zero-reset that could be used to cue things to the start point and avoid “dead air.” Digital media solves many of these problems, but introduces new ones. If the video isn’t going to be used until 24:00 into the service, the machine may shut down after 20:00. Furthermore, some media requires greatly different EQ-ing and balancing than other line inputs. The more video you have, unless you have a discrete channel and playback source for each, many things can mess up. I would argue you can’t do video clips in the modern church without an audio production assistant.

Mistake #8: Not balancing between singers and accompaniment.

We’re in the communication business. People need to hear what is being said, both through spoken word and through music. So you need to decide: Is the singer too quiet or is the band too loud? This is complicated often by the age and musical taste of the person doing the mix. Different generations have different ideas about what sounds right. Also, the modern church will often post the words on the screen, even for a solo. That doesn’t preclude getting the mix right.

Mistake #9: Failing to bring out the melody.

This combines with the mistake above especially if there is more than one singer. The melody (the tune if you prefer) must dominate over the harmony. In a higher class of music, sometimes the melody is passed from the soprano to the the tenor. You may need more detailed cue sheets for this type of song. Or better yet, have a musician sitting next to you at the console providing visual cues. Or best, attend a rehearsal.

Mistake #10: Not paying attention.

Details, details, details! (Some would say, Coffee, coffee, coffee!) You need to be on top of your game making sure channels are opened at the right time (and also closed when they’re not needed) and to do this you need be eying the platform like a hawk. If there’s a cue you need to see and you can’t because of lighting or distance, I wouldn’t eliminate having a pair of binoculars at the console.

…Years and years later, I was amazed that these ten rules still apply. True, I took out references to tapes, but overall the problems and challenges remain consistent. I also had an additional bonus ten, but surprisingly they didn’t apply. (The piece about misuse of Dolby was fun to read; and it did remove a lot of crispness from many singers’ soundtracks.)  There were however two things in that list I felt worth mentioning:

Concern #1: Keep sound consistent from week to week.

The only way to ensure this is with a decibel meter. Decide what your peak levels are going to be for music — you also don’t want it really quiet one week either — as well as the sermon. With sermons, there is a level at which the preacher is shouting and people don’t absorb what’s being said. Equally problematic however, is when the audience is straining to get the words because the level is too low. Don’t forget item #5 above as well with speakers. The high end (treble) will bring out the consonants and make the words clearer.

Concern #2: Don’t violate copyrights.

With every media source (video clips, etc.) ask, “Did we buy this?” Or, “Are we authorized to show this?” This applies with everything from short 2-minute illustrations to church movie nights. (No, you can’t always simply go to the Christian bookstore and buy the movie the day before and show it the next night.)

Concern #3: Keep the beast on a leash: The wonderful world of MIDI

Increasingly, the many pieces of your tech puzzle can interact with each other. The cardinal rule that applies here is: Everything you can control you must control.

Remember, the original document was written nearly 25 years ago. I’d love to hear from those of you who do this either as a volunteer in your church or professionally.

December 31, 2016

More from the Church Curmudgeon

I thought we’d end the year the way we did in 2013 with some 4th-Quarter highlights from everyone’s favorite (well, 93,000 people anyway*) anon account on Twitter,  Church Curmudgeon:

Church Curmudgeon

 

  • Between Pentecostal and Baptist worship styles, I prefer Baptist, hands down.
  • If the complementarians are right, Santa’s wife is a subordinate Claus.
  • The youth pastor just got back from 40 days in the wilderness.
    By “days,” I mean minutes. By “wilderness,” not looking at his phone.
  • Pastor’s on a prayer retreat this week. The secretary has been telling everyone, “He went to be with the Lord Monday.”
  • Asked the worship leader if he knew any hymns more than 20 years old.
    He started singing, “If you like to talk to tomatoes…”
  • Our auctioneer, Mr. Long, perused the last known flannel-graph showing the cosmic effects of the fall as he ascertained its value. Long weighed the world, in sin and error pining, till he appraised what the sole felt was worth.
  • Why did the worship leader cross the river alone?
    He was the only one who knew the bridge.
  • You can make anything sound grave and important by adding the phrase, “for such a time as this.”
  • Looking back, Linus must have converted from pagan pumpkin worship after Halloween, and began spreading the gospel by Christmas.
  • The worship leader was complaining about how our church hates change.
    To help him understand, we changed worship leaders. 
  • The difference between the Holy Spirit and the church wifi is that everybody screams if the wifi is gone.
  • Our pastor is now nearing his lifelong goal of alliterating his sermon points twice through the alphabet in one year.
  • What do you call it when someone gets saved just before the end of a Baptist’s sermon?
    A two-point conversion.
  • Our church is split between antinomians and legalists. Today’s closing song was “Trust or Obey.”
  • My Monday’s built on nothing less
    Than coffee pouring from the press
  • Made a Liszt.
    Went Chopin.
    Be Bach soon.
    Hope you can Handel it.
  • At the beginning of the year, pastor set a goal of funding one new church plant. If the Christmas tree counts, we did it.
  • There was an ascetic named Arius
    Whose view of the Son was precarious.
    They met at Nicea
    To mull this idea
    duly pronounced it nefarious.
  • Every head was bowed, and every eye was closed, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see you at the prayer meeting.

* And now 41,000 on Facebook, too.

December 11, 2016

When Down is Up: There is No Higher Calling Than to Kneel at His Feet

Over the course of the seven years I’ve been doing Christianity 201, we’ve often included a worship song which ties in to a particular devotional. Often, after much time has passed, I’ll notice that search engines are sending considerable traffic to particular items there, and the comments often indicate it’s because of the song.

That’s the case here. I originally knew the song connected to Lenny LeBlanc, but didn’t know it had been recorded by Maranatha! Music.

