Archive for the 'Music' Category

Rehearsal and Ensemble

New learnings from this year:

  1. Any group of people can become a class.  All that’s required is a lecturer, a topic, and a roster.  The group doesn’t even need to assemble for the class to work.
  2. Classes are useful for measuring individual performance and for enforcing individual accountability to standards written for individuals.
  3. A group of people becomes an ensemble only when the individuals in the group subordinate their own needs and desires to those of the group.
  4. The only way people will forgo the pursuit of individual goals for the benefit of the group is if there is safety for the individual within the group environment.  Individuals must know that they will not be lost or rejected if they risk themselves for the group.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the group has to protect the individual so that the individual can risk himself or herself for the group.
  5. Creating, protecting, and maintaining a safe environment where an ensemble can emerge is the first and most important task of the group’s leader.  The leader must identify, confront, and if necessary remove individuals whose behavior is divisive.
  6. Leaders model and enable safe environments by risking the rejection of the group and surviving over and over again.  There is no safety in a group where the leader uses his position to protect himself.
  7. Ensemble does not just happen.  It is an accomplishment that goes against our natural impulses.  It must be modeled, it must be taught, it must be built, and it must be celebrated when it is achieved.
  8. The leader / director is the chief risk-taker in the group and has the most to lose if the group fails to create a safe environment and become an ensemble.
  9. Rehearsal is the privilege, joy, and reward of ensembles.

Advocacy, or Why Choir? (part 2)

Advocacy bugs me.  Marketing doesn’t bug me, packaging doesn’t bug me, but advocacy bugs me.

This past week I accompanied 3 of my students to the annual Tennessee Music Educators Association (TMEA) conference in Nashville.  The students qualified to sing in the All-State Honors Choir, and got to sing under the baton of Anton Armstrong of St. Olaf’s College and Peter Bagley from the University of Connecticut.  They worked very hard and deserved the recognition and honor of being selected, as well as the priveledge of working with 2 masters of the choral craft.

And the payoff for their hard work was to be the final concert in front of their parents and chorus teachers, bursting with pride.  It was a wonderful, magical moment.

Right up until the advocacy part.

Before each choir’s performance, the emcee made it a point to advocate for music education, often in strident, combative terms:  “If your school board even hints at cutting music programs in your communities at home, I hope you’ll stand with me and by God make your voices heard!  Yeah!”  Obligatory applause, and even an “Amen!” here and there.

It was weird.  It was annoying.  It made me want to go out and cut a music program somewhere just because. 

I understand that TMEA is at its core an advocacy group, and that the primary mission of TMEA is to advance and protect music education’s place and role in public schooling.  But must we turn a beautiful music concert into a pep rally for music ed?  Can’t we just let the concert make the point for us?  Can’t we just celebrate the kids and their work?

There will always be school boards that consider cutting music programs in times of financial crisis and stress, but no parent will stand up and take a bullet for a music program because of anyone’s advocacy.  

The best strategy to ensure that music programs survive is not noise and preaching.  The best strategy to ensure that music programs survive is to have awesome music programs everywhere, music programs that provide tangible value to their communities, value that extends beyond the benefit of the participants.  Who are the people in your community other than the parents of your currently enrolled students that would notice or care if your music program was nixed?

What kind of music program would your community fight for?  

Maybe advocacy is just easier than taking a hard look at what we’re producing and re-vamping the product so that people will willingly throw themselves between our programs and budget-cutting school boards.  Maybe it just makes us feel like we’ve done something when for the most part all we’ve done is preach to the choir and irritate the heathen unconvinced.

Maybe I need to redesign the chorus program at West High…

Back in the Saddle Again (again)

I’d forgotten to mention that Powell Church streams video of the contemporary services on its site, including last Sunday when I led the worship.  You can watch it by clicking here.


  • 13:00–I break my D string and have to lay down the guitar for the rest of the set
  • 15:20–during my setup for the offering, I say to the visitors “This service is not for you” in an attempt to excuse them from the offering.  Brilliant.

