Category Archives: music

“Holiness Unto the Lord” (modern arrangement)

I just returned from the 28th General Assembly of The Church of the Nazarene, the quadrennial gathering of my denomination. I heard several people comment that during our corporate worship services, we never sang the (unofficial) anthem of our church, Leila Morris’s 113-yr-old tune “Holiness Unto the Lord.” In some ways this is unsurprising, as the original musical setting is very “marchlike” and feels quite dated today.

A couple years ago now, I set out to rewrite this song, cherished by so many Nazarenes (though virtually unknown outside of our tribe), in a more modern musical style that could work with today’s more guitar-driven worship style. I wanted to stay as true to the original lyric and tune as possible, but the chorus, I felt, needed to be altered significantly. I wasn’t sure what to do – I didn’t want to write an entirely new and different chorus – but then I realized that just reversing the order of each couplet and tweaking the melody a bit could make it much more singable.

The finished product has caught on well in my congregation, and I know a few other churches have tried it as well. Feel free to give it a whirl; I thought I’d share the “stripped down” acoustic version rather than a full band arrangement so you have a bit more of a blank slate to imagine how it might work in your context!

Download free chord chart

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Why You (and I) Should Pay for the Music We Love

ImageDavid Lowery, alternative rock pioneer and now (I just learned) lecturer in the music business program at the University of Georgia, has written the best thing I’ve ever read about why it’s important to pay for the music you enjoy. I’ve admired Lowery for nearly 20 years now. I’m a bit too young to have been hip to his work in the 80s with Camper Van Beethoven, but Cracker’s Kerosene Hat, with it’s modest hit song “Low,” was one of the rock albums I cut my teeth on in the first part of the 90s. Cracker also remains one of the best bands I’ve had the privilege of seeing play live (with The Eels, no less!).

There’s a backstory to Lowery’s “Letter to Emily,” but don’t worry about it. It stands on its own as an open letter to all of us. Please read this, especially young people. The times are changing, and we need to be intentional about making ethical decisions that support the people who create the things we care about, whether it’s coffee or Tom’s Shoes or your church or music. If the artists you love want to give their music away for free on NoiseTrade or on their own websites, that’s fine, but please compensate them if and when you can. If you hear something on Spotify or Pandora that you really like, download the album from iTunes or Amazon instead of streaming it over and over. It’s the little things that make a difference, especially to artists and creators.

Gloria and I (as The Italics) have 3 songs for free download on NoiseTrade, a site Christian songwriter Derek Webb helped create which gives artists a place to give their music away (facilitating and encouraging generosity from artists) and also gives users a chance to “leave a tip” for the artist via PayPal (facilitating and encouraging generosity from fans). I recently noticed some money in our Paypal account because someone thought those three songs, which we recorded more than 8 years ago for less than $100 per song, was worth leaving us a “tip.” (If our benefactor is reading this – THANK YOU!) I can testify that this makes us want to record more songs and continue to make our art available. It makes us feel that what we do matters. That it is valued by someone. That we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. That it’s worth trying to carve out time in a life already chock full with three kids, ministry, and teaching for songwriting and recording. And we do this so part-time, so on the side, that it’s almost not worth mentioning. The tip was a symbolically significant gesture for us, but it’s very real for many artists, especially independent artists, who truly rely on fans paying for the music they enjoy, not only to sustain their art so they can keep making albums, but for their very livelihood.

Seriously, read the article. I know it’s long, but it’s important. And consider putting $15 / month in your budget to pay for the music you love. I know most of you spend more than that on coffee, and probably exponentially more than that on your cell phone bill. I believe that art makes the world a better place, so make a decision to do something that directly contributes to that end. Invest in things that matter. Begin to think of yourself as a patron of the arts. We need a more sustainable model, and it begins with taking personal responsibility for our actions and supporting (financially and in other ways) the things that are important to us.

And if you’re looking for a few independent artists worth supporting, might I suggest?:

What do you think about this whole debate? Who are some artists you think are worth my hard-earned money?

“Holy Productivity, Batman!” – the Worship Pastor’s Utility Belt

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Of all the products/resources/etc that I purchase/subscribe to as the head of Worship Ministries at Xenia Naz, the following are, in my opinion, the best money I spend on anything.  If you’re in worship leadership and you don’t use these products, you should. I receive nothing whatsoever by endorsing them to you – they’re just things I find immensely valuable and cannot imagine functioning without.

1. Planning Center – our subscription costs about $30 a month ($360 / yr.) because, for now, we can make do with 2 service types and 75 users – I pay a little extra because I go over the allotted 1GB storage (note: we’re about to bump up to the next subscription, which is $50/mo for 250 users and 5 services, because our children’s pastor is going to start using it for her team, including nursery scheduling, etc). As my pal Andrew Adams recently tweeted, “I think I geek out over Planning Center Online about every other week. How did we schedule worship services before this program? Wow!”  Indeed. I have become totally reliant on this for service planning, personnel scheduling, song library maintenance and communication.  It also enables my musicians to rehearse/prepare on their own, which has become as vital to some of my choir members as it has to my band and praise team. A total game-changer – I promise.

