City Alight

I’m currently listening to a new album from the people at City Alight Music. Check out this YouTube playlist with lyrics. I hope you will find some inspiration here. I’m particularly enjoying ‘Saved My Soul‘ and ‘Only a Holy God‘. (You can also visit them on Facebook where you will find this vision statement: Our vision is to create music that declares the name of JESUS, promotes theological truth & encourages God’s Church. Part of St Paul’s Castle Hill, Australia.)

Let Joy take temptation’s place

I just love the poetry in this song, which challenges us to see ourselves as a people ‘built by hands of love’ to ‘fight back darkness with delight‘. We are to be filled with God’s presence (we are your ‘cathedrals’). And I find this a great concept too: replacing temptation with Joy! These are things we can choose to focus on in our day, to actively make into habits in our living and attitudes. I trust you will be encouraged by these words.

“Cathedrals” by Tenth Avenue North

We were built by the hands of love
Redeemed in spite of what we’ve done
We are the spirit’s dwelling place
And now, children of the light
Fight back darkness with delight
Lift your eyes up to His face
Let joy take temptation’s place
Joy takes temptation’s placeOpen up our souls to feel Your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
God, fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see You as You are

Father, let Your kingdom come
Keep us from our lesser loves
Nothing else can satisfy
Like the joy found in Your eyes
There’s joy found inside Your eyes
Your eyes

Open up our souls to feel Your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
God, fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see You as You areMay we see You as You are

And our hungry souls reach out to whatever fills us up
But we’ll keep on falling down unless we fall in love
Our hungry souls reach out to whatever fills us up
But we keep on falling down until we fall in love

Lord, Lord, Lord

Watch “Paul Baloche Vocal Workshop”

This looks like a really great workshop from a humble guy who became a worship/song leader. It would be great to watch together with your music team. I haven’t watched it all yet, but what I have seen so far is really helpful.

7 tips for those who play melody instruments in a church band.

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Players of melody instruments (flute, saxophone, violin etc.) are often left to their own devices to work out what to play in the church band. Listening to what other good players do can help, but sometimes it still remains a mystery. Today I’m sharing the seven principles I work with (in my head) when I’m playing in that role (though I’m most often on keys or vocals). I hope you will find them helpful.

Melody instruments need to see their place in the band rather like the cherries on the top of a cheesecake. The cheesecake still holds together without them (the bass, rhythm and harmonies provide the main body of the music), yet melody instruments can add a great deal of sweetness and beauty, in small doses – especially if they refrain from playing the melody. Here are my top 7 pointers for being an effective single-line instrument in a church band:

1. Know why you are in the band. You are there to serve, as part of an ensemble, to add to the sound in an effective way. It is not the time for you to seek the limelight and show off your solo skills (even though that’s what you have probably been trained to do). Any note or riff you play should enhance the song and the impact of the lyrics. Don’t play just for the sake of it.

2. Less is more. Melody instruments don’t need to play all the time (please don’t!). It is better to add something small and worthwhile, a fill (when singers aren’t singing), or a harmony line for a line or two, than to play too much. Some melody can be useful in the introduction to remind people how a song goes, or when teaching a new song, but other than that your task is to add some light and shade, to help with dynamic build up to chorus, and help set the tone of certain sections of the song. If you find yourself playing start to finish, you are playing too much. If you find that you are standing about doing nothing for much of the time you have probably found a good balance.

3. Play by ear. Most of the effective things you could add to a piece will not be written on the sheet music. You will need to pencil them in during practice, or else learn to improvise. If you know the key (sharps and flats) and know the shape of the melody there is much you can do! Listen to professional recordings of worship music and learn from what the instruments are doing. Copy the types of things you hear that work to add colour and meaning to a song.

4. Fills. Trading phrases is a good thing to learn how to do during the rests of the vocal melody. If the melody goes up you can take a few steps down. If the melody goes down, fill with notes going up. Opposite movement can be quite effective. Think of your fills as a musical response or comment to the words that have been sung. Play along to recorded music to practice this skill.

