Complete Website Makeover

 

 

Dear Fellow Musicians and Worship leaders,

 

It’s a new year, and we are finally getting around a complete makeover of the Hymnprovisation.com website and branding to make it more readable, useful and practical for you.

We are in the process of a complete makeover of Hymnprovisation.com which will include a new header, logo, and new design to serve you better. In addition, we plan on adding new content, sheet music for sale, and pre-sales of the book,

Hymnprovisation- The art of improvising and effective accompaniment. 

Our goal is to serve fellow musicians by collecting and offering useful information, advice, input and training, for church musicians, worship leaders and hobby musicians. We hope to do this through the means of this website that is both easy to navigate and also meets the needs of our readers in a clean and professional manner.

We need your input!

In order to do this well, we are going to need your help!

We’ve created a short survey that we think will help us narrow down the needs of our readers to better serve them. Would you take a moment to fill this out? We will be carefully and prayerfully considering your responses and Lord willing, we will be able to serve you better this year.

We are grateful to those of you who already have taken a few short minutes to do this!

What we hope to accomplish in 2017:

Please bear with us as we test out and try to implement some new things including,

  • Creating a professional looking website with better content, tailored to your needs in an easy to read and navigate format that doesn’t turn readers off.

 

  • Distilling and Communicating our mission and purpose better.

 

  • Collaborating with other musicians and professionals in the fields which you are interested in.

 

  • And adding additional content including:
    • Writing and posting to the blog at least twice a month.
    • More links to other helpful websites
    • More videos.
    • A new page with sales of vintage, POP and newer sheet music.
    • Pre-sales of the book as mentioned above.
    • Adding specific content related to your responses to our survey as to how we can assist you better. (Please take a moment to tell us how we can help you this year.)

Music Conferences

Many of you have asked about whether we are going to do another music conference this year. The answer is, I would like to, but simply cannot afford it at the moment. Even though we had a generous sponsor, 46 paying attendees and several very kind individuals who volunteered much of their time and resources, it just didn’t come close to covering the cost of putting it together. I was a bit concerned that the cost of attending wouldn’t be affordable to those who wanted to come, and yet, for the quality of instruction, it turned out to be a very fair deal. We are still praying about this, but unless the LORD directs otherwise, we will plan to do one again in 2018. There is still a small possibility of organizing one this Fall, but I will need volunteers in order to make this happen. (I just can’t afford to take 6 months off of my regular job this year to plan, organize and execute it myself.)

Funding for this ministry

This website is a ministry. Not a 501.C.3 tax exempt charity, but a ministry nonetheless. It is not a money-making proposition but something I do because I love quality sacred worship music, and because I like to help other people be able to make quality music. Pretty much every aspect of it cost money. Sending emails to you, taking the time away from paying work to write, improve this website and blog, select content, etc,-all of it has costs and there may well come a time when I am unable to continue this because other needs are more pressing. Until then, I have been blessed to be able to do this and hope to continue. If the LORD puts it on your heart to donate to this ministry, that would be appreciated, but I am not requiring or even asking. You can contact me privately if necessary.

 

I’m sure we are missing something, and since our goal is to serve YOU, won’t you let us know what would be helpful to you? Please take a few moments to take the survey or leave a comment below and let us know!

Once again, don’t forget to take the survey here!

 

Should You Train To Failure?

Our Practice

I just heard a strength and fitness trainer advocating “training to failure,” and I thought that was an odd thing to say. I had to hear more.

First though, you need to understand something. It should be obvious by now that I am a big fan of improvising in music, and in fact, that’s what this website is about, in part. But not just improvising out of rebellion to the composer, but in order that the music set aside for worship can be the best possible music out there. There are times when improvising isn’t the best thing to do, but in general life throws curve balls, so I think we should look at improvisation as practice for real life situations.

With that understanding as our foundation on this topic, I’d like to explore both what the Fitness Trainer said, but in terms of our musicianship, and also another saying no doubt you have heard which goes like this:

“Practice Makes Perfect!”

Hmm…But does it really?

