Worship style

Wow, that topic could spur a blog or two.

I thought this would be a microblog, but ended up being a little longer than I planned. These are just a few quick thoughts I had after seeing a picture of a friend leading worship, and on the screen behind them were the lyrics to a hymn. So, I thought, "Oh, they're more spiritual because they're doing a hymn. Obviously the deeper theology in the hymns means their worship is better."

Then I stopped to think. What would I say if the words were the newest contemporary hit? "Oh, they're on the cutting edge of playing all the new songs that God wants to hear."

So I thought through my experience of leading worship, and all the times either I had to define my style, or someone tried to define my style for me. I've been leading worship in some capacity (either as leader or band member) for at LEAST once a week for the last 15 years or so. Sometimes several times a day. That's alot. When I'm forced to do hymns, I don't want to do them, and when I'm forced to be "cool" and "cutting edge," I prefer the standards.

My problem does not lie with either style. God doesn't care about that stuff.

What God does care about is WHY we do what we do. If a contemporary song fits the emotional state of the culture of a church, then why not just throw your vulnerable hearts onto the altar and sing with all your might? If a hymn is going to strengthen the theology of a group by reminding us how big our God is, and that our words aren't always sufficient, and some other great writers have already expressed what our vernacular could never put on paper, then sing a hymn!

Just don't do hymns to please the hymn lovers. Don't do hymns to remind them of their childhood. Don't do hymns because it's the trendy super-spiritual thing to do. Don't do contemporary because that's what keeps people coming to church. Don't do contemporary because it's what the next church is doing. Don't do contemporary because it's what the cool kids like. Do songs that honor, glorify, and lift up the powerful name of Jesus. Sing them together. Sing them well. Don't distract from what the Spirit is doing by making more of the song than of the One to whom it is sung.

Musicians ... there IS a difference between your Saturday night gig and worship Sunday morning. Let your playing, your stage presence, and your attitude reflect that.


Adventures in Homeownership

I haven't blogged in a while, but I feel compelled to share the last few weeks' activities. It's exhausting, so take a deep breath and stretch a little before we continue .... Ok.

Two weeks ago, I had VBS all week at the church. Enough said about that. It was exactly as tiring as it sounds. That was all followed by the typical Saturday night gig and Sunday morning churchin'.

Monday and Tuesday of last week were full day rehearsals with the John Sherrill Band. You see, we are recording a live CD next week and need to learn the songs. So, Monday was in the Woodlands, and Tuesday I was up early and drove to Huntsville. Wednesday our plans fell through and I ended up staying home with Bella instead of rehearsing in Huntsville. That part of the story comes into play later. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I had a rehearsal and gig, respectively, in Conroe at the Ark Church.

Thursday morning, the next day, the alarm went off at 3:45am and I was up and on my way to the airport to fly to Omaha, Nebraska, where I would rent a car and drive to Lincoln. I was playing piano for a theater performance by some high schoolers from Houston. They kept advancing to state and national levels, so I got to join them as they performed for 3000 or more people. After the show on Friday, I headed back to the airport in Omaha to catch the 4:45 flight to Denver, then one to Houston. As they were about to board, they announced something about a little plastic exit sign cover that was missing, which they can't fly without. Apparently this is a rare piece of equipment that no other plane anywhere near ours had to spare, so they cancelled our flight.

I joined the stampede back to the ticket counter and waited patiently for 2 hours as everyone in front of me was rebooked on the 7:45pm flight -- everyone until me. They offered to rebook me on a direct flight on Saturday morning, arriving home at 8:30am. Any later and I would've had to fly to Austin, where I had a 4pm wedding to get to. After 45 minutes waiting for the ticket counter lady to finish making my arrangements, I was all set with a hotel voucher and caught the Double Tree shuttle. It was a nice hotel, I just wish I could've slept maybe twice as long. Up again at 4:30 to catch the shuttle back to the airport.

