New Arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy”

A few months ago, my colleague and friend Andrew Cote wrote a new arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy” for organ, piano, violin 1, violin 2, and double bass. The choir parts and accompaniment for the verses line up with the 1982 hymnal version, but this arrangement adds a fantastic new introduction, interlude before verse 4, and some instrumental embellishments throughout.

I love what Andrew did with this. It was fresh, inventive, and challenging. But it didn’t get in the way of the congregation belting it out.

If you’d like to download the score and individual instrumental parts, click here.

And if you’d like to hear a rough demo of it, it’s below. Keep in mind this is just exported from Sibelius, so it’s really just for reference only.

Feel free to use this if you’d like!

The Freedom of Long-Term Worship Planning

For much longer than I’d like to admit, I lived in the weekly tyranny of song selection. Monday morning would come, the upcoming Sunday would again be approaching (they have a way of doing that), and I’d be back where I was a week earlier. I’d put together a list, look at the Scripture readings and sermon topic for the coming week, consider anything special coming up (baptisms, communion, etc.) and try to find the right balance.

Oftentimes, I’d look at the upcoming readings or sermon, and realize that the *perfect* song was a song I had just used a week earlier, so I couldn’t use it again. Bummer.

Similarly, I’d realize that a particular song would work great as a sermon response, or as a service closer, but the congregation didn’t know it. If only I had taught it for a couple of weeks before. Bummer again.

And on many occasions I’d realize that I was going back to my favorites too often. Or we weren’t cycling through enough of the wonderful hymns that my congregation knew. Or we weren’t going back to new songs quickly enough to reinforce them. This weekly cycle I was stuck in wasn’t good. But it was all I knew. And it was how I thought I could stay “fresh”. And it was awful.

A couple of years ago I tried something that was new for me, which was to plan out the song lists for the upcoming four months of services. In August, I would plan out of the songs for September through Christmas. In the weeks after Christmas, I would plan out the songs through Easter. And in the weeks after Easter I’d plan out the songs through the summer.

This would require a lot of time, and several days of locking myself away in my office and not doing much else besides thinking about the upcoming services. It was tedious and a bit grueling, but I noticed several things began to happen.

I introduced new songs more strategically. I wasn’t repeating the same songs too often. When I needed the *perfect* song, I could schedule it and make sure people weren’t sick of it. We were cycling through a broader repertoire of hymns. And I wasn’t living in the weekly tyranny anymore.

Now when Monday morning came, I could look at what I had prayerfully planned months before, and see if it still felt right. I might make some small changes, rarely some major changes, but most often, I was happy with what was planned, and I was freed up to do other things. And when I would hear a new song and think “we’ve got to introduce that!”, then I could look ahead and see where it would make the most sense to include it, even if it meant bumping something else off of the list.

My process looked something like this (keep in mind I serve in an Anglican/liturgical context, and we sing about 291 songs per-service):

1. Choose the opening hymns
2. Choose the closing hymns
3. Choose the song that goes in between the readings
4. Choose the opening song(s) of praise
5. Choose the last song of communion (we usually like this one to be an upbeat song of celebration)
6. Choose the first two communion songs, trying to weave them together and build towards the closer.
7. Choose the call to worship (sometimes these are congregational, sometimes they’re choir pieces, and sometimes they’re instrumental, varying from contemporary to classical).

As for the offertory, which is usually a choir/band piece, my colleague Andrew and I usually map all of those out for the entire ministry year by the time we get to August. We’re just about done with that process as I speak.

This kind of long-term planning did not come naturally to me, and seemed unrealistic to me for a very long time. But now that it’s become the norm, I find that I enjoy no longer living in the weekly tyranny, and that I’m freed up to be spontaneous when I need to be.

Most of all, I’ve been freshly amazed at the wisdom of God and his kindness in helping me plan songs months in advance that will end up ministering to specific people or responding to certain current events in ways that there was no way I could have foreseen. He has a way of doing that.

The Top Ten Things I Learned About Seminary In Seminary

Well, I did it. I finally finished seminary.

I started seminary in the summer of 2010. We had one daughter, I had more hair (not much), and I was blogging roughly 4 times per week.

Now it’s basically the summer of 2019. We have three daughters and a baby boy (!), I have less hair, and I’ve been blogging roughly once every 19 months. Give or take.