Like so many sayings we have come to believe because we have heard them so often, which may or may not have an element of truth, this one too, could be true or false.

Let me explain:

It doesn’t take long to think up a situation where it would not be true. If you are incorrectly practicing a piece of written music, or failing to execute a technique correctly, than you won’t get it perfect (even if everything else is right except one little thing). In this all-to-common scenario, instead, practice makes pathetic, because the incorrect rote practice now becomes a habit that is very hard to break.

However, it would be true if you practiced it perfectly through and through, each time, which is what we strive for.

Let’s face it though, how many of us actually really do this? Of course we are human and will make a mistake, but many of us are also lazy, especially when it comes to worship music? I’m not sure why, but in 22+ years of playing in churches, I have witnessed the general unspoken consensus among the musicians, that, It isn’t going to be as good as the symphony, so it doesn’t REALLY matter.

That is a sad indictment, and I hope it isn’t true of you. I’m sorry to say it has been true of me at times.

I’m not sure if it is a lax attitude among laymen because we aren’t paid, so why bother, or maybe you are paid, but you feel it is not enough to practice like a pro. Or maybe it is because we feel like the people who are listening don’t care, which is a mistake in itself because our music shouldn’t be for them, it should be for our LORD.

And He deserves only the absolute very best.

But is that even possible to deliver?

That is really the crux of the matter and a question that only you can answer:

Do YOU give YOUR very best?

Do you do as good as you would if you were first chair Violinist, or a musician invited to play with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall?

And that brings me to the other thing I want to explore:

Our Training

Some of us practice daily, while others are lay musicians who practice when they can. God has called each of us to different walks of life, and I get that. However, if He has called you to make music for Him, you should have some sort of a plan in place to ensure that you are giving your very best.

So how should we train?

Each of us will be inclined to one method or another, and some ways may work better for others. That’s understandable. What I want to do is encourage you, whichever course you take, is to train to failure. Not for failure, but to failure.

In other words, train until you can’t anymore. Until your muscles give out from exhaustion, Your brain can’t take it anymore, and there is nothing left to learn.

I don’t typically listen to celebrity trainers but as I said earlier, I happened across a short clip of celebrity trainer, Jeff Cavaliere, advocating “Training to Failure.” Since that seemed contrary to my thought process, I thought I would see what he had to say, and I heard this:

“Train until you reach failure in your technique, where your 
technique is good, but you go as hard as you can and if you 
have to change your tempo, that’s okay, as long as your form 
is still good. 
What you don’t want to do is change your… form in order to 
keep going, that would not be training to failure.”

Does that make any sense? He’s advocating training with the right technique and not letting up until you can’t go any further.

He’s not saying train so you WILL fail, but UNTIL you fail. Only then should we take a break.

This isn’t just true of athletes. I know musicians who would practice something until they got it right, and then, at that point, they would play it 100 times in a row nonstop. If they got it wrong, they would start over. And that wasn’t even for the LORD!

If we are going to bring the LORD our very best, than this kind of hardcore training is necessary to condition ourselves into the proper technique, the right notes, the perfect tempo, the exquisite dynamics, the perfect phrasing, etc.

I know that some of you won’t even know what songs you may be called on to play next. I played for many years at a church where they called out the hymns from the congregation, so I never knew what I was going to have to play. But still, I had to be ready. And you can be too. You can practice through your whole hymnbook if you are a church pianist, until you know all the hymns by heart. Words too.

I must admit here that I never learned every one of them (partly because I was lazy, and partly because we didn’t sing certain ones) but I know most of them to this day, by heart.

We can be ready for whatever we are called to at a moment’s notice, by taking the time and energy to train like an athlete. In a very real sense, this is a sacrifice of praise.

If a concert pianist would train like an athlete in preparation for a concert, why shouldn’t you or I train like an athlete in preparation for Sunday morning worship of the God of all the Universe, who gave His most prized possession to purchase us?

I’d like to know if you agree or disagree, or if you have another opinion. Please leave a comment below, and if you found this useful, share it with a friend.