5. Harmonies. On recorded music you will hear good and limited use of harmonies played by melody instruments. Again, copy good ideas you hear. Write them out if needed. If there is lots of movement in the melody line it is best to harmonise with sustained notes. Choose a note from the chord that is being played at that point. Harmonies work well a 3rd below the melody and up the octave (but it’s a rule that can be broken). Build your confidence by playing along with recorded music. And even if you can play beautiful harmonies for the whole song, don’t. It is best to drop out for whole verse at a time, so that when you do contribute it is effective. Less is more.

6. Improvising. Many people find it helpful to use the Pentatonic (5 note) scale to help with improvising fills. In the key of C major the notes in this scale would be C D E G and A (notes 1,2,3,5,6, of the scale). Play along with recorded songs (of ones you use at church) and try it out.

7. Know the song really well. With all these things I’ve described above you will be better able to effectively add to the arrangement of a song if you know the melody and structure well. It takes time and practice and making mistakes to figure out how to play as a melody instrument in a church band, yet it is a skill worth learning….for the glory of God as His people praise Him together.

Flashback: God is God

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

I recently listened to an old favourite album of mine by Steven Curtis Chapman and was struck by the words of the song, God is God. I won’t try to comment on what is significant about these words. There are so many treasures here. But they hold one simple and powerful lesson, that takes most of us a lifetime to realise: Only God is God.

“God Is God”
(Listen here on Spotify)

And the pain falls like a curtain
On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most, I just don’t know

And the questions without answers
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move, afraid to fall,
oh, but fall I must on this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

[Chorus]
God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God

And the sky begins to thunder
And I’m filled with awe and wonder
‘Til the only burning question that remains
Is who am I

Can I form a single mountain
Take the stars in hand and count them
Can I even take a breath without God giving it to me
He is first and last before all that has been
Beyond all that will pass

[Chorus]

Oh, how great are the riches of His wisdom and knowledge
How unsearchable for to Him and through Him and from Him are all things

So let us worship before the throne
Of the One who is worthy of worship alone

[Chorus]

From the album Declaration (2001)
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Why We Worship on Repeat | Desiring God

I enjoyed this discussion from Desiring God about praise/worship as meditating together on the truths of the Gospel. It makes me much more enthusiastic about the idea of another chorus repeat.

“Many a modern church-goer has been miffed by repetition in corporate worship.

The Information Age is conditioning us for new content, fresh ideas, new data. Why re-read what we’ve already read, why rehearse what we’ve already heard, when new information is available like never before?

But do we know what our unprecedented access to novelty is doing to us? All indications are that it’s threatening to make us shallower, not wiser and more mature. Running our eyes across the page and mouthing words to a song are not the same thing as experiencing the reality in our hearts. Our hearts simply don’t move as quickly as our eyes and our mouths.

Which makes corporate worship such an important elixir for what is increasingly ailing us today.

Learn to Feel the Truth

Take Psalm 136 as a flashing red light from the divine that our newfound intolerance for repetition is out of step with what it means to be human. The psalm is 26 verses, and each verse ends with “for his steadfast love endures forever.” It rehearses God’s goodness and supremacy, his wonder-working and world-creating, his delivery of his people from slavery and provision for them in a rich land.

Twenty-six times the psalm repeats this refrain — and not one of them is wasted. With each new verse, another attribute or rescue of God is celebrated, and then our souls are ushered deeper into his steadfast, ever-enduring love with each glorious repetition.

“Our hearts simply don’t move as quickly as our eyes and our mouths.”

The goal of the song is not to make his steadfast love old hat, but to help us feel it afresh and at new depth. The dance of each new verse, with each return to the refrain, is designed to bore the central truth about God’s resilient love deeper and deeper into our inner person. The psalm is not atreatise on the unwavering, persistent love of God, but what we call a meditation — less linear and more circular — crafted to help auger the reality of his love from information on our mental surface down to an experience in our hearts.

If you come away bored (unaffected), you’ve missed the point. But if you come away with God bored deeply into your soul (tasting afresh the strength and sweetness of his love), you’ve been carried by the Holy Spirit.

