Sorry for the delay (its been a busy week with a wild windstorm on Tuesday, and trying to get some of my regular outdoor jobs buttoned up before the snow sets in!)
Today, I’d like to share some left hand piano techniques with you. While there are thousands of techniques out there that are available and effective for hymn playing and gospel music, here are three different ways to play the most used: Stride. Though it has its basis in classical music (explained in the text) Stride is a variation on the basic pattern. Which is effective on the piano in part because of its emphasis on the root of the chord, and also in that it keeps the rhythm of the music.
(I’ve been learning about WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org, as I tried in vain, to insert this as a picture, or PDF. That’s what part of the delay was about.) Someday soon, I hope, these tips will be inserted in directly so you don’t have to download them, but for now, you’re stuck with downloading this PDF right out of the book that I’m working on. All of this and more will be in the book when I finish it.
I have a page on the website now, called “Music“, where you can download a PDF file of a number of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, which I have written melodies to. Even though technically I “own” the copyrights to them, because I believe these melodies to old hymns (and some new) were given to me, these are free of charge to you for use in personal or corporate worship. If you would like to arrange them, record them, or use them some other way, I’d appreciate if you contact me first. There are more to come, so you may want to check back in the next couple of weeks.
As I’ve been meditating on Worship, and just what it is exactly, I received the following weekly devotional email from Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Tx. It was appropriate to this discussion so here it is:
Mr. Evans points out that worship lifts us up emotionally. This is true, but if we worship for this reason only, we worship for the wrong reason. Worship isn’t about us only, it’s about GOD. Mr. Evans is simply pointing out that even though it is designed to bring GOD benefit, it also by inherent design, brings us benefit as well. Not when we are doing it for our sake, but when we do it for the LORD’s sake, because He alone is worthy of worship. He alone is worthy of praise! So may the LORD be glorified and your spirit uplifted as you worship the LORD today, tomorrow, and always!
A friend sent me the following quote by A.W. Tozer, that has been floating around the internet lately:
“Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”
I’m puzzled by something.
There is a paradox, a contradiction of sorts in so-called Worship Music, and I don’t know what to do with it. I’m the kind of person that sees things as black or white; right or wrong; good, or bad, so when I come across certain music, I tend to run it through this filter. The problem is I can’t define all of it this way. It just doesn’t seem to work because some music has different purposes. I can think of music meant to tell a story, make a point (political or otherwise), entertain, woo a lover, heal the soul, make you joyful or sad, put you to sleep, keep you awake, lead you into battle, etc…
The paradox is that we have this thing called worship music, and yet my spirit is not, no matter how hard I try, in a state of worship when I listen to most of it. I have to say most, because it would be untrue to say all. And herein is the problem: What makes some of it put me in a spirit of worship, but not all of it?
I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I think I’ve hit on something.
Jesus told the Pharisees that they were following the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law. What does this have to do with music? I believe some music is written in true worship to the Lord of lords, the God who redeemed the writer’s soul from the chains of bondage, and that it comes through in their music, and that the other music is possibly written, (even if unwittingly) to please man, to glorify self, to produce an emotional high, to bring smooth words to a certain demographic, to complete a record, or to fulfill a publisher’s demands, as this article supposedly by CCM artist Matt Papa, confirms.
It could also be that the writer isn’t really actually a true believer, and that they don’t have the spirit of God filling their entire being, which might also explain some of the music, lyrics, techniques, performances, and the lives and appearance of some of the composers and performers. This was unfortunately true in one of the most successful modern Christian worship bands, Newsboys. George Perdikis, founder of Newsboys has renounced Christianity and become an Atheist.
And George isn’t the only one. An atheist female backup singer for an unnamed Christian contemporary band had this to say on Reddit.com Athiest’s forum,
“When I was hired, everyone got wasted and the casting director told me the reason I made it to final callbacks was because I had the “good girl look” and was “Christian sexy”…Also, the typical CCM-listener is an evangelical middle-aged woman with kids that radio has named “Becky”, and this article describes how they target her better than I can:
“Christian radio plays songs for Becky. The labels know that in order to sell music, they have to get songs on radio. Radio = Becky. So the labels coerce their artists and bands to all write and record songs for Becky….songs that will make her feel good. Songs that tell her she is good. Songs that are “safe for the whole family”. Songs that remind her of her snow-flake-ness and tell her to turn that frown upside-down. Songs that focus on love and hope. Songs that aren’t confrontational. Songs that aren’t theological because man, that stuff is up in the clouds. Songs that don’t talk about blood and crosses and depressing stuff like that. Songs that focus on Becky and her busy life. And if the artists or bands want to write songs for another demographic or another purpose, that’s fine, they can just make music somewhere else. There is money to be made. And sure, all radio stations and all record labels do this, they sell whatever the listener wants to hear, and they hire musicians and singers for their looks, but CCM markets their whole operation as FOR JESUS. Meaning HOLIER than NOT FOR JESUS.” (Emphasis in original)
If you think that’s bad, it gets worse.
