Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Can It Be” (1738) is one of the greatest hymns of all time. It’s a powerful proclamation of the good news of the Gospel, and full of amazing images of the freedom that Jesus purchased for us on the cross.
I’ve always loved this hymn, and as a worship leader I’ve been drawn to it simply because of the lyrical powerhouse that it is. It packs a punch and doesn’t need any musical help to get the message across. For years, I had been using Enfield‘s excellent arrangement, which preserves Thomas Campbell’s original tune (from 1825) but refreshes it in a very effective way.
Last year I wrote a new arrangement of this hymn with a new melody, different arrangement, and an added chorus. Messing with “And Can It Be” was risky since the original wording and tune are so familiar to most congregations. But I gave it a try, and the result was “How Can It Be”. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how it’s clicked with my congregation, and I wanted to offer it as a free download in the hopes that it serves your congregation too.
Today we’re thrilled to be releasing “We Will Proclaim: Live Worship with The Falls Church Anglican”. If you’d like to watch this short video about the heart and vision behind the project, I think you’d enjoy it:
You can buy the album at www.tfcamusic.org (if you place your order before 4:30pm EST we’ll ship that day), or it’s also available on iTunes and Amazon.
In a few weeks my church is releasing our second live worship album, “We Will Proclaim: Live Worship with The Falls Church Anglican“, recorded this past July. I was thrilled to be able to oversee and produce this project and work alongside some incredibly gifted musicians from my church and some friends from Nashville and L.A. I’m thrilled with how it’s all come together and I pray that the album will be a blessing to you.
The first track is entitled “Call to Worship” and is a journey through the Psalms as they call us to see the faithfulness of God and to sing songs to him in response. I wanted to start the album off in a different way than with a rocking electric guitar riff or a robust congregational song. I wanted the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17) – to ring out and do its work. The picture in my mind as I arranged these verses and the music underneath was of an ocean wave – slowly building, then rising, and then finally crashing on the shore. When it crashes at the end, my prayer was that people wouldn’t be able to contain themselves and want to sing along.
The readers are all members of our congregation, each with incredible testimonies of their own to the goodness and faithfulness of God. At the end of this track we go full throttle into Matt Redman’s “How Great is Your Faithfulness”, but you’ll have to wait until the album releases to hear that part.
In the meantime, I hope this is an encouragement to you, a reminder to you of the power of God’s word as a call to worship, and that you consider pre-ordering the album!
Last year I had the privilege of producing a worship album for my church called “A Thousand Amens“. This year I’m producing two more. It’s been a ton of fun, a lot of work, and a learning experience. Here are a few things making worship albums has taught me:
Make every measure count Do you really need that 4-measure interlude between the chorus and verse? Could you cut it out altogether? Could it be more effective if it was just 2 measures? Extra measures can drag a song down. Cutting out 2 measures here and 2 measures there can make a huge improvement.
Play less. Really. Play a lot less
You hear this a lot and you know it’s true, but do you and your team members practice it? Probably not. I need to do a better job insisting that all of our team members, and this includes me, play less and play better stuff when we do play.
There’s no such thing as a live worship album anymore We’re able to fix so much stuff in post-production that it’s almost ridiculous. The result is a great-sounding worship album, but the danger is that worship leaders and congregations expect Sunday mornings to sound like a worship album. Except for rare circumstances and rare teams, your Sunday morning services will not (and should not) sound like a recording. Relax.
I should only introduce new songs if they’re worth introducing It wasn’t long after our first album released last July that I knew we’d be doing another one in 2013. So every time I thought about introducing a new song I had to think “is this a good enough song that I’d want it to be immortalized on an album, put in the cars and homes of my congregations, and held up to other worship leaders who buy this album as a song they should do as well?” Most songs didn’t meet that criteria so I didn’t introduce them. It was a high bar. But I don’t regret it. Set a high bar for what songs you introduce.
It doesn’t take much to freshen up a song As our latest live recording in July was getting close, I had lunch with a good friend of mine who’s a gifted worship leader/arranger/composer. He cautioned me against doing songs the exact same way they were recorded. Change a chord here or there. Do a different melodic thing on the intro/interludes. Whatever. It doesn’t have to be much. Just use your brain and your creativity and freshen up a song. Good advice.
