Thinking Out Loud

August 23, 2010

Stuart Townend – British Worship Leader & Songwriter

He co-wrote In Christ Alone with Keith and Kristen Getty.

Beyond that, Stuart Townend is perhaps better known in Canada where, despite its 5/4 time signature, How Deep The Father’s Love For Us is currently the 15th most used worship selection according to Christian Copyright Licensing (CCLI).   All the more so in England, where Christ Alone ranks first, and How Deep ranks third.

For my mostly U.S. blog readership, if you have some familiarity with the worship scene in the U.K., you could fairly draw a comparisons between Stuart and Graham Kendrick, though many Americans would still be at a loss since, other than Shine Jesus Shine, very little of Graham’s music has made it stateside, either.

Which is really too bad.  This is worship with a richness and depth that commands your heart’s attention and doesn’t let you walk away without knowing what type of music you’ve experienced.

What we have instead in North America is a worship agenda very much driven by Christian music execs in Nashville, and wannabe bands who think they have to fit a certain mold in order to achieve success.  (Yeah, worship and success in the same sentence; go figure.)  We need to distance ourselves from that sometimes, even if takes several thousand miles of ocean to do the distancing.

Churches in the U.K. don’t bow the knee to Nashville so much.   So we find a number of writers in Great Britain producing something just a little mellower that thereby satisfies the needs of more seasoned church members who want something new and fresh (see Isaiah 42:10) but still like a good melodic tune with a form that doesn’t contain too many melodic exceptions.   (That’s my term for various bridges, codas, irregular rhythms, or other variations on the musical form.  My belief is that the people can deal with only one exception per song.) (More on the contrast between UK and US worship in this post.)

What I’m trying to say here is, American Christians, you need someone like Stuart Townend.   Someone who can blow in like a breath of fresh air into the present worship scene as a reminder that things don’t always have to look a certain way in order to provide worship connection to our creator God.

And now you have that opportunity.

Under pressure from people like me — they call it whining actually — Kingsway Music U.S. has not only released Stuart’s full length album, There Is a Hope, but has included the full DVD recording as a bonus.  (There’s even more to the story, they’ve also opened up a full North American branch of Kingsway Music to broaden the music pipeline between the U.K. and North America.)

For my Canadian readers, if you enjoy the music of Robin Mark or you enjoyed the Today DVD by Brian Doerksen, you will want to add this CD/DVD to your worship collection.

What you’ll find is a live recording of 14 of Stuart Townend’s songs from a concert in Ireland; though strangely, it’s more like a collection of individual video cuts as there is no spoken patter anywhere.   The emphasis is on the songs themselves, and the atmosphere is worshipful to the point there is often no applause as a song concludes.

But this isn’t just a laid-back worship collection you buy for your grandmother.   The band contains some tight performances by players who handle a variety of instruments including valve trombone, flugel horn, Uillean pipes, violin, and the usual rhythm instruments and backup singers.   (Steve Hindalong’s name appears in the credits, though I didn’t spy him on the video.)   There are also guest vocal appearances by Kelly Minter and Aaron Keyes.

I first heard of this album, and started pressing for a release of the DVD here, through this song, Behold the Lamb (Communion Song).     (Again, for my Canadian readers, very reminiscent of Robin Mark’s The Wonder of Your Cross.)   You can never have enough cross-centered worship songs.   I’ve also embedded the opening song from the DVD, Across the Lands at my devotional blog, Christianity 201.

I can’t recommend this enough.  Find a Christian bookstore and purchase a physical copy (not a download) of the whole album, so that you get the whole DVD as well.  Then turn off the mobile phone and the computer, take the other phone off the hook, and enjoy an hour of worship in your own home like no other you’ve had before.

May 22, 2009

Paul Baloche: A Blend of Worship, Testimony and Humor

If you attended a Christian music concert in Toronto anytime in the 1980’s, I was there.   The reasons were often quite varied:

  • attending to a display of Christian music by other artists  (many times)
  • being the master of ceremonies (at least half a dozen)
  • working with the concert promoter (about a dozen)
  • being the opening act (twice that I can remember)
  • doing sound (once)
  • escorting and assisting a video crew from a local TV station (twice)
  • being part of the counseling team (once or twice)
  • playing keyboard with one of the bands (twice)
  • actually being the concert promoter (once, and only once!)

