Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Joyful Sound

Music plays a big role at my church. We sing, then there are announcements. We sing more, and then there's the offering. Then more singing. Then the children's story, singing, the sermon, more singing, a final word, and more singing.

You'd think that we'd have top-notch musicians to lead us, given how central it is to the structure of the service. You'd be wrong.

Unfortunately there don't seem to be many people with the time and skills to lead musically. Occasionally we get a pianist who can get the whole crowd clapping with his lively Southern gospel style. (He tells us: "Put a little shoulder into it!") Once a month the kids from the English-speaking-Korean-church come to let us enjoy the fruits of their many hours of private music lessons. But the rest of the time it's a bit of a dog's breakfast.

The standard ensemble includes a guy bashing away on a drum kit, a flautist whom you can barely hear, a pianist (whom I cannot find fault with), a bass guitarist who is always off the beat, and a random selection of singers with varying levels of skill. It's music, but I would describe it as dutiful, rather than beautiful.

A friend of mine, call him J., was aware of the trouble the church was having in the music department, so he was brave enough to volunteer to lead a "worship group" - the churchy equivalent of a band. He was aware of my musical background, so I was recruited to the cause.

My musical background consists of around 3 or 4 years of piano lessons in grade school, 4 years of violin in high school (which was 20 years ago), and some passable singing skills. I don't have a beautiful voice. I can stay on key and on tempo, and I can read music well enough to fake my way through songs that I don't know, sort of.

As some of you know, I picked up the violin again a couple of months ago, but I have practiced all of four times, due to being busy with wedding stuff. Trust me - I'm not ready to perform publicly on this instrument.

So I get this e-mail last week, informing me that we are leading worship on Sunday and we should get together and practice. The group has never met before in any capacity. The only time that everyone is free to practice together is on Saturday night for 2.5 hours. Um, hello, do you think that's a little last minute, maybe? But what can we do? If that's how it is, that's how it is. I'm game to give it a shot.

We had our practice, and it went decently, I suppose. But the next morning during the service, what a mess! I guess some of us were more nervous than others. There was a pianist, a guitarist, a bass guitar, and three singers. No conductor. No percussion. That was our big downfall. The tempo was all over the place. The three musicians could not seem to sync up. The bass guitar would lag behind and then rush to catch up. The guitar would miss a strum and get confused. The pianist tried her best to adjust, but it was hopeless. We galumphed bravely through to the end.

I have to take my share of the responsibility. I did my best, but that was far from perfect. I sang too quietly but too close to the microphone, I found out later. I didn't know the songs as well as the others (since I've only been going to church since last August), so I hit a few wrong notes. Also, since we had lyrics sheets instead of sheet music I kept messing up how long I was suppose to hold each note. Was "blessing" sung as two eighth notes or two sixteenth notes? Or a note would be held for a long time and I wouldn't make it all the way to the end because I hadn't budgeted my air for that much sound. Fortunately the two other singers were much more experienced and louder, so I don't think my little flubs made too much difference in the overall disaster of things.

A lot of folks came up to us after and said "It was a good start!" They are so kind. Half-a-dozen people said to me "It was good to see you up there!" No one said it was good to hear me up there. Huh. Well, we'll have to work on it. Next time we'll plan for more practices, and more organization. We also have a couple of leads on potential drummers. In the meantime I'll be driving my neighbours crazy singing along with worship songs on YouTube, trying to improve my vocal stylings. Be very, very glad you don't live next to me!

(I'll be practicing my violin too.)


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I can picture the event in my head :-) I'm betting that once the music started there was a lot more praying happening in those pews, so GOOD JOB!!! LOL...

I'm thinking I could be really good with the triangle or tambourine so keep me in mind.

unsigned said...

I guess it could inspire people to pray for the music to end? Just kidding. You'll be better next time.

Scarlet said...

You are a brave soul. I imagine your a much better singer than you give yourself credit for...and when you get some good practice in (with the others), you'll rock the house of God! I know it!!

wigsf said...

"All the best bands are affliated with Satan." -- Bart Simpson

darcknyt said...

I've been here, and have done this. Your group needs a strong, dominant musician to step forward and be the "leader" for your group. It will help a LOT.

It also means some of them will get miffed because THEY want to be the leader. Just happens.

So, now you know what Scripture means when it speaks of a "joyful noise", eh? ;)

It will get better, but see if there's a strong, competent and confident musician in the group who can step up and take over-ish.

