This is post number 16 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry. These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance. I welcome discussion on any of them.
Reflection #16: Creative contemporary worship leaders are using a variety of instruments–beyond the stereotypical praise band lineup (electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, keys, and vocalists)–to great effect.
A Couple of Questions: Why is this a big deal? Because where utilizing instruments in the service of praising God is concerned, if the resources are available (this is a big if, but not as big as it might seem; see below), worship leaders should seek to convey different aspects of God’s character via different musical means. Worship leader Mark Altrogge (“I’m Forever Grateful”), pictured, once opined that worship leading is akin to holding a jewel up to see how a particular facet catches the light. The next week, you twist the jewel just slightly, and a different facet of the jewel catches the light in a different manner. Practically speaking, different aspects of God’s character are best informed by different styles of music. If the aspects of God’s character all seem to be informed perfectly well by typical praise-band instrumentation, perhaps you’re not helping your congregation appreciate as much of God as there is to appreciate. (Feel free to insert a plug for use of a lectionary here.)
I have a small budget, so how can I promote more variety of musical expression in worship? Consider mining the congregation for talented musicians who haven’t given a thought to contributing to corporate worship in the past because they don’t play electric guitar, bass guitar, or drums. Just yesterday my wife and I worshiped at a church where, in addition to the typical praise-band fare, a gentleman played trumpet–nothing to make anyone forget Phil Driscoll or pine for Miles Davis, but tasty fills and obbligato lines that added a wonderful acoustical change of pace to the routine. The same guy played congas on a couple of tunes–again, nothing ridiculously tough or indicative of fabulous chops, just enough to add a little spice to the mix.
I know another worship band that, once a month or so, features an electric banjo. Why? Because the guy loves to play, is good, and wants to serve. With the gear he has, he can make the thing sound like an electric guitar if he wanted, and he does on occasion, but he also plays country-fied licks on cwm standards, and it sounds great. How about strings or other orchestral instruments? Chances are good you have former first-chair-in-the-high-school-band flutists, violinists, and French horn players in your congregation. Why not feature them on occasion? That means that you have to find charts for them, so. . . .
A Couple of Resources: If you are worship leader serving the contemporary American church, chances are good you are aware of these two resources. If not, let me introduce you to Praise Charts and LifeWay Worship. In my years of serving as a weekend-warrior worship leader, I used both services with great regularity. In the church I served most recently, our praise band had the following: the principal bassist for the Elgin Symphony, a clarinetist who had studied in college with a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a quality French horn player, a good alto sax player, a couple of pretty-good violinists, and a pretty-decent cellist. I used them all in the band (maybe once a month, and not all at the same time), and I found music for them via these excellent online sites.
Praise Charts has a wealth of material, some of it free, but specializes in orchestrations that are as-closely-as-possible transcribed from the most-popular recordings of cwm songs. If you have really fine orchestral players, they will love digging their teeth into these charts. LifeWay takes volunteer church musicians to heart and features generally-easier-to-play charts that won’t tax players who aren’t picking up their axes with any regularity anymore. Both services offer songs in multiple keys. When I was leading, I often utilized two keys on some songs to allow us to modulate up a step at the end of the song to give the corporate experience a lift. (I’ve often wondered why more worship leaders don’t do this.)
A Couple of Other Ideas: Just this weekend, I became aware of a new website, Diverse Church Music, which, as it grows, is going to be a wealth of resources for those who want to be a little more global and/or a little less predictable re: their songs and accompaniment in worship. Also, consider joining the folks at The Center for Congregational Song for an a cappella Sunday on March 10, 2019, when all around the world, worshiping communities will sing at least one song without instrumental accompaniment. If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend it. In my two most recent church positions, I did entire services a cappella (hymns, yes, but also cwm) at least once a year. You’d be amazed at how well and enthusiastically your congregation will sing when they’re not having to compete with amplified instruments.
The Lord be with you as you seek to worship Him in all His vastness with an appropriately vast variety of instrumental accompaniment!
Coming next week (Lord willing): Trinitarian worship leaders.