After the short flight to Houston, I made it to my house in time to have breakfast with my wife and daughter, then change clothes and head to Austin for my 1:30pm call time. Everything was great, the wedding turned out nice, and I was back on the road a little after 5. Sunday morning came way too soon, and then the real fun began.

After church we went to grab some lunch at Smashburger, which was awesome. I took the girls home and was about to head to the Heights to grab my music gear from Seth's house (he had taken it home since I missed the last day of rehearsals in Huntsville 4 days earlier). I noticed that there was a little bit of water underneath our water heater. Awesome. Couldn't have happened at a better time. That was sarcasm, although there maybe could've been some worse times.

I left to get my gear, trying to solve the water heater problem, when I remembered we may still have home warranty. I checked the date of when we bought our house, and turns out we still had 3 days on our warranty! So, instead of having to buy and install a new water heater, I turned off the gas and water lines, and called them to set up an appointment. The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of getting bills paid and other things done before I left Sunday night for a camp with the Jimmy Needham band.

Bethany dropped me off at Jimmy's house at 9pm Sunday night, an hour late because of all the mess I had to deal with Sunday afternoon. We got the new trailer loaded and headed off to Florida. I had just gotten to sleep around midnight when Chasen, our drummer who was driving, said something about a tire sparking and pulled into a gas station. I really just wanted to sleep through whatever this was, but the smell of burning rubber and metal got me up. One of the trailer tires was not in good shape. There was grease all over the tire, and we could see that the axle was not even lined up with the tire. What do you do at 12:30am in Beaumont, TX, when your trailer is busted?

This is where God's provision came in pretty clearly. As we sat in the gas station parking lot, there were some guys washing the ground. After talking with them a little bit, they said there was a place about a block away that fixed trailers. So, our plan was going to be to rent a Uhaul in the morning, take our trailer to get fixed (and leave it all week if we needed to), and head to Florida on Monday, arriving a day late.

I checked the iPhone map and it turned out we had stopped at an exit that included several hotels, a Uhaul, and this trailer service shop. So, we didn't have to do much more than U-turn under I-10 to find a hotel for the night.

We went ahead and got a Uhaul trailer at 7am Monday, and loaded our stuff into it before taking our trailer to the service shop. Once we got our trailer there, they pulled it around and jacked it up. At that time the guy reached over and just pulled the tire straight off without loosening any lug nuts. He said it was very lucky we even made it there. Tell us about it.

He said it'd take an hour to fix, so we hit Waffle House. After it was fixed, we obviously didn't need the Uhaul, so we retransferred all our gear and took the Uhaul back. They refunded the 1-way rate, and we ended up only paying the in-town rate, since we didn't go anywhere. We got our trailer hitched back up, and not ONE SECOND after we got it hooked on, it started POURING rain. It was so strange. So, we drove to Florida Monday, drenched in sweat and rain. We arrived at 10:45pm, and got set up, soundchecked at 12:15am, and were up ready to play at 9am Tuesday morning.

So by now I'd found out that our water heater needed to be replaced, so I rejoiced because we were getting a new water heater. But what they don't mention is the amount of time it would take to get a new one. I called the warranty company and plumbers every day asking when it would all happen. FINALLY on Friday, after my third attempt, I finally convinced someone that I was not happy that my wife and toddler were at home all week with no hot water. The representative called the plumber, who said they could replace it on Tuesday the 6th, but she convinced them to do it sooner, which means TODAY -- between 9-5. I might have them look at a leaky faucet I noticed this morning, too.

After playing for the Friday morning service at camp, we loaded up and headed to just outside Mobile, AL, where we set up and played a show at 8:30. It was a great show, 15,000 people showed up, and there were fireworks and an 80 year old skydiver. Afterwards, we tore down, and headed back to Houston. I finally made it home at 8:30 this morning, with nominal sleep.