But when we moved out to the boonies, a lot of concert connection — including the free admission and going out for pizza with the artist after the concert — abruptly ended.   (Although personally, I think my wife once saved a Brian Duncan concert in a nearby town when she had the necessary cough candies in her purse.)

Then the kids came, and nobody wanted to be our regular babysitter, so we just gave up on the ‘date night’ concept and stayed home.   For about twenty years.

Until Wednesday.   Given that one of them is starting university in the fall, we don’t need a babysitter anymore, so I realized we were running out of excuses.   So for her birthday, Mrs. W. got, among other things, tickets for us to go to a “worship concert”  — the woman who took our tickets told us to “enjoy the show” — with songwriter and worship leader Paul Baloche.

Joel AugeListening to open act Joel Augé, who apparently is also known for inventing some game that is part of Facebook, I got this strange feeling — not a deja vu, exactly — that I was doing something I had done in another lifetime, only now the sound and lighting were better.   Although he’s a worship leader at The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement, for this night Joel did a short but excellent peformance set including a killer version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”

The remaining 2 1/2 hours — less an intermission and the now obligatory presentation for Compassion, which didn’t exist back in the day — belonged to Paul Baloche.   If you’re still scratching your head wondering what songs he has contributed to the worship genre, check out a post I wrote here several months ago about a rather obscure French worship album that Paul released which lists a few, or a most recent post here about the Compassionart project, to which Paul was a contributor, or just hang on for a few paragraphs.    (The host church, in their newsletter, actually counted the songs their worship team does which Paul authored, and there are twenty-one of them!)

Although some of us were expecting a worship event, and not a concert, while others were expecting a concert and not a worship event, Paul’s treatment of the evening was certainly commendable.    Starting out conversationally, he sought to get to know. and thereby connect with, his audience.  I’ve read more than a few blog posts recently where the opinion is expressed that some worship sets fail because the element of connection between worship leader and congregation is missing.

Admittedly in the middle of a tour that had left some of the band a bit punchy, he later defined what he was doing as trying to blend the worship into the everyday; something about which he believes strongly.   My wife put it this way, “I liked that he didn’t take everything seriously, but he knew what to take seriously.”

Then there were the many, many personal moments in the concert, including introducing people he recognized in the audience, and telling a bit of their story, which a few times intersected with his own.

And then there were the many, many lighter moments.   If you’ve seen the Compassionart DVD, you know that Paul takes life a little less seriously than most.    Around the middle of the evening, I wondered if that would prove a distraction to worship purists, but really, that’s who he is, and it is out of all that his worship songs quite naturally flow.   Throughout the evening he was able to move from rather silly moments to serious worship, and the audience was willing to make the transitions.

The worship songs were strong; actually it was a kind of worship “greatest hits” evening, to the point where the projected lyrics were redundant.   Paul likes to start songs with just the band, but a few times the audience jumped right in.  Although not all these songs were performed that night, consider this is the guy who wrote or cowrote:

  • Paul BalocheA New Hallelujah
  • Above All
  • All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises
  • Arise
  • Because of Your Love
  • I Love to Be In Your Presence
  • Offering
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart
  • Our God Reigns
  • Praise Adonai
  • Revival Fire Fall
  • Today is the Day
  • What Can I Do?
  • You Gave Your Life Away
  • Your Name
  • and the various Compassionart songs
  • and another 120+ worship songs

~source CCLI

I wished that Baloche had done one of the songs from the French album, although Belleville, Ontario, while it’s part of Canada, isn’t exactly a French part of the country.   I also wished that a couple of the songs from Compassionart had been part of the concert, especially with all the airplay they are currently getting, not to mention the natural lead-in they would have been to the Compassion appeal before the intermission.   But with over two hours already accounted for, these aren’t major concerns.

My biggest take-away from the evening is that when you subtract the stories and testimony and some of the lighter moments, just about 100% of what was shared was from the Bible.   If you want to make your mark as a worship leader, begin in the Word.

Given my strong suspicion that no two Paul Baloche events are the same, I would definitely buy a ticket for another concert, now that I’m a Christian concertgoer once again.

Wanna read more about worship?  Check out this post from Ben Cotten at LiveAwake blog. (HT Jeff McQ at Losing My Religion.)


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