WHY DO WE APPLAUD THE CONDUCTOR?

This will come as a shock to absolutely no one, but I'm not a classical-music guy. I'm totally inspired by the hard work and precision of an orchestra, but the truth is that I don't listen to a lot of orchestra music or attend that type of concert very often.

But, I have seen enough live performances (and TV broadcasts) to know that at the end of concert, the conductor gets applause. A lot of applause, actually. In addition, the conductor is always listed in the top-line credits when a song is being played on radio or broadcast on TV.

Why is that? Think about it - the musicians in the orchestra learn the music. They spend hours practicing privately. They attend up long, tedious rehearsals and when it's time, they are the ones who perform the music. So why does the conductor seem to get just as much (sometimes more) credit as the people who actually make the music happen?

Now, if you know much about classical music, you know that the conductor actually logs more hours than anybody getting ready for a concert. The conductor is making notes, learning the music, even conceptualizing how to create a unique musical experience within the boundaries of precisely written works. The maestro is there before the rehearsals start and long after everybody goes home. So, you could make the argument that we applaud him or her for all their hard work.

But I think there's another reason. An ever better one.

We applaud the conductor because he or she keeps everyone together. The job is taking a mass of musicians - varying in age and experience (and even ability) - and helping all of these individual musical voices join to create something cohesive and compelling. The conductor shines because the conductor's goal is to make the musicians shine even brighter. All those hours in pursuit of helping players to achieve beauty and inspiration are what fuel us when we applaud.

I don't think anybody should applaud you at the end of a worship set, but I do think you and I could learn a lot from the conductor. Too often, we devote our hours to making sure we come off as musically astute or highly creative or even simply "cool." But there's a higher goal in our music making. The people you lead need you to lead them. To stretch them. To grow them. To encourage them and to be the ears that help them to find something beautiful and inspiring when they make music for God's glory.

Spend your hours wisely. Toil over music in a way that brings your players closer together and focused on God's glory in our corporate worship. It's time well spent!

NEW GUITAR

First rehearsal last night on electric rhythm. I had big plans to focus on playing less and only helping out in big parts but ended up that our acoustic rhythm player couldn't be there. Since we had a new (young) drummer, I had to play more rhythm that I wanted to keep us together. It was also our first rehearsal with Vdrums, so that was an added challenge. But overall, I dug playing it.

I'm running the Epiphone 339 PRO through a Le Clean Two Notes pre-amp/DI. I accidentally used the B channel (overdrive) for one song, which wasn't my plan and ended up being to crunchy. The big challenge for me is figuring out the pickups and using those to tailor sound.

NEW ALBUM REVIEWS!

This week on the podcast, Anthony and I review three brand new worship projects. And if you have any ideas for other stuff to review, let us know!

JOSH BALDWIN - THE WAR IS OVER
Unfortunately, Anthony had only just a little time with this project, but that didn't matter because I already loved it! I can also confirm that Anthony has since listened through the record and enjoyed it as well. All the hallmarks of Baldwin's previous work are well represented in this new work: Springstee-esque touches of keys and synth, straight ahead grooves that almost venture into alt-country, but not quite, honest lyrical layout with fresh ways of saying old things. But there's new stuff, too. Arrangements are compelling and dynamic throughout the whole album and the subject matter narrows and expands as the album progresses. Personally, I'd love to see this record get Josh into a whole bunch of new earbuds. He's a great artist who deserves to be heard.

HOUSEFIRES - WE SAY YES
Anthony and I were pretty close on this one, too. As guys who love simple, playable, singable congregational worship tunes, we've got a ton of respect for Housefires. We appreciate them for staying true to what set them apart in the very beginning. And what's more, we think they're getting better and better at it. At the time of recording, we both felt like it was a good record but nothing really stood out to us. I'm sure the album will grow on us, but we were pretty passive in our thoughts toward it. I hope, however, that records like this will continue to inspire churches to both lead and write songs that are easy to sing and play.

HILLSONG UNITED - WONDER
Surprisingly, Anthony and I both were really high on this new Hillsong album. Anthony heard a big hit in "So Will I" and I feel like they've made a really good pop record. I don't expect it to be as much of a church resource as Anthony does, but we were both impressed with both the production value, melody and lyrical consistency from song to song. I'm a also a little tentative about some lyric and design choices and how it'll hit Christian subculture, but overall, it's a great record with creative, thoughtful songwriting and top-notch producing.