I knew when I started seminary that I would be a very part-time student. The Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) campus here in D.C. is designed for people like me, after all, who want to pursue theological education without having to pack their whole family up and move to somewhere where they could actually afford a house.

But I never thought it would take me this long. 9 years? That’s a long time. I took two breaks in there: one when I took a new ministry position, and one when my dad passed away. Looking back on my seminary experience, just two days before I officially receive my official diploma and wear my official black robe and get my picture with all of the seminary officials , I’m thinking about some things I’ve learned about seminary while being in seminary.

1. No one is really sure how to pronounce “Augustine”.

2. The best way to sound smart is to use the word “eschatological”.

3. It’s impossible to discuss the name “El Shaddai” without an Amy Grant reference.

4. “Dry erase markers”? More like “dry markers”, am I right?

5. No one ever likes the guy who asks the professor a question one minute before class is supposed to end. Just keep it to yourself, dude.

6. If having kids doesn’t turn you into a coffee drinker, seminary will.

7. The more initials a theologian has in between his first and last name, the smarter the theologian. (Sincerely, Jamie L.M.N.O.P Brown.)

8. OK, so we know what the first, second, and third uses of the law are. Could we all just agree that the fourth use of the law should be to keep that guy from asking the professor a question one minute before class is supposed to end?

9. If theology should lead to doxology, then the doxology should lead to free donuts outside after chapel.

10. Reading one book is good. Reading several books is better. Stacking up piles of books around your house and/or office makes you look REALLY smart.

And so as I come to the end of my brief 9-year seminary journey, I would like to thank my friends and family who supported me and encouraged me along the way, for RTS for helping me grow in my knowledge and love of the Lord, and for you, the readers of this blog that has been pretty inactive recently, for your patience and nice comments, especially on that “…Headed for a Crash” post 5 years ago.

In closing, here’s a picture of my new little boy. I think he’s pretty cute.

Practical Experiences to Help Young Worship Leaders Grow

No worship leader ever stops growing. If they do, they’re in trouble. There’s always more to learn, more to understand, and more experiences to have. Likewise, no worship leader becomes “seasoned” overnight. If they expect to, they’re in trouble.

But if you’re a young worship leader and just starting out, and you want to grow as a worship leader, there are some crucially important experiences you have to have.

Here’s a list of 13 of them, in no particular order of importance. They’re all important.

1. Retreats
Lead worship for 3 or 4 retreats and you’ll realize that they require an incredible amount of planning, coordination, logistics arranging, and flexibility, and leave you utterly exhausted. You need to get good at leading worship on retreats and remember to bring your own pillow.

2. Weekly leadership
It’s one thing to lead worship on an occasional basis, and this is a good place to start. But the next step is finding an opportunity to lead a regular congregation on a regular basis with a regular worship team of some sort. It’s a roller coaster of ups and downs that you need to learn how to ride. Sometimes you’ll feel sick, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

3. Weddings and funerals
There are no do-overs when it comes to weddings and funerals. These are profoundly emotional, high-stakes, memorable, photographed, and meaningful services. You will mess up at them for sure, but you better make sure they’re small mess ups or there will be people who remember you for the rest of their lives (and not in a good way).

5. Fill-in
Serving as a guest-worship leader for a church that isn’t yours, with musicians you’re unaccustomed to working with, and using a repertoire you haven’t built is disorienting and a lot of work. Learn how to listen to what they need, serve them with humility, and come back to your home church more grateful for the blessings you don’t appreciate like that nice gentleman who always makes fun of your pants.

6. Small group
It requires much more sensitivity and pastoral skill to lead worship for 10 people than it does for 1,000. Don’t underestimate the life-long difference that leading worship in someone’s living room can make to your worship leading skills, especially when you’re interrupted by a screaming baby.

7. Big group
You can get away with things in a small group that you can’t get away with in front of a big group (200 or more people). Leading worship for a large number of people requires you to muster up a level of planning, preparation, and leadership authority that will seem impossible at first but will begin to feel natural the more you do it.

8. Christmas Eve and Easter
Mature worship leaders learn, through years of trial and error, how best to carry the burden of planning music for the two biggest-deal services of the year, in a way that doesn’t totally consume their lives (or their volunteers’), provides their congregation with a genuine encounter with God, and includes everyone’s favorite songs and ensures no complaints (I’m joking).

9. On-the-side services
Occasional healing services, vow renewals, baby dedications, church staff meetings, Veterans’ Day services, and any other service that requires a time of singing that isn’t on Sunday morning, will cause you think outside the box and factor in a whole different slew of things while planning a time of worship that will engage people.