This article, quoting Tim Lambesis, a former member of the band, As I Lay Dying, which has traveled with many bands, says that your favorite Christian band probably isn’t Christian:
“We toured with more ‘Christian bands’ who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”
The article goes on to say,
“I remember one Christian festival where an interviewer wanted one of the guys to share his testimony, and he just froze up and let one of the guys who was still a Christian at the time answer the question. We laughed about it afterward, but we were only laughing because it was so awkward.”
“When kids would want to pray with us after shows, I’d be like, “Um, go ahead and pray!” I would just let them pray. I’d say ‘Amen.’ If praying while I have my hand on their shoulder makes them feel better, I didn’t want to take that away from them. When they would specifically ask me to pray for something, I’d say, ‘I don’t really like to pray out loud, but I’ll take that with me to the bus.’”
These sad testimonies don’t prove that this is why my spirit resonates with some contemporary songs and not others, but it does point to some evidence that indicates it’s a strong possibility. Even so, as I read these testimonies and looked into the lives of some of these people, I am convicted- especially when George Perdikis, the founder of Newsboys, said in his interview with Patheos,
“The Christian music scene is populated by many people who act as though they have a direct hotline to a God who supplies them with the answers to the Universe. There seems to be more ego and narcissism amongst Christian musicians than their secular counterparts.
Recently, the Newsboys were featured in the movie God’s Not Dead. The movie demonstrated the pervasive attitude of Christians. They demonized everyone while giving a pass to their own particular brand of Christianity, making themselves look like fluffy white angels with perfect, synchronized lives.
The truth is — from someone who knows what went on then and what goes on now — the Newsboys aren’t as holy as they profess. Instead of wearing a mask of “righteousness,” they should acknowledge that they are struggling as much as everyone else.
Now that’s a movie I’d like to see.”
Now I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t speak to whether or not that part is an accurate portrayal or a jaded perspective, but whether on purpose or not, he makes a point saying that the Christian musicians have the same temptations as the world and maybe ought to be more honest in both their music and their lives. I’m not suggesting living in the cesspool of sin because we were born into it, rather, being honest with ourselves and with others about our weaknesses, and living like we were redeemed out of it! After all, God resists the proud but gives grace to the truly humble. He doesn’t despise the broken in heart, or the contrite (broken; crushed) spirit. I really believe that it is in this humility, this place of brokenness, that the Spirit of God comes and dwells in men and women and allows them to be an instrument of praise, writing, singing and making a joyful noise unto the LORD.
“There is less and less sacred in the house of the LORD these days and that certainly concerns me.”
When someone mentions sacred music these days, I don’t know about you, but I typically think of 17th century music sung in ornate cathedrals, in such a way that one can’t understand the words anyway…Or I think of hymns in a particular style with no drums. However, the word Sacred, means “set apart for worship of a deity.” Webster’s defines it as,
“1. a: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity
b: devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) “
If the music meets those criteria, than it could be considered sacred. Trouble is, most of it doesn’t today, and didn’t in the 17th century either-most of the music composed than was composed for hire by, or under the dictation of, the kings.
Most composers nowadays wouldn’t describe their music as “sacred” per se either, because they are making music for a living, not strictly for the glory and honor of GOD. Christian music, which includes so-called sacred music, is a multi-billion dollar business, and most of the record labels are owned by the big music conglomerates like Sony records. For instance, Provident Group is a Sony Sub-label whose labels include, “Essential Records, Reunion Records, Essential Worship and Beach Street Records, is home to an artist roster which includes Casting Crowns (Thrive), Third Day (Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship), Steven Curtis Chapman (The Glorious Unfolding), Tenth Avenue North (Cathedrals), RED (of Beauty and Rage), and Brandon Heath (No Turning Back) among others. PMG also consists of Provident Films ( “War Room,” “Mom’s Night Out,” “Fireproof”), Provident Distribution, Essential Music Publishing and Essential Artist Services. “
Capitol Christian Music Group which is a subsidiary of Capitol Records, owned by Vivendi, which claims to be the largest music corporation in the world, owns just about every other “Christian” record label not controlled by Sony. The Christian music arm, Capitol Christian Music Group claims that “Capitol CMG Publishing has long been the market leader and represents more than 100,000 songs, hundreds of copyright catalogs including sixsteps and ThankYou Music, over 300 writers, including Chris Tomlin, Kirk Franklin, Matt Redman, Ben Glover, Marvin Sapp, Matt Maher, Chris Stevens, Aaron Lindsey, Leeland and David Garcia and also administers catalogs for other artist/writers such as TobyMac, Casting Crowns and Third Day.” They also hold “exclusive distribution agreements with more than 30 music labels, film studios and book publishers, including Gaither Music Group, Inpop, Maranatha! Music, Spring Hill Music Group, Universal Music Group, Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment, Jellyfish Labs, Wanderlust Productions, Worthy Publishing and Authentic Publishers, among many others. Since 1994, Capitol Christian Distribution has been named Billboard Magazine’s Top Christian Music Distributor 15 times in the last 18 years.”