More Than Data

God made humans to meditate. And it is increasingly the lost art in our age. We were made to think deeply on his truth, not just be informed; to ponder reality down to the depths, not just move on to the next piece of data.

Non-Christian forms of meditation seek to empty the mind and transcend concrete specifics into the ethereal, and experience some form of meaningless enlightenment. But Christian meditation fills the mind with biblical truth, and chews on it, seeking to savor every bite.

“Meditation receives the truth into our souls and changes us in our deepest part.”

Unlike mere reading, even slow reading, where our minds and eyes keep moving at some pace, meditation slows us down, way down. We pause and ponder. Reading keeps us marching in linear fashion, while meditation moves us into a more spiral pattern by limiting the information set and seeking to press and apply the truth to our hearts, to actually experience the truth and not just let it run on through our minds on our way to the next thing.

Meditating Together

One remarkable aspect of corporate worship is that it gives us the opportunity to meditate together. The pinnacle of a good sermon is typically a form of corporate meditation, led by the preacher, as he circles around his main point and verbally kneads its goodness into our hearts.

And the summits of our best praises together in song are essentially meditative. It’s not the discovery and delivery of an obscure stanza that binds our hearts and draws us highest together toward heaven, but returning to the chorus, which has been enriched with each additional verse. The verses provide fresh information, but the refrain we know so well bores the truth even deeper into our souls. The verses and chorus together help us to know the reality even better, as we collectively digest the truth from our heads into our hearts. They help us actually experience and be affected by the truth in our inner person, not just rehearse the data on the surface.

“God made humans to meditate. And it is increasingly the lost art in our age.”

And only once we’ve taken the truth into the heart, into the core of our soul, do we organically grow external actions and lived-out transformation. Rather than circumventing the heart, by moving from the mind to the actions, meditation receives the truth into our souls and changes us in our deepest part so that our actions aren’t whitewashed, but authentic expressions of the movement of our souls.

Purposeful repetition in corporate worship empowers us to be changed not only as individuals, but as a people. It is not only the truths we read, but the truths we sing — and sing often, and take into our hearts — that mold and shape us for lives of worship.

So, perhaps this weekend, you’ll have a chance to experience corporate repetition afresh, and instead of begrudging the worship leader for it, you may find it to be a new pathway for enjoying the grandeur and love of God.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-we-worship-on-repeat

Are we eager for the King of Heaven?

Here is a song from Paul Baloche which I have been considering for a while to include in our church repertoire: King of Heaven from ‘The Same Love’ album. It challenges us to collectively anticipate and call on the Lord Jesus for His return. It has a lively and uplifting feel. You will find the words in the first clip, and at the end. Blessings!

“King Of Heaven”
Jesus, let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here in us
Jesus, there is no one greater
You alone are Savior, show the world Your love

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign, shining like the day, King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come

We are children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry, Jesus set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You lifted high

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign shining like the day
King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King Of Heaven come

Ooh, ooh, ooh, King of Heaven come

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign, shining like the day
King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come

The conundrum of keys, capos and congregational singing

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Most of the songs we now use to gather Christ’s body together in praise and worship are not written for that specific purpose – for singing together. Rather, they are written to be performed and recorded (for God’s glory), while satisfying the vocal range of an experienced soloist, who most often has a fairly high male (tenor) voice. The melodies are therefore shaped and situated in a vocal range that few of us can manage. Sure, we can sing along with the best of them on our iPods, but unconsciously we do a lot of octave jumping, or harmonising, so that we can sing along. This doesn’t work too well when the congregation is singing together.

Choosing the right key is quite tricky. The default or original key on SongSelect rarely works well. It can end up with a really high melody section in the chorus that no one can sing (bar the tenors) or else the whole thing is too low when you jump down an octave. This low singing equates to really quiet singing, and when we can’t hear each other we are discouraged from singing at all.

You also have to consider the musicians: is this great key the guitarists are happy to play in one which will induce a mild psychosis in the keyboard player, as they scamper around playing on only the black notes?

