Tag Archives: hymns

Transition

Earlier today, Gretchen and I stood up in front of the church and announced that I would be stepping down from my position as Worship Leader at Christ Community Church.

A Little History

About 9 years ago, I was the worship leader for a small church plant in the Inland Empire. It was not a good experience. The leadership was not supportive, our relationship with the pastor was demeaning, and when we left we shook the dust off our feet. I had no place to go, no obvious means of income, but we had to get gone.

We bounced around for a few months, moved to Burbank, and then out of nowhere I got an email from Doug Scholten, the pastor at CCC. Their worship leader had left with two weeks notice, and Doug was scrambling to find an interim who could hold down the gig for a month or so while they looked for someone to take the position. We met, it went well, and I agreed to cover the gap. Mother’s Day of 2003 was my first Sunday at the church.

As they looked at candidates for the position, they asked me if I was interested. I kept saying no – I wasn’t interested in a church gig, I didn’t want to get back into that mess.

After 6 months, Gretchen and I realized that we did, actually, really want to be there. The people were warm and welcoming, the position was well-defined and well-suited to my abilities. More than that, Doug was the kind of pastor that all church musicians hope for. He respected music and the arts, was willing to try new things, and was able to step back and allow me to do my job. I submitted my resume, and they hired me as the Worship Leader.

Some Highlights

In my first year at CCC, Doug asked me to preach. It was the first time I had been asked to preach anywhere. It was an overwhelming and awe-filling experience, and one that I came to both dread and relish.

We have a seasonal choir at CCC, but most of the choir lit wasn’t appropriate for our group. I started writing and arranging music for our choir, and as I’m sitting here looking at my scores folder, over 8 years I’ve written or arranged 30 pieces of choral music for this choir. There’s nothing quite like the relentless necessity of Christmas and Easter to force you to build a catalog of work!

Good Friday has become a tradition of experiential risk-taking for us. One year we created an immersive environment with 30 laptops projecting photos and videos, and live-blogging stations for people to record their reactions. Last year we booked a string quartet to play a meditative concert of challenging contemporary music. The path from “What if we …” to “Let’s try it!” was well-worn.

A few years ago, we added a Classic service at 8am on Sunday mornings. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but it has become the perfect way to start the out the Sunday haul. Instead of jumping right in to running charts, setting tech, rehearsing the band, I get to start the day by sitting quietly and playing through two hymns with a small congregation. It’s a brief meditation for me, and has become one of my favorite things.

In the time I’ve been at CCC, we’ve had about 12 students from APU come through and play with the team, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for much longer. It’s been a place where some of the things we talk about in class can be worked out very practically, like a “lab” extension to the lectures.

Both of our children were born and then dedicated at CCC. I love that we gather around and lay hands on new parents, commissioning them to the ministry of parenthood.

The Transition

In the last few years, Gretchen and I have been feeling a strong pull to find a local church. We love many things about CCC, but the drive is 45 minutes on Sunday morning, and an hour and a half during rush hour. The time and distance mean that we can’t be part of the community of Christ Community Church. Our kids can’t be in the children’s choir, Gretchen and I can’t be in small groups or make it out to social functions.

We believe in the mission of the church. We believe that it has the power to change lives and communities. That power, though, is worked out through the relationships within the church, and between the church and those in the community around it. If you’re only present for Sunday morning, if you are forced by time and distance to stand one step removed from the other people in the congregation, then you might be “going” to church, but it is impossible to participate in the transforming power of church. You can’t serve the mission. You can’t be served by the mission.

So, we starting praying and looking for a chance to make the transition to a local church.

The Road Ahead

February 27th will be our last Sunday, after which I will step down from my position as worship leader. March 6th I’ll begin leading a small early morning chapel service at a large church in the Irvine area. It’s a traditional music service, with piano and organ, along with the occasional string quartet and guest soloists. It’s early in the morning, and so I’ll be home in time for us to find a 10:30 service at a local church, where we can attend together as a family.

There are many things we will miss from the last 8 years, but there are also some things we’re looking forward to.

We’re looking forward to sitting together during a worship service.

We’re looking forward to attending a small group or bible study together.

I’m looking forward to being that guy every worship leader dreams of, who walks up after the service and says “Hey, I’d love to sub on the worship team sometime if you need someone to cover keyboards,” and then can actually play!