10. Kids
When adults aren’t engaged in worship they’ll stand there like a robot. When kids aren’t engaged in worship they’ll get really loud and ask their mom for a snack or jump on their friend’s back and try to tackle him. Learning how to lead kids in worship will prepare you for the grumpiest of all adults.

11. Elderly
The older generation isn’t looking to be impressed. They would like to actually be able to sing along with you, hopefully something true, meaningful, and familiar.

12. Hostile
My experience as a teenager leading worship for a congregation in which one-half of the room would stand while the other half would remain seated with their arms folded, while staring at me angrily, was the most valuable worship leading experience I ever had. Leading worship for hostile groups will force you to grow in dependence on God, and confidence in who he’s gifted you to be.

13. Meetings
This has nothing to do with playing an instrument or singing. It has to do with the fact that if you’re a worship leader, you need to learn how to run a good meeting. Have an agenda, move things along, get results, and adjourn it before it goes too long and people start throwing things. This will serve you for the rest of your life, and help you run good rehearsals as well.

Simple Musical Settings of the Communion Liturgy

This year for Advent at my church we’re going to be singing these new settings of the communion liturgy that I wrote. Since Advent is a short season, there’s not much time to teach/learn new melodies for familiar liturgy, so I went with a simple melody that can hopefully be picked up pretty quickly. In many spots it’s just a repeated 1-2-3-4-5 musical scale.

Here’s a video showing how they go.

And here are the chord charts and lead sheets.

Nerdy liturgical note: There are two versions of the “memorial acclamation” in that video and in the PDF of chord charts/lead sheets. The first one is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, that’s used in “prayer A”. The second one, “We remember His death, we proclaim His resurrection, we await His coming in glory” is used in prayer B, often used in seasons like Lent or Advent and that’s the one we’ll be singing at my church for the next four Sundays.

Three Signs You’re Leading Rehearsals Well

Effective rehearsals have many characteristics. They have a clear leader, they start and end on time, they’re organized, they’re light-hearted, they’re focused and efficient, they zero in on what’s not working, they don’t waste time on over-rehearsing what’s working fine, and the people who attend them are expected, encouraged, and equipped to be prepared for them and to work on their own parts on their own time.

These kinds of rehearsals are an art, not a science. It takes time to learn your own style, and for your team to follow you. Here are three signs you’re leading rehearsals well:

They end early every once in a while
Just because your rehearsal says it goes until 9:30pm doesn’t mean it has to. Or just because you rehearse before the first service doesn’t mean you have to rehearse right up until the first service. If you’re managing time well, if your team is prepared well, and if you don’t waste energy on things that could be skipped, then you’ll find yourself ending rehearsal early from time to time. Even ending just five minutes early sometimes sends a message to your team that you’re confident in them. And it means that the next rehearsal when you use up the whole time, they’ll know you really needed to.

There’s laughter
Everyone loves to laugh. Rehearsals that have moments of laughter, perhaps when you’re poking fun at yourself (or the drummer), or making a dumb joke, are rehearsals that people want to come back to. Musicians can be prone to take themselves way too seriously. Keep looking for those lighthearted moments when people can just relax and laugh. They’ll sit up straighter when you ask them to focus again when rehearsal gets back on track.

The first service doesn’t feel like rehearsal
At my church, I rehearse our instrumentalists from 7:30am – 8:15am (give or take) every Sunday. Then we have a 9:00am and 11:15am service. I know I’ve led a good rehearsal when our 9:00am service doesn’t feel like a rehearsal. We feel ready, relaxed, and confident. But if that 9:00am service has lots of missed cues or rough transitions, then I know I could have done a better job. When your first service starts, and your team is ready to go, then you know you’ve led a good rehearsal.

Perhaps the simplest way to know whether or not your rehearsals are working, is whether or not you and your team look forward to them. People should actually want to come to rehearsals. They know they’ll be stretched, encouraged, and noticed. They know you’ll lead them well. They know they’ll be making a contribution. And they know you’ll honor their sacrifice of time. Who wouldn’t want to come back to that kind of rehearsal?

Recommended Anthems for Choirs and Bands

IMG_0645Over the last few years, since arriving at my church in the summer of 2014, I’ve been enjoying leading worship every Sunday morning alongside a wonderful choir whose legacy stretches back many decades. My colleague Andrew Cote and I have been committed to a true partnership and convergence of musical styles, old and new, traditional and modern, choir and band, all together in one unified expression.