Congregations are hungry for extended worship The two times we’ve recorded live worship albums, I’ve been amazed at my congregation’s response to the lengthy times of worship that we’ve offered on a Friday/Saturday night or even on a Sunday morning. They sat down when they wanted to. They stood when they wanted to. They wanted more at the end of 90 minutes. They seemed rejuvenated. So did I. I shouldn’t wait for album recordings as an excuse to offer extended worship. I should look for other times as well.
God gives congregations a song to sing I’m not talking about a “song” as in an individual song, but I’m talking about “song” in a bigger-idea, over-arching-narrative sense. Our first album was recorded when we were losing our building. Our “song” was that Jesus was “all to us” (which happened to be an actual song, too). This time we recorded an album after a year and half of being a portable church without a home. Our “song” was the faithfulness of God and the unchanging power of the Gospel. What “song” is your congregation singing? What song should they be singing? Keep your ear to the ground and you’ll hear it.
The last few months I’ve been hard at work recording two very different albums with my church that will be released this Fall. I’m excited about them both!
The first project, “We Will Proclaim: Live Worship with The Falls Church Anglican” was recorded live a few weekends ago (July 13th and 14th) and features many of the same musicians who participated on our first album last year. This album features 14 congregational songs, a mix of familiar/original/contemporary arrangements or retuning of hymns, and follows a liturgical pattern of an Anglican worship service. We incorporated many liturgical elements such as a Call to Worship, the Prayer for Purity, Apostles’ Creed, Confession, General Thanksgiving, and a Benediction. We hope to cram as many songs and liturgical elements onto this album as physically possible! This album features a full band, strings, organ, and loud congregation.
The title “We Will Proclaim” comes from the Matt Redman song “How Great is Your Faithfulness” that we recorded. The chorus of that song says: “The heavens ring, the saints all sing / Great is your faithfulness / From age to age we will proclaim / Great is Your faithfulness / How great is Your faithfulness”. If you know anything about the story of my church over the last few years, you’ll know that we’ve been clinging to this reality that God is faithful. The heart behind this live album is to capture a congregation that’s been tested and tried, and continues to proclaim the faithfulness of God and the power of the gospel. I’m trilled with how this album is turning out, and I’ll share snippets of it with you as soon as I can. You can preorder this album at www.tfcamusic.org.
The second project, “For Our Salvation” is an Advent EP that was also recorded in mid-July using the same musicians from my church, as well as friends from Nashville and L.A. who played on the worship album. This EP features 6 songs, one of which is an instrumental piece, four of which are traditional Advent hymns, and one of which is an original song of mine. An amazing youth choir conducted by my sister-in-law sings on three of the songs, and the whole EP features some of the best string players from Nashville playing original orchestrations by my friend Joshua Spacht.
The title for this EP comes from the hymn “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” which has the line “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending / Once for our salvation slain”. This echoes the line from the Nicene Creed which says that “for us and for our salvation (Jesus) came down from heaven”. Some of the hymns of Advent can get treated as dusty relics that are inaccessible as songs of worship. This is a shame. The heart behind this EP is to offer these songs as vibrant, powerful tools to worship Jesus as the one who came down for our salvation as a “beautiful baby boy”, and the one who will come again “robed in dreadful majesty”. I’m thrilled with how it’s sounding and I will share it as soon as possible!
My sincere hope and prayer is that these two albums are a blessing to my congregation, a blessing to anyone else who hears them, a tool to help people worship Jesus, and a gift to worship leaders who are always looking for songs to incorporate in their own setting. Every measure of every song was designed to be singable for the average congregation and playable for the average worship team. I’d appreciate your prayers over the next two months as we get them both ready!
Having grown up in the Episcopal/Anglican church, one of the hymns I grew up learning to sing and love was “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”. The first time you hear it the melody is a bit tricky. But it’s good. And the lyrics are full of powerful descriptions of the kingship and worth-ship of Jesus. But I never had much success putting the hymn in a more contemporary format.