I’m looking forward to a smaller scope of responsibility, to a simpler service. I’m looking forward to Easter and Christmas being seasons of joy, instead of dread.

The seed that was planted with the hymn service at our church has blossomed. I’m looking forward to playing music from the deep and rich tradition of the church.

I’m looking forward to volunteering for things … or, saying “no” to things!

Leaving Well

There are so few times in Church when we are able to leave well. It seems like most transitions happen because the church is unhappy, or there is conflict with the leadership, or character issues, or because someone leaves for a better gig, or more money, or … anyway, we as a church have a bad history of ending ministries well.

This is a good transition. Hard, but good. We are leaving a healthy ministry behind, we are leaving with the blessing and goodwill of the congregation, and we are leaving for the best of reasons.

This is a good thing.

O For A Thousand Stacks

I am supposed to be writing a piece of chamber music, which has to be finished, like, yesterday. I am, therefore, of course, doing anything and everything but that. Here’s today’s little time waster. By the way, singing through a hymn 20 times is a great act of meditation and contemplation. Those words start to take on serious meaning.

O For A Thousand Tongues

Polytonaly Yours, With Love

The opening lines of “It Is Well” don’t normally include clashing polytonality and inscrutably rhythmic patterns. I took a creative risk this morning. Note clusters. Non-functional harmonic groups. Painting with colors that are so far outside of our normal 3-chord pop-tastic worship that at one point I was screaming inside for a 3rd hand, so that I could fully realize the Eb / D(6/9) / Dbmaj9 stack that I wanted. I know. Using chord notation at that point is just gratuitous. You get my point.

And then, because I like my church and enjoy my current level of employment with them, the crashing cacophony resolved down into notes that made sense, notes that made happy, notes that made me fairly certain that I will be welcome back next week. But for a little while, it was glorious.

I blame Alex Wen, my ne’er-do-well teaching assistant. That kid causes me more trouble. He has a frustrating habit of dropping by, serving up some canapĂ© of intriguing speculation, and then leaving me to process and re-process for the remainder of the week. I enjoy it so much that I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s supposed to work the other way around.

This week, it was on the role of music in worship. Alex was talking about the use of aggressive and difficult music, modern compositions that will not yield easily to passive listening, but that richly reward the engaged.

Which left me thinking about the role of music in church. Not just in worship, but in the institution at large, the cultural and social phenomenon that the gathered people construct around themselves.

Music is nearly gone from public education. We recruit our best musicians at APU either from secluded art-intensive high schools, or from other countries that still consider a musically literate public to be a worthwhile expense. The musicians who grew up in the church come to us either as butt rock guitar strummers of the most parochial kind, or as power-pop vocalists. Some are very good, but good only in the narrowly confined musical space that is useful for corporate worship. Good at dreamy delays and 3-note gospel harmony. Good at ripping off Coldplay. Good at dropping out after the bridge to build up to the final chorus.

Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we, as the church, be elevating the musical language of our congregants? Should we be force-feeding them dissonance, poly or even a-tonality, and complex musical ideas until they know how to understand that rich language of tension and resolution? Should we give them musical meat that is not yet useful in worship, until it is? Can we move to repair some of the musical poverty caused by our federal abrogation of all non-testable educational outcomes? Can we train up young players to understand and appreciate music that is just beyond them, until it isn’t? Should we bring in talented artists capable of transforming and elevating the congregation’s perception of what music is? Can we set them loose to play things that are not trite rearrangements of popular hymn melodies?

Once we move beyond music as marketing, music as useful, music as emotional scripting, is there a role for music in the church qua music?

15 Hymns: No Eye Had Seen

Christmas has begun! Fill the air with music!

This first installment of the 15 Hymns comes from George Rowe. Our local producer/rock star Stick has been George’s creative partner over the course of several projects, one of which was a Christmas record that they did “in about 20 minutes, total” according to George. He sent me a half-dozen cuts off the record to choose between for the 15 Hymns extravaganza, and this version of “No Eye Had Seen” seemed like the perfect way to kick off the season.

g_rowe_no_eye.mp3

If any of you are in the Maryland area, George is on the road there this week. Go check him out at his website, www.georgerowe.com.

g-rowe