As some of you know, having had to cancel some events towards the end of last year, I decided to take a more decisive break from touring and events for 2020 and take a sort of sabbatical. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that in 30 years of ministry, and although I’m already missing the fun and adventure of being out and about in the UK and beyond, it definitely feels like it’s the right thing to do. And with the coronavirus having a huge impact on travel and public gatherings, perhaps I’ve got my timing right on this one!
So how am I going to spend my year? I’ve not given up writing, that’s for sure; although for a long time I’ve wanted to be a little more experimental and innovative in the kind of songs I write, not just in content (which I think I’ve done), but in musical genre and format.
So it’s given me time to begin to explore some of these thoughts. Are we as the church providing enough a cappella songs, for example; songs composed of a single strong melody (or maybe a melody and harmony interweaving around each other) to provide a complete sound without the need for instruments?
Or what about ‘call and response’ songs? Songs that, say, have verses sung by a solo voice (so allowing for a greater scope of style and complexity which congregations might struggle to sing, but which are more musically satisfying to listen to), but with everyone joining in with a singable refrain as a response?
These are all ideas running around in my head. And although I’ve not come up with anything worthy of putting out there yet, I’m hoping that voicing these thoughts in the public domain will stir me to be more diligent and creative!
Why do we need to innovate in this way? What’s wrong with how we are doing things now? Well, I think we as writers and worship leaders have been guilty of writing too narrowly – whether that is following the trends of the latest ‘successful’ songs, going with our own personal preferences & tastes, or with the styles that suit our own church or events. But in so doing, we are failing to recognize the wide variety of contexts in which the people of God gather to worship.
In some small congregations, the competence and resources aren’t there to provide a musical accompaniment – or at least, to provide the kind of contemporary worship style that is integral to many of the latest songs. At the other end of the scale, for some congregations ‘community singing’ feels very uncomfortable and awkward, and they get more from actively listening to a skilled musician perform a song (whether that is classical or contemporary), perhaps joining in with the refrain.
The other factor that we often neglect is the space in which we are gathering. Mark Edwards, a good friend and superb musician (also my co-writer on the song “There is a hope”), often talks about providing congregational music that ‘suits the space’.
And I understand what he means. Some younger congregations are so large that only the biggest cathedral-like churches are big enough to accommodate them. But to play contemporary music in these cavernous, resonant stone edifices is a challenge: drums have to be played in a soundproof box (thus isolating the drummer from the rest of the band), and the PA requires multiple speaker systems on every pillar in order to overpower the reflected sound. Just a thought: rather than ‘fighting the room’, what about experimenting with a musical style and setup that works with (and makes the most of) the beautiful acoustic of these wonderful buildings…?
So… I’ll keep you posted on my writing efforts. And your feedback is always appreciated.