One night in 2009 I was watching the consecration of Bob Duncan as the first Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and during the incredibly long procession of clergy and bishops, the orchestra and choir led the congregation in a powerful arrangement of the hymn. It turns out that John Wasson, a worship leader/musician in Texas had written the arrangement just for that occasion.
You can watch the really long procession and hear John’s full arrangement on this rough YouTube video:
It wasn’t long until I was trying to rip off John’s arrangement to use this hymn at my church. I experimented (with varying levels of success), but the result was that I had found a way to bring this amazing hymn into a contemporary context. The other small change I made was to close the song by going back and singing the last line of first verse after singing the final verse. It ends better that way.
When my congregation received word that we’d have to vacate our property of over-275 years, and I started exploring the prospect of recording a live CD in our Sanctuary before we lost it, I knew we’d have to put this hymn on it and try to capture a bit of the arrangement John had written in 2009. But… it couldn’t be as incredibly long.
So I sat at my kitchen island one night, about 6 days before we’d start recording the CD, watching the video of the song from Bishop Duncan’s installation, hearing Carl Albrecht‘s drumming in my head (since I’ve been listening to his drumming since I was a kid and he had kindly agreed to play drums for this project), Russell Crain’s electric guitar genius (since I had come to admire his playing when my Father-in-law began pastoring a church that neighbors his), and Simon Dixon’s organ prowess (since he and I have the privilege of working together).
I wrote a rough arrangement of it and recorded this really (really) rough demo. Oh, I was recovering from the flu, I just remembered:
Like I said, it’s rough. So when we began rehearsals for the CD, Carl suggested we cut the intro by half. Great idea. Then Russell began experimenting with different things he could do on the intro. On the first night we recorded, here’s what the intro sounded like:
Russell thought he could do his part better, so on the second night, he changed some things.
The result of all of this thinking/arranging/demo-ing/rehearsing/tinkering is on my church’s live CD. Here’s the final full-song result in its mixed and mastered form.
If you’d like to download it for free: click here.
Here’s the chord chart we used for the recording. If you want a more simple chord chart (without the crazy chords on verse 4 that we put in to work with the choir descant, click here).
Here’s my church singing the more simplified version of this hymn in our last service ever in our building. The picture at the top of this post is from that night too.
One of the songs on my church’s new live worship CD that I wrote is called “God of All Power and Grace”. I wanted to share the story behind the song, the lyrics, and then a free recording and chord chart.
I wrote the bulk of this song several years ago in my church’s former main sanctuary. I had been on staff at that point for a couple of years and had been witnessing God making our worship more and more free on Sunday mornings. I was trying to find a song that helped articulate what we were experiencing in corporate worship, since this kind of freedom was new to a lot of people. We weren’t just singing words off a page or off a screen. We were actually encountering the glory of God together and experiencing his manifest presence as we sang to him.
So I ended up writing this song to help us express three things: (1) praise to God, (2) reasons why we praise God, and (3) what happens when we praise God. God is the God of all power, but also the God of grace who calls us to himself and helps us to praise him. The lyrics evolved a bit over the years and we finally settled on these for the CD:
Verse 1: God draws near to us when we praise him
God of all power and grace
Be enthroned in the midst of our praise
As we lift or voice to bless You
God who inhabits our praise
We welcome You in this place
As we lift our song before You
Chorus: We gather to magnify the name of Jesus – and as we do that, God frees us even more
We lift You up, we glorify
You who are worthy, You who are mighty to save
Be lifted up, be glorified
Here in Your presence, You free us to offer You praise
God of all power and grace
Verse 2: Jesus is worthy of worship because he saved us and bought us with his blood
God of all power and grace
We who were lost have been saved
So we lift our voice to bless You
God, our Redeemer and Friend
We know mercy and love without end
So we lift our song before You
Verse 3: Our worship here on earth is a foretaste of worship for all eternity
God of all power and grace
When we look upon Your holy face
We will lift our voice to bless You
God who all heaven adores
We will worship You forevermore
When we lift our song before You