The actual title is “No Higher Calling,” but you may remember it as “Down At Your Feet, Oh Lord.”

Down at Your feet oh Lord
Is the most high place
In Your presence Lord
I seek Your face
I seek Your face

There is no higher calling
No greater honor
Than to bow and kneel before Your throne

I’m amazed at Your glory
Embraced by Your mercy
Oh Lord I live to worship You

Greg Gulley & Lenny LeBlanc
© 1989, 1999 Doulos Publishing (Maranatha! Music [Admin. by Music Services])

The video version here is a little more “polished” than I remember this song; I appreciate worship that is a little more “raw” than this. But it’s a great song worthy of some updated exposure.

“I’m amazed at your glory; embraced by your mercy…”

Do you have a worship song which especially resonates with you? One that was especially meaningful at a particular season of your life? A song that you just haven’t heard in a long, long time and it suddenly turns up on a playlist?

►►Bonus video: Here’s another version of No Higher Calling.

November 28, 2016

Music Musings (2) The Worship Agenda

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:28 am

Recently I read somewhere that the present worship agenda for many of our churches is being set by three large churches which have produced three worship music families: Bethel Worship, Jesus Culture and Hillsong. While the word agenda may imply something rather sinister, the point is that compositions from these groups currently dominate the music used in churches which have adopted a modern worship format.

hymnboardI was thinking about that this weekend as I processed a service we were attending and also seeing it comparison to a more liturgical Reformed service we had attended the week before and the thought occurred to me that these newer songs are just plain long. They were birthed in environments were the term soaking music is broadly understood and in environments where songwriters simply adopt the dominant style they are experiencing.

I’m not going to place emphasis on the length of the songs in and of itself but I want to simply point out that in the half hour we set aside for that worship time, we might have sung about ten hymns, or even about ten worship songs of an older vintage.

However, if we went with the hymns, and each one had only three verses, that might we would have sung about thirty verses and what a different thirty verses they would have been; each rich in deep theology and scripture, and each both proclaiming/declaring truth and also teaching and reminding ourselves of these truths.

I like modern worship. But I crave something deeper, more profound.


For yesterday’s Music Musing, click here.

Want an outside-the-box fresh alternative for your church? I’m not a part of the doctrinal tribe from which it originates, but consider the material Sovereign Grace Music is producing.

September 12, 2016

Selah

guitar-solo

The Saturday Ramblings column at Internet Monk always proves interesting. It’s basically like our (occasional) Weekend Link List, but they tend to feature different types of stories.

Like everyone else, they’ve been captivated by what Adam Ford is doing at Christian fake news site, The Babylon Bee; and recently featured the item below, which sparked me to get creative. First, the article:

Ancient Documents Confirm ‘Selah’ Best Translated ‘Extended Guitar Solo’

ISRAEL—Ancient documents uncovered by archaeologists working in the West Bank confirmed Friday that the disputed term “selah” present throughout the Psalms and Habakkuk is actually best translated “extended guitar solo.”

While many scholars had previously believed the Hebrew word referred to either a period of quiet reflection, a musical pause, or a time of heightened musical crescendo, the recent discovery of scrolls in remarkable shape lend overwhelming evidence to the theory that the term actually instructed Hebrew worship bands to shred across all six-strings in a blistering, melodic guitar solo.

“This is an astounding find—it really can’t be overstated,” biblical archaeologist Dr. Thomas Earl told reporters excitedly. “While we knew that Old Testament worshipers often incorporated instruments into their singing of the Psalms, we had no idea that biblical worship was often accompanied by a gratuitous, performance-oriented electric guitar solo.”

Other experts in Old Testament language studies have confirmed that scribbled on the back of one of the newly discovered scrolls was a piece of tablature notating a rudimentary version of famed guitarist Slash’s soulful solo from hit single “November Rain.”

“While many Christians have cautioned against excessive use of showmanship and flashy musical performances in our times of worship, well—it seems like the Scripture now confirms it’s okay to wail, if the Spirit so moves,” Dr. Earl continued.

This prompted me to leave prose behind with this free verse concoction:

The lyric screen goes blank.
The guitar solo begins.
We stand there.
And stand there.
We have heard this solo before.
It’s a copy of the one on the album.
We take a deep breath to sing the next line.
Nope.
Too soon.
He’s going for another eight bars.
An older woman sits down.
A small child follows.
They’re dropping like flies.
The computer guy puts the next verse up in anticipation.
I’ve lost the worship vibe completely.
Now I just want the song to end.
This isn’t right.

Guitars in Church

 

August 4, 2016

C201 Songs

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:53 am

In the sidebar at Christianity 201, there are a number of worship songs linked with devotional articles we’ve done there. Many of these would be recognizable to those of you who feature modern worship in your church or listen to Christian radio, but I thought today we would include some which are a good fit here at Thinking Out Loud which may be know to some of you, but not others.






July 30, 2016

Self-Centered Worship Leading

A few years back I was sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella. I was looking forward to this.

He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a little bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.

leading acapella in churchDoing this correctly is a worship-leading technique that is basic. I would have thought everybody knows this.

I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.

(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting, which is also visually more worshipful.)

Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”

Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is to know when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.

In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to set the microphone aside and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.

That didn’t happen. It’s why it didn’t happen that concerns me. It betrays an ego so incredibly large that it affects the quality of the ministry taking place. It’s an obstruction a time in a worship service where you want to minimize distractions. Granted, I suppose you need a bit of ego to want to be on the stage, or want to write the book, or want to go on Christian television. Introverts don’t gravitate to those positions.

However, let me go on record as saying that introverts probably make the best worship leaders. Choosing a worship staff member for your church? Pick the person who exhibits the greatest humility.

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