Worship/Music Development

I believe that the Church is an excellent place for young worship musicians to be developed.  I had the privilege of growing up in an fertile musical environment, even though my family wasn’t especially musical.  Our family purchased a piano when I was 5 years old and I began lessons with a neighbor.  Mrs. Mirocha was a excellent pianist and teacher–and notable, a church choir director.  I enjoyed the small successes of each new song and moving along through the easy books quickly.  By 7th and 8th grade I was playing advanced music pieces for our solo and ensemble contests–and doing well.

I was also involved in a Children’s Choir at our church.  the 1970s and 80s were the heyday of church children’s musicals.  Our director, Pastor Clem, was a musician, scholar, administrator, and much more.  I was fortunate to participate in 3-4 musicals each year!  Bible stories came to life as we acted and sang out everything from Donald Marsh’s Barbecue for Ben (The Prodigal Son) to Beryl Red’s It’s Cool in the Furnace (Daniel 1-3).  Singing in a choir, learning speaking parts and doing some ‘acting’ built confidence for me as an otherwise quiet kid.  We performed at nursing homes, malls, other churches, including the Moody Memorial Church.  A few times we performed at Wheaton College (Come Messiah Come, by John Cowan–a favorite memory).

As I ‘aged’ out of the choir, I played my trombone (from school band) along with the adult horn section.  It was a little random and there were no other kids.  Classical music wasn’t really a value of the church, as it was headed towards rhythm section led choruses. None of my friends played classical music, so I stopped music lessons.  Our youth pastor used recorded music for singing, and for fun he asked five of us former choir kids to do an ‘air band’ for the junior high ministry.  Now this was going to be cool.  With our parents permission we stayed after church and scoured the church for equipment we could use.   Tables were our stages.  We found spare lights and lighting poles. We ‘borrowed’ instruments from the music room–including on old Yamaha DX7 and a really nice fretless bass.  Later we found out it was some one’s personal instrument (sorry, Doc!).  We found blacklights and learned that laundry detergent looked really cool in the dark, so we smeared that all over everything, including said fretless bass.  Everything was set for our ‘air band’ performance–which for the uninformed meant none of us actually knew how to play the instruments we were playing it was all just pretend.  During our amazing performance, somehow our dear friend playing the keyboard on one of the stage ‘tables’ fell off the platform, along with his keyboard.  My bass solos were perfectly placed as I bounced around with my extra-laundered instrument.  The junior highers loved it and, well, we all felt pretty cool, too.

That is until the powers that be discovered that we had absconded their precious equipment.  We tried very hard to put everything back where we could, but obviously, we went too far.

But, it was enough to get the group of 5 of us thinking (I think the fallen keyboard player lost interest).  What if?  What if we started a real band?

Apparently, it was not terribly far fetched of an idea, so we began to brainstorm songs we could learn.  of course the most important this: a name for the band (Exodus Project?) We scrapped for sound equipment.  No one really knew how to play.  These ‘meetings’ were fairly unproductive and often ended with tension and frustration.  We would often end our practices with “Friends are Friends Forever” since we wanted to stay friends–even though doing this band thing was so hard, especially coming up with a name.

We had parent permission, but we needed direction.

We became the ‘stage band’ for the Monday night outreaches.  Literally, there was a “David Letterman” knock off introduction for each night before the youth pastor spoke.  It was fun—and little instrumental diddies were about all we could handle.

We earned a spot at summer camp where, after 3 years, and a little more help from a new music director at the church, we began to play (very roughly and loudly) some Christian Contemporary Music (CCM).  It was a fun exploration of music.  For 4 kids who were more brainy or artsy than popular, this gave a real place to be part of the group.

Going into college, I sang in the Chorale at Taylor and then wandered from music–prefering instead to serve inner-city kids and learning to lead my peers.  In the summers, our band would reassemble to prepare for summer camp… some of the same issues: sound equipment, music choices, how will we rehearse, etc.  One parent rule was “No skirts allowed” which certainly kept us from dating any potential girl singers.  Each summer we managed to improve some and kept our job as the camp band.

There are many stories to tell about those camp experiences themselves, and yes, they do involve girls.

Finally, another church joined our church for camp–and our band essentially broke up.  It was OK though, for this new church was savvy with production–a Willow Creek spin-off.  This was also the time (1994-95) when worship music began to emerge as a greater force than CCM.  HIllsongs and Vineyard music paved the way for more complex musical worship expressions.  By that, I mean we started singing to God more than about God, or our experiences.  CCM has always had elements of worship in it, but it was probably more fun than songs directed to God (Big House, Jesus Freak, etc.) Certainly the choruses of the 80s were worshipful, but this was a new development back then.

I learned enough from this other church’s music director to gainfully plan and execute worship sets for the next 20 years.  The foundation I had as a classical pianist always gave me the skills to do hymns.  I taught myself guitar so I could coordinate with other pianists.  From those primitive years with the band, I forged a career basically doing what I loved without a music degree and just a few college music classes.

Yet, there were gaps.  One huge gap was during that High School early college era where we were so frustrated.  Since that time, I’ve tried to bring musicians along with me to train them, give them developmental experiences so that they might have confidence in leading some if not all of a worship musical experience.

Somewhere in my early college years, I learned that the BIble actually has a plan for worship musical development.  King David, the songwriter/musician of the Psalms, in his old age–after his kingdom has been established–and apparently–after his son has succeeded him as king, sets up the Levites and priests.  He puts things in order.  He

1 Chronicles 25