God bless, hon, we'll pray for you all. :)

Dianne said...

the joy is in the trying :)

I love gospel music, there are some amazing gospel shows on radio and TV on Sunday mornings and I usually make sure to catch at least one

NicoleB said...

Thanks for the warning not to move into any neighbouring apartment ;)

savia said...

When I was in theatre, we would go to receptions after the play on the Friday night and mingle with the actors, many of whom were friends of ours. If we didn't like the play, we had a whole list of things that we could say that sounded positive as long as you didn't think about it too much. Such as: The sets were fantastic! Loved the costumes! You must have worked so hard. Etc.

The problem was that I went to a friend's show and loved it. She, in particular, was fantastic. When saw her afterward, I hugged her and said, "Oh my god, you must be so proud!"

She thought I was making one of the fake positive statements and wouldn't believe me when I told her how much I loved the show. I spent the night trying to convince her that it really was great. I'm not sure if she entirely believed me in the end.


Sparkling Red said...

Ron: Yes, I'm sure the congregation will be praying for us to improve. That would be an entirely selfless prayer of course. Nothing to do with spontaneously bleeding from one's ears.

Unsigned: We'd better shape up for next time. The only things available for throwing at the stage are hard-cover bibles and hymnals. Those babies would HURT if they hit someone in the head!

Scarlet: Thanks! You're very kind. Spoken like a true friend (who has never heard me sing). ;-)

WIGSF: You'll forgive me if I don't share that quote with my bandmates.

darcknyt: Thanks! Honestly I think that I could lead/conduct the group as well as any of us, but I'm so new I don't know if they would accept me. I might try to work up to it. Honestly, they don't really need my singing, and I'm not able to do anything else - it would probably be the most useful contribution I could make.

Dianne: Do you like the Gaither Gospel Hour? Even my mom, with all her hang-ups about Christianity, likes them.

Nicole: I'm trying to learn to sing a little louder - maybe you'll be able to hear me faintly from Hungary!

Savia: That must have been so frustrating! It's hard to convince someone of a compliment once they've got the wrong idea. They'll always accuse you of back-pedaling.

LL Cool Joe said...

The music group at our church can be very hit and miss. Individually they sound fine, but together it can be painful to the ears!

Often I think it's the person working on the sound decks that gets it wrong too. All the balance can be screwed up.

I think you were brave to get involved at all. You'll probably find the next time you do it, it will be a great deal better.

Dianne said...

The Gaither Gospel show is a bit too country for my taste

I usually watch BET channel, I love old Southern Baptist gospel - and new as well

lately I find myself often singing "this little light of mine ..." as I drive along
amazing how music can be so powerful

Jameil said...

I think it's been a long time since I went to a church w/o a minister of music, choir and drummer. Even the backwoods country churches in rural NC. that was really weird b/c they had like 5 members but a pianist and a drummer! lol. i know it's bad but i've been known to be less inclined to go to a church if the music is bad... lol. awful! but i won't walk out. the sermon is always key but good music certainly helps! however, music won't keep me in the pews! practice away!

Sparkling Red said...

Joe: We have a pretty good guy on the sound decks. He's going to train Ken (who went to college for radio broadcast arts) to help him out. So if we sound bad we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

Dianne: Yes, it's very powerful. I like to get worship songs stuck in my head. When I wake up in the night, if I feel scared, I just play one of those songs to myself in my head and then I feel better.

Jameil: It's really fortunate that those churches had so many good musicians. I'm not sure why our church falls down in that department. Maybe there aren't enough young people who still remember their music lessons.

Aurora said...

when I sang in a church choir we practiced twice a week: once on Wednesdays and once right before the service on the Sunday. [some services were on Wednesday too.] Two rehearsals seemed enough--but mind you we started rehearsing specific songs several weeks in advance. So yes I would be a fan (generally) of more rehearsals and regularly, if I'm going to stand up in front of a crowd. If you're in a smaller group there's also less camoflauge, hence, more stress. When you're well rehearsed it can be really fun. Enjoy!

Worship Guitar Lady said...

I enjoyed your post. Very funny! If there's no drummer, sounds like it might not be a bad idea to get a drum machine. That might help a bit with the tempo problems.

Monitor speakers may help too. Maybe the musicians just can't hear each other?

Hopefully the worst is behind you. ;-)