To that end, we’ve been on the lookout for anthems that work well for modern choirs and bands to present together. We still use a significant amount of choir-only anthems, dating back several centuries, but we also use a significant amount of anthems designed for choir and band. Below is a long list of those kinds of anthems that we’ve enjoyed using once or twice, or are thinking about using in the future.

First up are anthems/arrangements by my good friend Joshua Spacht.

Crown Him with Many Crowns (purchase here)

Nicely done and energetic arrangement of this hymn with an added chorus.

O How Good it Is (purchase here)
A fun arrangement of this Townend/Getty modern hymn with an Irish flair.

Behold the Lamb of God (purchase here)
A beautiful anthemic ballad focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2018.

The Cross of Christ Shall Stand (purchase here)
Another great anthem focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2017.

All the People Said Amen (purchase here)
A fun call to worship song that the congregation can join in on when the chorus comes.

Nkosi Jesu (purchase here)
This one is really fun. And really hard. A great anthem (in Zulu) for adult choirs, kids choir, and percussion. Our church loved this one.

In the Beginning (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel II project)
This is one my favorite anthems of all time. A masterpiece.

O Come Medley (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Beautiful medley of Advent hymns.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)

A hauntingly beautiful new musical setting of this great Christmas text.

Little Town (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Only Joshua Spacht could take this text and put it to this kind of musical arrangement. It works! We’re doing this on Christmas Eve this year.

Next up are anthems from a variety of authors, with arrangements by my friend Trey Tanner at Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta. If you’d like to explore purchasing any of these arrangements/orchestrations by Trey, let me know in the comments and I’ll connect you with him.

Chain Breaker

Great song, perfect with a choir, and will definitely engage your congregation.

Under the Shadow
Our church loves this one. Great for a soloist on the verses and choir on the chorus.
Let Everything that Has Breath
Oh my goodness this anthem is ridiculous. 

We Cannot Be Silent
This one is super fun.

Matthew 28
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. We did this on Easter in 2017 and I still get comments about it. Really powerful when/if you can pull it off.

God, Great God

Fun call to worship or mid-service anthem for choir and band.

Psalm 63
This is Trey’s arrangement of this Prestonwood anthem, and I love it.

The following anthems were arranged by Bradley Knight.

Jesus Brought Me Out (i.e. Now I’m On My Way) (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
This is such a great, fun, joy-filled anthem.

Psalm 34 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
We haven’t used this yet, but I’ve heard many churches already incorporating it. Very well done.

Psalm 23 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
Another great setting of a Psalm for band a choir. Not easy! We haven’t used it yet, but I love it.

He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need (purchase here)
Bradley Knight outdoes himself on this one. 

Praise His Holy Name (purchase here)
Our choir has grabbed onto this anthem well, and with piano/organ accompaniment, it really soars towards the end. 

Thou Oh Lord (purchase here)
This is another one of my favorites. Our people have loved it.

Sold Out (purchase here)
Super fun gospel anthem.

The Cross Medley (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one at my church yet, but I love this medley of cross-centered hymns. Would be great for Holy Week and/or Good Friday.

Holy (Sanctus) (purchase here)
Another one we haven’t used, but it’s an anthem that shows how it’s possible to have a choir sound like a choir, and a band sound like a band, and to have it work when you put those pieces together.

You Are Worthy (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one yet – and it will be a fun challenge when we do – but I love this convergence of choir and band, with a great text!

We’ve also enjoyed these anthems out of Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas:

Let the Redeemed (purchase here)

All the Praise (available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

Psalm 103 (also available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

And finally, here are anthems from various sources that we’re either planning on using in the coming year, or have used and enjoyed.

Is He Worthy (purchase here – I recommend the Brentwood Benson arrangement)
I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson for his whole career – and I think this is his best song yet. Absolutely stunning. We will use this on the fourth Sunday of Advent this year.

I Will Bless the Lord (purchase here – I was pleaded with the PraiseCharts arrangement
A great call to worship. Easy for choir, fun for band, and a great way to start a service.

How Excellent (to purchase this Bradley Knight arrangement, I recommend going to www.davidbscott.com and using the “contact us” link. That’s what we did!)
I saved one of the best for last. This is an absolutely amazing anthem for choir and band, and I love the spoken word portions at the end as well.