2. Motion Worship – whatever presentation software your church uses (we use Media Shout ver. 4.5 on a PC – not that I recommend THIS per se), for motion backgrounds under lyric cues (or whatever), Josiah Smith makes everything on his site available for unlimited download for a mere $50 annual subscription (I’ve been tempted to email him and tell him that I’d pay $200 / yr. for his stuff, but I don’t want to price out smaller ministries for whom $50 is just right). Almost all his designs are really, really good – most are subtle and elegant, which is usually the vibe we’re going for. If you’re not using motion loops already, it’s time to retire those old stock worship graphics of the people with raised arms, the sky-scapes and “holy blobs of color” (see #7) that you downloaded 3 years ago, and start using some slick motion backs. If you’re already using motions, expand your collection.

3. CCLI SongSelect – we subscribe to the “Premium” account for $182 / yr., which resources us with charts, lead sheets and “hymn sheets” (3 or 4 part harmonizations) for thousands of songs in any key I want. I can print up to 200 different songs per year (which we never come close to depleting); not 200 charts, mind you – 200 SONGS – so I can print the charts or lead sheets in any number of different keys, and it only “costs” me “1.” I would be severely crippled without this. I still have to OCCASIONALLY make my own chart or write my own harmonization, but about 90% of the charts my band and singers ever see comes from SongSelect.

4. NoteFlight – a free, online (cloud-based) notation program. When I DO have to write out my own orchestrations or harmonizations, this is what I use. I don’t own a copy of Finale and haven’t used it since 1998 in the Trevecca music technology lab (and I suspect much has changed since then), but since I found Noteflight, I’ve never been tempted to spend money on notation software. Granted, I don’t do a TON of composing/orchestrating/arranging, and what I do is pretty straightforward…but it suits me fine.

5. Worship Leader Magazine / Song DISCovery – $79 / yr and each month I get an excellent magazine and a 12-14 song CD sampler of a lot of great music. There are usually 2-3 songs (at least) from each Song DISCovery CD that I WANT to use – having the time/cause to use all of them is another story. Re: the magazine, I was a bit skeptical when I first subscribed, thinking the content would be too “pop”/trendy for my tastes, but editor Chuck Fromm (Ph.D.!) knows his stuff, and is sensitive to the historical/liturgical as well as the contemporary. I can’t stand most of the album reviews or Darlene Zschech’s column (with due respect), but most of the other columns and the feature articles are great. Since Collide and Paste have both evolved into something other than a print rag, WorshipLeader, Relevant and Neue are my only current print magazine subscriptions.

6. Lifeway Worship Project – the first place I look when I can’t find what I need on SongSelect, or when I need a soundtrack or an orchestration for congregational worship, especially for songs/hymns that have been part of the church music repertoire for awhile (i.e. that aren’t brand-spankin’-trendy-new). I haven’t used it much, but every time I’ve needed something slightly outside my normal routine, I’ve found it.  I’ve also pointed several other people to the LWP and they’ve consistently found what they were looking for and were thankful to learn of this resource.

These are just a few of the tools that help me perform with excellence in my job as Worship Pastor – each one saves me a ton of time and effort.  In my opinion, each one is worth exponentially more than what it cost me.  I wanted to mention one more that isn’t really a product/resource/productivity tool, but about which I can’t speak highly enough, and which, like all these other things, is an incredible value.

7. Midnight Oil Productions “Creative Worship / Design Matters” seminar – I attended Len Wilson and Jason Moore’s seminar in April of 2009 at a nearby UM church, and it got me thinking about worship design, planning, and creative collaboration in some totally different ways. Since then, it has been a continual process of trying to implement what I learned over the course of those two days. If their seminar comes to your area, do NOT pass it up. It’s worth it’s weight in gold. (Ideally, get your senior pastor to go with you.)

What are some of your favorite ministry resources/products?  (And I haven’t even mentioned favorite but less Worship-centric tools, like Dropbox, Screenr, Google Apps, Open Office, Audacity, WordPress, Sorceforge PDFCreator, IrfanView, Vimeo…)

Adventures in Songwriting: “Agnus Dei”

Not sure what got up my nose, but somehow I just sneezed out this Agnus Dei (at least it was about as easy, natural and satisfying as a sneeze).

I find that certain instruments inspire me to play differently, sing differently, find different melodies, etc, and sometimes the words just flow out and fall into place. This session, fiddling with my wife’s old 1960s Yamaha FG-150 acoustic (recently back from Dayton’s guitar doctor c. wright, although it’s going back to him soon to have that Baggs M1A pickup installed properly), is evidence of this… minor chords and aeolian melodies are not my default setting at all… but it kinda works with the Agnus Dei text. I hope you enjoy it! (Chord chart is included in the description on the youtube page.)

Would a “mass setting” like this be applicable in your church setting? What creative reimaginings of liturgical worship have you encountered, good or bad?