 

 

 

Self-Centered Worship

I have found a helpful bit of advice on modern Self Centered Worship, from Australian worship leader, Darin Browne, at PraiseandWorshipLeader.com

This podcast explores self centered worship, and whether or not “I” songs have become the focus of modern worship music. They make the excellent points:

  • If we are going to worship, it must be centered on God. When modern songs fail to mention even one of His many names, it is hard to say if it is focused on the LORD, or a human fancy.
  • The “Formulas” vs. the Holy Spirit.
  • Choosing the right kind of songs for worship and choosing songs with purpose and looking at the meaning. Not using “throw away” songs. Time for music in worship is limited already. Every song should either point to God, or your response to God.
  • The call to worship.
  • Seeking God on every song you do. This is something that has been important to me, and I have personally seen this have a big impact in my worship.

Top five take aways:

  1. Choose lyrics and songs carefully. Choose the right key. Check out the lyrics and melodies to be sure you are not singing “junk” music that is not accurate, or is difficult to sing. Just because they are doctrinally or scripturally correct, doesn’t mean they are great corporate worship songs! Don’t introduce more than one new song in a week. Learning new songs isn’t usually the focus of worship in song.

  2. Ask why do you do the song you are doing. You need to have a valid reason for each song.
  3. Avoid formulas. Three fast, two slow…two fast, three slow, or whatever it be, God will not fall off His throne if you do it different.
  4. Middle songs should be about proclaiming God- i.e., He is Lord, Man of Sorrows, When I Survey
  5. Finish on song that directly glorifies God. i.e. How Great Thou Art, Agnus Dei, How Great Is Our God.

While these folks are discussing this subject in terms of a modern worship music setting, the same can be said for much of so called traditional music in worship. If this is your form of worship, take a hard look at the music you choose as well. This phenomenon is not exclusive to CCM.

 

The Pinnacle of Music

James Koerts  in his blog, posted a quote about music and why True Worship music is the Pinnacle of all music. It’s worth reading, and because he is a fellow believer who has much, much, more experience in this field, I’m going to suggest you go to his website and check it out here! While you are there, don’t forget to sign up for his newsletter, and receive a free hymn arrangement from him. Check out his blog, CDs, and arrangements!

James is a fantastic pianist, writer and arranger of music, and serves on the pastoral staff of Mikado Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. He is passionate about worship. Not talking about it. Doing it. And there’s nothing like bringing people into the presence of God through corporate worship. It’s one of his favorite things to do. (I personally think he really excels at accompaniment that is not distracting!)

Learning from my own advice

Today, I played an offertory for church. Offertory isn’t my favorite thing to play for. I’d much rather play for the congregation to sing. I am an accompanist, not a soloist. But I was asked to play, and the others who sometimes play, couldn’t, so I agreed to.

I have to add here, I’m not a fan of passing the bag or offering plate. I grew up in a church that had a small wooden box in the back somewhere. We never talked about it and never asked for money, yet God always provided our needs and then some! When I first started coming here and was asked to play offertory, I was a little conflicted, since I personally believe the “brown box” is the better way to go about this. But I came to grips with it for three reasons:

  1. I was giving an offering of my gifts, to the LORD, through worship music.
  2. The music was (usually) a blessing to others, and since, what we do to the least of these, we do to Him, I was blessing Him!
  3. I believed in the work the church was funding with the monies the collected.

I usually have this honor once a month, but was asked to do it two weeks in a row (last week, and this week). Last week, I played a rousing rendition of “Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” which wasn’t close to perfect, but many people were impressed with. Jim, our assistant Pastor, commented, “Now that is what I call an offertory!” Even as I walked in this morning, a week later, several people complimented me about it. I should’ve taken that as a hint.

Feeling just a little too good about last week’s offertory, I couldn’t think of what I should play this week. Even when I got to church, I hadn’t figured it out. In the past, often, I will have picked out a hymn or gospel song, and worked up some arrangement for it, and when it came time, a  still, small but firm voice, says, “Don’t play that one. Play this one instead.” Sometimes I listen to this, and sometimes I don’t. When I have listened, often people have come up and told me how they were blessed. And then I am blessed that they were blessed, and I think it was what’s called a double blessing! When I don’t listen, bad things happen. :/
Such was today. I wasn’t sure what to play. Several hymns stood out, but I kept comparing them with last week’s offertory song, and well, it’s hard to top Wonderful Grace Of Jesus! But that’s where I kept getting derailed.