Other than those two wee issues, I think it came off well!

Back in the saddle again, if only for one Sunday

I didn’t mention it at the time (or since), but Greg asked me back in Novemberish to fill in for him in Powell Church’s contemporary service.  He needed to be in Taiwan (check the link for details on his blog) and would need coverage Dec 28 and Jan 4.  I took the Jan 4 slot.

And it went well (discounting a broken string, but that’s how it goes).  I had dreaded the experience because it would 1) mean a tough morning doing the contemporary and traditional services, and 2) I hadn’t led worship with a band doing contemporary-style music in a long time, and wasn’t sure if I was up to it.

The surprise came on Saturday night as we were working through the opener “Seasons of Love” and I looked at my long-time friend Amy at the piano and said, “Dang, it–I miss this.”  There’s something about running a band rehearsal, feeling our way through a worship set that just thrills and energizes me, and I’d forgotten how that felt.  It was a good experience, and I’m sure to miss it.

Here’s the set (I’m covering for Greg, so I ought to follow through Greg-style, no?):

  • Opener:  “Seasons of Love” (from Rent)
  • All Creatures of Our God and King (Davis arrangement)
  • Everyday (Hillsong)
  • Love the Lord (Lincoln Brewster)
  • Enough (Tomlin)
  • Closer/Communion:  Take My Life and Let It Be

I especially loved having folks who attend both services come up after the contemporary service with puzzled looks on their faces, saying, “I had no idea you could do both!”  

Who knew?

The Process Really Matters

I destroy my enemy by making him my friend.  Abraham Linclon.

Ok, usually I don’t use a post to comment on another blog’s posting, but my buddy Jason Cole asks a very good question in this post (go check it out–it’s a quick read) and I can’t seem to get the comment function to work on his site.  IE 7 hasn’t been my friend so far.

The very good question JC asks is, “Is it worth the hassle (which is considerable) to occasionally use a children’s choir to lead worship in our adult services?”  My not-so-profound answer is, “It depends.”

Jason and I worked together for years at a church where time on the Sunday morning mainstage was viewed by the various constituencies of the church as the holy grail of ministry promo and validation.  All too often the leadership would simply hand over the programming of various aspects of the service (announcements, music, drama, etc.) to the group requesting the validation, leaving Jason and myself out of the planning process while still bearing the responsibility to make the service work.  Because the group didn’t understand or even value the programming process and the learnings the programming people had culled from our experiences, the results were at best amateurish and at worst embarrassing (see Malcom Gladwell’s Degree of Difficulty post about the perils of making difficult tasks look easy).

This happened at _______ for a while, particularly during VBS and Missions Conference weeks.  I know the frustration.

If having kids or youth or singles or babies or people in wheelchairs on the mainstage is done for the purpose of making them and their advocates feel validated, then it’s not worth it because that kind of thinking results in bad programming.  If it’s done for the purpose of adding some strategic variety to the worship environment, then it can be worth it if the process is done right, and if everyone understands that the group on the stage is there to lead the adults in worship, not to showcase their group’s unique talent or distinctiveness.

The best solution I’ve come across is to have a solid programming process that is robust enough to maintain established practices and values even when the uninitiated is granted a seat at the programming table.  The first time I did this was with the Director of Children’s Ministy at _________.  In August one year we sat down in my office with a whiteboard and talked through how the children could contribute to a 1st Advent service.  By the time the leadership of the church was ready to do the normal hand-off, I had pre-emptively brought the constituency into my process and made them a partner with me in creating a great experience for the adults in the service.  The result was outstanding and well worth the effort.  More importantly, I gained a strong ally and advocate on the staff team with a new appreciation for my process and world.

Variety works.  Popping the kids up there in a sensible way causes the congregation to perk up, to pay attention.  It is a lot harder and requires flexibility in the programming process, but that ultimately makes us better programmers.

Which ultimately makes for better worship.

Continue reading ‘The Process Really Matters’

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