Here are just four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing (on SongSelect (CCLI) or a similar website).

1. Keep the vocal range between A (below middle C) and D (8 notes above middle C). Remember that D signals Distress for many people, so ensure the transposed melody only has a few passing notes of the high D (and the low A as well, for that matter). If the song ends up with a low G as the anacrusis note in the melody of the verse then teach it as a B instead (it should fit the chord, and won’t really be noticed).

2. Try to maintain the original shape and development of the song, starting with low verse notes and moving to higher chorus notes. If you sabotage the ‘chorus lift’ by a poorly chosen key, or by forcing people to jump down an octave, it can all fall seriously flat.

3. Don’t choose keys that have too many sharps or flats. Stick to maximum of four sharps (E major) and max 3 flats (Eb major). There are a few major keys that work well for both guitar and keys: C, D, E, G and A major. Keyboard players generally don’t mind keys with flats (one flat F major, two flats Bb major), but these will probably make your guitarists unhappy. This leads to my next point.

4. Understand Capos and get your guitarists to understand and use them. The keyboard and the guitarists can play in different keys quite effectively. A guitar capo effectively shortens the guitar strings and produces a higher sound. This enables the guitarists to play in comfortable keys (mostly ones with sharps) while the pianist can play in a key with flats that may mean a better vocal range for the congregation.

For example, if I want to use Matt Redman’s Ten Thousand Reasons in a flat key (Eb major, with three flats), then the guitarists can play in D (with their music in key of D) and capo on the first fret. (Each fret raises the guitar’s pitch by a semitone. So, the guitarists playing in D major want it to sound Eb major. Placing the capo on fret one moves the sound up by a semitone. Success! It sounds in Eb major but they don’t have to play in a key with flats.)

Another example would be Trevor Hodge’s No Other Name (Listen below!) in Bb, which has two flats. The guitarists can play in G major, but sound Bb by placing the capo on fret 3. There are 3 semitone steps to get from G to Bb (go check a keyboard) which is why the guitar must use capo three.

Remember that the guitarist needs to be playing in a key slightly lower than the keyboard player, so that the capo will bring their sound up to pitch, and they will only need to use capo 1, 2 or 3.

Next time: let’s look at a case study and decide what to do with Tomlin’s ‘Jesus, Son of God’ which has a huge vocal range! I’m still working on this one myself.

Why should I gain from His reward?

8128-ea_fathers_love how deep for us lyrics.pngYes, the Sovereign lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:10-11 NLT)

Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:12-13)

Sometimes even really great songs can become tired. People just get ‘over’ singing them and the impact and meaning is lost. It’s rare to find a song that endures very long these days! But this song is somehow different: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (1995)

I remember when I first came across the Stuart Townend song. Its unusual time signature scheme (4/4 and 6/4 in alternate bars) coupled with beautiful poetry declaring the wonder of God’s love really gave the song a certain ‘X’ factor – and won me over! Perhaps for these reasons it has endured as a singable and meaningful song. Though it’s been around for almost two decades I’d say this song can still penetrate any stubborn heart and mind to see the beauty of our salvation afresh! (In case you somehow missed it, the lyrics are down below)

There is such rich theology in this song – but I’d like to focus on one intriguing line in verse 3:  “Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer. . .”

As we see in the passages above from Isaiah and Revelation, the Messiah, Risen Redeemer King, Jesus Christ turns up to rule bringing his reward with him, a reward which is his own flock of people, saved by His blood. These are the people the Father has given to Jesus, as His reward:
“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.…” (John 10:29)

How incredible that from Jesus’ perspective we are His reward, the people of God, sinners saved by undeserved grace! We cannot give an answer for why Jesus would die for us, for his enemies – we can only look with thankfulness that for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:12)
This is Jesus, our redeemer and friend! How deep the love of the Father to send his own Son for us!

HOW DEEP THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR US

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.

Stuart Townend– See more at: http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/#sthash.jX205XY1.dpuf

Here are some links to learn more about the song:

http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/songdetail.aspx?iid=577430