It’s not about what the people think is it? Who am I really playing for, the congregation, or the King of kings?

As the time came to decide, I chose to do one of my all-time favorite hymns: I Am His, and He Is Mine. When I opened the hymnal to that page, (as I do to follow the words while I play) the opposite page was, A Child Of The King. I heard that still, small voice again:

“Play that instead.”

“But I don’t really know how to do that one so well, LORD, and it only has like three chords in it (okay, maybe more, but it’s not a terribly exciting melody!”

“So?” 

“…and this one is my favorite- I know how to play it, and make it sound good!”

“So you are more worried about impressing men, huh? Okay. Go ahead.”

The prayer was ending…it was time to choose: Child of the King, or I Am His, and He is Mine…?

And I chose.

I wish I could say that I was playing to bring honor to my LORD, but sadly, I let my pride get the better of me. It was awful: It sounded horrible, and I was nervous because I was worried about what people were thinking. I felt all 500 eyes on me. I stumbled. I forgot what key I was in at the middle of the last line. I recovered the best I could and ended what was once a beautiful hymn, that I had destroyed by distracting from the message of the song. I wasn’t playing to my LORD, I was trying to play to the crowd, and miserably failing at worshiping the LORD!

Folks, don’t make the same mistake I made! Whether it’s an offertory, special number, living room session, or accompanying a thousand people, your audience as a minister in the house of the LORD, is always God the Father. It’s not Mom or Dad, or uncles, aunts, friends, family, or anyone else. It’s God, and God alone!

If I could encourage you in one thing only, it would be to not worry about what anyone else thinks, but to honor the LORD with all you have been given, whether that is time, talent, wealth, family, or anything else that is “yours”. It all really belongs to Him, for all things are created by and for Him, and He is before all things. And it is by Him alone, that all things consist. (Colossians 1:16–17)

Now go and bless the LORD!

 

 

 

Some more thoughts on Worship vs. Entertainment…

Mike Livingstone, on his appropriately named blog, mikelivingstone.com, wrote an article titled, “The Heresy of Worshiptainment”, which caused quite a furor among the church today, and inspired the last article I linked to in my previous post. If you did not click the link to read Livingstone’s piece, I highly recommend you do now!

I wish I had read this one before posting the last one, because even though I don’t appreciate people throwing around the accusation, “heresy” (because most of the time they have no business doing so), I think that Livingstone nailed the church to the wall in this post, as evidenced in part by both the furor and the angry comments received!

It was convicting.

As a minister of music, I have to constantly guard against the pride that I struggle with day after day-especially when the Holy Spirit is moving freely through me and the music coming out is good. I constantly struggle in the desire to please men though, and to “tickle their ears”, by entertaining them. But, while there is, I believe, an appropriate time and place for entertainment, while assisting the congregation in worshipping God, that isn’t my calling. And it’s certainly not the time and place! My calling is to praise the Lord whose name is Holy and Righteous, to bring Him honor in body and in Spirit-in essence, to tickle His ears! It is to assist others in doing so while playing piano accompaniment or even while playing a special or offertory. In fact, my desire is that all men should worship the Lord, rather than me, and sometimes that means I need to stop what I’ve been doing, and be still. I can’t tell you how many times I had prepared something to share as a special or offertory, only to be led by the Spirit at the last minute, to change it. I had prepared all sorts of grand ideas and fancy playing under the guise of it being for the Lord, when it really wasn’t what would’ve brought Him the most glory. Instead, he had me play something totally different, but every time I’ve listed to this still, small, voice saying, “This is the way…” I have had people come up afterward and tell me how blessed they were!

And you know, I am blessed when they are blessed! That means it’s  double the blessing it would’ve been!

All I can say is, Praise the Lord: Give God the glory due unto His name!

 

 

Worship-tainment…wait, what??