Today, I am sitting here watching new countertops be installed (after them losing our measurements, cracking our first slab, mis-quoting a price on our next slab, and having to wait for me to be in town to install), waiting for the plumber to call and come replace the water heater, oh, and our AT&T Uverse stopped working this morning, too. So AT&T will be here sometime between 9am-11:36pm. Not really, but I have no idea when anything is happening today.

Tomorrow I leave again for one more week of camp with John Sherrill, then off to Wisconsin for a show on Saturday night with Jimmy Needham. Hoping the house stays together till then (and after then, too).



I'm sitting here listening to a piece I orchestrated and recorded yesterday. You'll be able to hear it soon over there to the right on my Reverb Nation player. It's not quite finished yet. It's nothing new. I remember writing it when I was maybe 14 or so. At that time, in Las Vegas, there was this local New Age composer named Giovanni, and he had a weekly show on PBS or something. They would play his music with really cheesy green screen videos. He'd be playing a clear piano with color swirls happening all around him -- like old Windows screen savers.

At the time, I was really into New Age music. Well, that sounds funny. New Age is such a broad musical term. I was into instrumental music, mostly based around the piano. Personally, I think of them as modern compositions with a pop music bias-- in that they have sort of a pop structure with no vocals. There are "hooks" and repeating "choruses." I was mostly into Giovanni and John Tesh at the time, but eventually discovered Jim Brickman, and then stopped listening to that type of music alot.

I discovered "sequencing" back then, too, and would stay up till really late at night "orchestrating" little tunes I would write. I learned alot about how music is put together. My old Korg O1W/fd doesn't work anymore, so I've lost all access I had to those pieces. I'd love to hear them now to see how I've grown (or haven't).

Now, almost 15 years later, I find myself doing the same thing. This time, though, I'm hoping to make a career out of it. Last night was so surreal, as I took a piece I wrote, barely out of Jr. High, and fashioned it into a somewhat mature musical offering.

I've been recently going back to all the instrumental stuff I wrote way back when I was younger, because there's something so pure about it all. Every tune was a revelation. I'd sit down and just start playing, and discover a new chord or progression or something, and it would inspire this piece to take shape. Then, I'd play my little pieces for myself. Over and over I'd play them, rarely sharing them with anyone, always dreaming I'd record them some day, or play them in my own show. I would stay up late recording them, usually giving the prettier melodies to the oboe, because that's a good instrument for pretty melodies.

I miss the discovery of that time. I miss the output of that time. I write less now. I don't know why. I hate feeling like I'm creatively dry. I know I'm not. I'm actually a better musician now. I mean, technically, I could sit down today and probably improvise as well as I used to compose, which means I should be able to compose even better. It just takes more work and more thought now. I welcome that. There's something very satisfying in hearing melodies and chords that I've put together, even if no one else cares for it.

My dream has always been to be a composer. I'm not sure why. It's not like I walk around with melodies swirling around in my head all the time. I think inspiration is real, and I love when I'm struck with it. I also think that the craft of composition is very important, and I actually love the technical side of it. I think Brahms once said that the key to a great piece of music (one that stands the test of time) is both inspiration and craft. It's one thing to be inspired and just vomit a bunch of music onto a page (or recording software), but that could end up just being an emotional blob that is cool for a little while but can't survive (i.e., most pop music). The other side of that is a well-crafted piece that is only well-crafted. There's tons of music that is long-forgotten because it follows all the rules but is not inspired. Lots of composers were hired by royalty to compose music weekly (or daily) for whatever reason, and you can't expect completely inspired music to come from that type of schedule.

My conclusion is this: I'm scared. I want to write music that is not just "adding to the noise" as Switchfoot once sang about. I'm worried that the feeling of discovery was in my teen years, and there's no more inspiration to be found. I'm nervous that I don't have the commercial appeal to make a living at this. I'm scared that I won't want to be as vulnerable and open as an artist has to be. Well, at least I've got the insecurities every artist has to deal with. I think I'm on the right track.