THE GREATEST

A look back at the worship albums that made us who we are...

You can learn a lot about a worship leader by looking at the music that inspired him or her in their youth. I came of age during two seismic cultural shifts when it came to music. As far as secular music goes, I was witness to the sea change caused by the alternative music scene. I wasn’t quite old enough to recognize what a massive change the “Seattle sound” had truly done to rock n’ roll, but I was certainly aware that music was exploding into the lives of me and my friends.

But that’s not the only thing I was hearing. The other transformation in front of me involved worship music. We were transitioning as a church culture and it wasn’t easy for a lot of my elders, but I loved it. I don’t that I would have said I wanted be a worship leader back then, but I did love worship music. I had a cheap guitar and I knew three chords (don’t know that many more now, btw) and there was nothing more fun than playing along with these new “rocking” church songs.

That’s why I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the worship albums that shaped me. A review-in-retrospect, you might say.

 

I was already a fan of Paul Baloche when First Love came out. But you have to remember that we didn’t know when records would release - especially worship albums, which were such a new concept at the time. Even if FIRST LOVE hadn’t been great (which it was and still is) the mere discovery of a new Baloche CD was a big deal regardless. I’ve been listening through this record today and still have such a fondness for this collection of songs.

Before the proliferation of the internet, we didn’t know when new worship records were coming out. This was before worship music would take over contemporary Christian music. There were no magazine articles about worship music, not playlists online with hot new worship tracks and no blogs from big famous worship leaders. In fact, there weren’t blogs about anything, come to think of it.

I was traveling through Tyler, Texas, when I heard the title rack from the CD. They played it on the local Christian radio station in the middle of the day, and I was floored. I had never heard this song. What was this? It was a worship song…on the radio! Imagine my surprise when the DJ said, “and that’s the brand new song from Paul Baloche.”

The newsflash in my head had multiple levels.
Paul Baloche has a new record…
And they play it on the radio here…
And it’s also really good…

The record is “churchy” in all the best ways. On my re-listens, I noticed how simple the electric guitar parts were. Maybe this was intentional, maybe it was just the nature of the musicians - but to release a worship album in the midst of the worship debate that stayed away from big, blazing rock n’ roll guitar solos is such a perfect move. I was four songs in when I realized that the church of my youth could have done any one of those songs and never tripped any sort of worship war alarm with the hymns-only crowd.

It’s also organized like a worship set, and not just dynamically. By grabbing a few popular Delirious songs, the whole album played like a song service and not a concert. The middle of the record is so brilliantly stacked with ballads just big enough to transition out of the opening numbers but also simple enough to drop into the quieter moments of worship.

Beyond that, First Love was filled with fantastic songwriting. Maybe it’s because we took longer in between albums in those days, but all the original stuff on the project is arranged and written so beautifully. This is before “worship hits” was a thing on the radio or in churches, but one could easily see the songs were original in concept but singable. This record introduced the world to “Open The Eyes Of My Heart,” which is probably considered the hit song of this record, but it’s just one of numerous fantastic songs.

But what really shines years later is the diversity of the album. It’s packed with choices that would eventually would become benchmarks of worship music - V chords for acoustic guitar, tom parts for drums and auxiliary percussion, a tasteful solution to the percussion explosion we were experiencing in worship music. Paul found a way to implement these instruments without making them the entire focus of the album. He and his musicians didn’t invent these musical approaches, but this record was definitely an innovator. Would the church-at-large have picked up on all this if the record hadn’t had “Open The Eyes…”? Who knows.

But there’s a good lesson here for those of us who care about album making. We never know where a project will end up. We have no way of planning for a song to break through and reach a massive audience. So, why not make the album you want to make, full of diverse styles and arrangements? If some song gets thousands of people to hear your record, that’s fantastic. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ve still made an album you can be proud of.

What about you? Do you remember this record? Or better yet, what's a worship album that influenced you?

THE LIST

Over on the podcast this week, we talked about the uniqueness of worship leading - particularly when it comes to managing logistics and still being emotionally and spiritually invested in the work of the ministry.

Now, I don't think we solved this challenge in the podcast, but I do think that honestly accepting the struggles of the job can go a long way to handling it. Knowing is half the battle, right?

Of course, everything in the job is spiritual, but I thought it might be helpful to breakdown the worship leader's job into lists based on our MACRO/MICRO discussion from the podcast. It's not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it was helpful even to me to think about where this stuff "fits."