I just read this interesting article, chronicling some of the church’s history as an entertainment venue. I’d never really considered it as such before, but I think the author is correct. I suggest reading it with an open mind.

It’s some interesting food for thought: Our houses of Worship (that are supposed to be reserved for worshiping the LORD GOD), have become places of entertainment, many of which hardly differ from a night club or a fancy concert hall. Really, what IS the difference? Concert halls have sacred music in them sometimes. And though I’ve never been in one, I’m quite sure that you can hear about God in a night-club too, albeit, probably in a derogatory manner. But maybe God isn’t all impressed with our huge buildings, light shows, overhead displays, fancy chairs, theater lights, sound systems and so on and so forth. Have we ever really stopped to think about this? What really brings Him praise?

Psalm 50 tells us that He doesn’t despise the broken and contrite in heart;

Psalm 66 tells us to make His praise glorious;

John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Jeremiah 29 reminds Israel that if they obeyed the LORD, “…then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.” (vs 12)

Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Brothers and sisters, there are hundreds more like this. None of these verses have anything to do with bands, and fancy lights and smoke machines, or orchestras and pianos and pipe organs either. They have everything to do with the heart. In fact, all of that stuff that is designed for entertainment, is really a distraction most of the time, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be used as ONE channel of blessing and honor to the LORD. It can also become a stench to Him. Can I encourage us all to make sure our hearts are right, so God will will accept our praise? And if you are in a position of leadership, to encourage the congregation to do the same?

 

Psalm 100

As I was reading the Psalms the other day, Psalm 100 stood out to me:

PSALM 100

A Psalm of praise.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

A joyful noise of praise, a song of gladness…not a mournful, sad, melancholy one. I recently heard that some congregations take Psalms like this to say we should refuse to have minor, or melancholy music in praise to the LORD. Of course other Psalms talk about how terrible God is, and the things He does or will do to His enemies. If we were to just take just Psalm 100, and apply the I-don’t-read-the-rest-of-scripture rule, we would have to rule out the following well-known and very good hymns:

What Child Is This? O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, O The Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus, Once To Every Man and Nation, I’m Just A Poor, Wayfaring Stranger, and Flee As A Bird To Your Mountain, to name just a few!

Or what of a sad words?

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? Man Of Sorrows, What a Name! When I Survey The Wondrous Cross! Up Calvary’s Mountain, and Abide With Me would be outlawed.

I don’t know about you, but I am not going to throw out these hymns and the hundreds of others that have melodies appropriate to their words.

This Psalm says to me, that we should thank the LORD for His truth, and everlasting mercy, with a glad song of joy. It is a song of praise to our LORD for the greatness of His mercy, not an instructional command that we can never have music appropriate to the words we are singing. In fact, it is the opposite! It is an example of music appropriate to the words: I noticed it did not say, come before the LORD with a sad song of mournfulness for His great mercy and truth. That would have been inappropriate because it goes against nature! The laws of nature which our incredible GOD has so intricately set up include things like music: We know by our spirit, what music is appropriate for the moment.

That being said, could it be true that there is some music, while never appropriate for use of praise to the Holy God, (whose name is Prince of Peace, and who dwells in Holiness and whose Majesty fills the earth and heaven), is appropriate for other things?

Are lullabies appropriate praise to God? How about Opera? What about Military March music? Or Ragtime? Or Love Songs (between man and woman)? or Rock and Roll, or Rap? What about the song of a newborn believer that knows no other kind? Maybe a native somewhere is beating his drum in praise to God who has done great things for him. Is that sinful?  I’m not saying we ought to excuse music that is definitely demonic, rather, let the Spirit of God guide you in your praise to God, and while speaking the truth in love, don’t be too hard on those who have not yet received the measure of grace which you have.

It may be that all of these in some way bring praise to the LORD. I am not qualified to make that statement with authority, but I believe it’s certainly possible!

One other thing written in the Psalms comes to mind as I wrap this up. Psalm 66:1-2 tells the reader, “Make a joyful noise unto God all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.”

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” -Colossians 3:15

This much we know we should do!