One of the things I enjoy most about my calling in ministry is being a resource to others. One of the things that drew me to the Lutheran understanding of faith is our connectional polity. Churches aren’t designed to be individual islands in the ELCA. We are connected to each other. We are connected to our neighboring churches in Houston, we are connected to our sisters and brothers across the Gulf Coast Synod, we are connected to all the other ELCA churches around the country, and we are even connected to other Lutherans across the globe. One of the most common signs of our connection is when we share resources. I really enjoy being helpful to others and supporting the work of the church both near and far.
I was asked by the ELCA worship staff to write some Frequently Asked Question articles for their website. These are common questions the churchwide office gets asked, and my responses are meant to be helpful, guiding suggestions on how to address these concerns. Last month, seven of the articles I wrote were published on the ELCA’s website. Here are some excerpts:
“In general, the postmodern worship practices of emerging churches are reactions against the pragmatic, baby boomer-oriented, seeker-sensitive movement. Instead of “services” of worship, emerging churches frame their assemblies as “gatherings” that are not afraid of a return to more liturgical forms. The gathering is highly experiential, focusing on the participation of those assembled, often through stations that guide people to interact with prayer, scripture, art, poetry, and other spiritual exercises.”
“Music for worship provided by a worship band must be done with the same sensitivity and care as any other type of sacred music. The worship band must frame their role in worship leadership as subservient to the assembly’s voice.”
“As a core function, video projection should be used for enhancing the environment for worship. In serving the liturgy, it should not be distracting but aide the space for worship as the body of Christ gathers.”
“The pace of technology can be difficult to grasp. Technology that at one time cost churches thousands of dollars to utilize now would cost hundreds of dollars. The cost of technology continues to diminish. At the same time the performance of technology continues to increase.”
“There are many options when it comes to the video projector component. Generally the most important specification will be the light output of the projector, measured in lumens. The higher the lumens, the brighter the projector will be. It is necessary to take into account the brightness of the room in which the projector will be used.”
“Worship is always being evaluated. Although it may be informal, everyone that is sent forth from an assembled worshiping body has evaluated that service in one way or another. Evaluations might be based on any number of things: the number of people in attendance, the length of the sermon, the pronunciation of the reader, or the number of flubbed notes by the musician.”
Why is it so hard to take a break? Even as I type this, it is early in the evening on one of my days off. What is it that made me open the laptop and start typing this article on a Saturday evening? I could postpone it. I have time to finish this article during the week ahead. I could be doing any number of other things right now. I could read a book. I could play a board game with my kids. I could make a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the break. Instead I’m typing this article.
Sabbath is a concept that you already know. It is a spiritual practice. There is something inherently spiritual about our ceasing to work. God could have created the world and the story could have moved on. But the rest is there for a reason. Not so much because God was weary from the heavy lifting of creation, but because we get weary. We are the ones who need to cease working. And God, who always does what is good and best for us, models the best practices for life.
It is the same with music. Music is not just continuous sound. Music is the dialogue of sound and silence. One of the most common mistakes that ensembles make is playing or singing during the rests. The squiggly lines are there for a reason. Music is not music without the rests. Great music draws you into its silence. What musicians don’t play or sing between the notes is just as important as the notes. For music to work, there must be rests.
I know why I am typing on my day off. It is productivity. My self-worth is conjoined to my ability to get stuff done. My identity is wrapped up in what I am able to produce. If I’m not producing something, then I’m not being who I am meant to be. And that is a lie. God did not make me to be a cog on a wheel or a machine in an assembly line. I am God’s child. My self-worth is dependent on who loves me, not what I get done. My identity is claimed in the waters of baptism, not my output.
If you struggle with Sabbath, don’t feel bad. I do too. As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I hope you will not skip over the rests. The notes don’t sustain forever. You have to take a breath to keep the music going.
Look at the Mix Pyramid. Notice that the top or focal point of the pyramid is the lead vocal. The lead vocal or soloist must always be on top and be able to be understood by someone who does not already know the words to the song. Just under the lead vocals come the backing vocals or choir. They are the first layer of support, and they too need to be audible as a distinct musical element that helps convey the message of the song.
Beneath the vocals come the instruments that provide fill and color. These add musical interest and highlights, and in fact may be the most prominent portions of the mix when the vocalists are not singing. Instruments might include Lead Guitar, Synthesizer, Brass, and/or Percussion. These instruments will often lead between vocal lines or during instrumental breaks and may need a bit of help from the Mix Musician to make sure their parts are heard when needed.
The primary bed of chords that form the harmonies under the lead parts of the music are often laid down by instruments such as rhythm guitar, piano and/or electronic keyboards. These instruments should be audible but never dominant in the mix.
Lastly low frequency instruments add foundation and weight to the music. These include drums, bass guitar, organ pedals, and the low end of electronic keyboard instruments. While almost never dominant in the mix, if they are not given their proper place and balance in the mix, the music will sound thin and will lack much of its grandeur.
A basic knowledge of music is important for the sound system operator unless only speech is amplified. When running a sound system you should consider yourself the “mix musician”. You will be balancing the musicians against each other and determining how the congregation hears them. As such you are an important part of the musical group, and need to understand what is important for music to sound good.
This does not mean you have to be able to play an instrument or read music (although that could not hurt). It does mean you need to understand some musical concepts and be able to speak the language of music in order to properly communicate with the other musicians in your role as the mix musician.