These labels exists to make money. If they don’t, they’ll go away. That these artists write songs, and Sony and Capitol Records (which are about as far as you can get from anything that resembles sacred) produce them, is a testament that it is a business rather than a dedicated act of worship. This opens up another subject about the business of christian music which I hope to address at another time, but my point here is:
Most modern christian music, just because it is christian, is not necessarily sacred, because it is no longer solely for the worship of GOD.
When God called Moses out of a burning bush in the wilderness, His very presence made the immediate area holy ground, “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
That must’ve been both awesome and yet scary at the same time, Moses sees a bush, burning, but not being consumed, hears the voice of GOD, and what does he do? Moses recognized the voice of Jehovah saying, don’t come any closer, take off your shoes because you are on holy ground and Moses hid his face, “for he was afraid to look upon God.” He had a fear of the LORD while in the presence of the God of all the universe! Later, Moses had to be hid in a cleft of the rock and only see the backside of the LORD because no one can see God’s face and live. When the LORD showed Himself to Elijah, there was a wind so strong that it broke rocks, and there was a powerful earthquake, then a fire, then after that, the Still, Small Voice of the LORD, and Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle. King David, whose life revolved around worshiping the LORD said twice (Psalm 29:2 and Psalm 96:9)
“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”
“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.”
Since we have been redeemed and don’t belong to us anymore (1 Cor 6:19-20), there ought to be a difference from the rest of the world, in nearly everything we do, and He that redeemed us with His blood told us to be holy like He is. After all, we are His! We don’t typically use the term “Redeemed” anymore, but it means we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without spot or blemish. If we have been bought, than who, or what owned us before? We seem to take the presence of God in our worship for granted today and church services have become productions of pre-rehearsed, palatable, people pleasing pompousness, and no one knows what is holy or sacred anymore. We ought to come into the presence of the Holy God on our knees, trembling, for He is our GOD (Psalm 95:6)! Let HIM tell us when we can get up! If we really experienced the presence of God in all His Holiness, we would hide our face and say with Isaiah, “Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips!”
What is sacred in our lives?
Are we continuing under our former slave driver’s rule, continuing to live and talk, and be like the rest of the world?
What have we really been redeemed from?
Do we really believe we have been redeemed from the corruption of sin and from the death sentence that was on us by our former master?
If you were purchased, lock, stock and barrel from the the most diabolical dictator and slave master that ever existed, would you really want to have anything to do with him or the things he likes? I’m pretty sure that if I was held captive by a diabolically evil dictator and made to do his bidding, and someone came and freed me, I wouldn’t want to remember anything of my former life! And yet, we have been redeemed. The victory is ours! The LORD is on our side, He gave His precious life-there was no other who could- for my worthless one. Why do I not always give Him my very best?
Is a little sacrifice of praise when faced with insurmountable trial too much to give?
Being as the scripture tells us in Titus 2 that, the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,Is it too much to ask that we say no, to ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to walk soberly, righteously and godly in this present world?
Am I peculiar and zealous of good works?
Do I really live soberly, righteously and godly in this world? I know I don’t always deny ungodliness and worldly lusts…
Am I being too hard, too narrow-minded?
Just some, as my friend Dave would say, “Ponderage”. I’m challenged by these thoughts in more than just the area of music. What about you?
As a musician in the House of the LORD, your job is to assist the congregation in worshiping the LORD in song. On this blog you should find in the coming days, sound bytes, articles, links, sheet music, videos and other resources to help you learn to play hymns, gospel songs, praise songs, and other sacred music in both an appropriate and enthusiastic manner. The purpose of this blog is to assist musicians in churches around the world in making the best music they can for the LORD. I have by no means arrived, though I’ve certainly learned a few things in the last 20 years or so, but we are in this journey together, so welcome aboard!
By way of introduction, I have been playing hymns and gospel songs in church for over 20 years, and while by no means am the most accomplished pianist (far from it), I have been able to pick up a few things here and there from others and apply them to playing hymns and gospel songs in churches. Lately people have asked me to teach some of these things to others who play in church as well. This website’s purpose is to share some of these with you in hopes that you too, might be able to take a hymn, gospel song, or really any other music as written, and easily apply the techniques that are available to play the message of the song.
Our first and foremost allegiance is to the Chief Musician, The King of kings, The Creator of mankind and of this wonderful thing we call music! Music was designed to bring Him honor and praise, and it is Him we seek to glorify, not we ourselves! May the LORD Himself be with us in this quest!
In the following days, I hope to bring you music, articles, links to other good resources, snippets, videos, sound bytes, classes and workshops, and an entire book on this subject which I am in the process of writing. I may from time to time, post a link to a YouTube video that demonstrates a point. Understand that I am not endorsing it, only using it as an example. You are free to turn it off if its offensive.