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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How to Get More Musicians Involved in Your Church

InstrumentsThis is from the "Ask Rick Munchow" article listed recently at PurposeDriven.com:

Question:  I am running two contemporary services and one blended service. We have a praise band and team in place, but we have some instrumentalists (brass and winds) that I would really like to get involved. Most of what the band plays are from lead sheets with guitar friendly keys. How do I begin with just a few players in a contemporary setting?

— from Chris Antill serving in Houma, La.

Rick Muchow: I’ve been told more than once that a reason I was hired at Saddleback Church was my philosophy of involving the gifts of the church body in the worship teams, in particular my openness to using instrumentalists and augmenting the basic rhythm section. The second staff person I hired was a part-time arranger. (The first person was a part-time sound engineer.)

One of the first musical teams I started was the Saddleback orchestra. I had some background in college with orchestration and conducting, but I had never started an orchestra before. My music ministry slogan carried us through the first year: “More than music, we’re a family.”

With the orchestra, the most important reason for our gathering was relationship building. Our music wasn’t very good at first, but our fellowship was. We met every Tuesday night and rehearsed as much music as I could write in a week until we hired the arranger. As for my writing, I used a very simple software program called “Professional Composer.” Today, the software programs available to help you are affordable, intuitive, and accessible. See the end of this article for a list of a few software options.

At that time, technically our orchestra was an instrumental ensemble, however the dream was there. Our emphasis on fellowship and spiritual growth at rehearsals opened the door to rapid growth as musicians were attracted to our tight knit group that had big dreams. I would talk to them at length about the purpose of the church and where we were headed as a music team.

At first our orchestra didn’t play on all of the songs, primarily because of my writing skills, but secondarily we were still using tracks for the “specials.” I wrote mostly pads, some horn licks, and introduction lines. I arranged music for the instruments that were available to me because we didn’t have a complete orchestra and had a wide range of skill competency.

To begin in a contemporary setting, we augmented our library by buying orchestrations that were playable for the average player. We put the orchestra on a playing rotation: the first and third weeks of the month, but we practiced every week. For example, if you have four instrumentalists, put them in rotation together as an ensemble. The players understand it’s not an exclusive group and that it will grow. Interestingly, after the orchestra was up and running, we started a new group called the B Band which was primarily horns with the rhythm section. The B Band instrumentalists also served in the orchestra. We were one big family.

The orchestra fits in well with a blended service style and depending on what your orchestra sounds like, instrumental music with brass, strings, and/or woodwinds can have a very cool feel in a contemporary service depending on how they are arranged.

A key principle in arranging for an orchestra is to remember that less is more. Not all songs need all instruments all of the time. It’s very common in symphony settings for some instruments not to play for an extended period of time. Instrumentalists understand this as part of their training so don’t feel that you have to over orchestrate. I try to write for every instrument in a way that they will contribute to the power of the song, not the volume of the song. Sometimes playing a rest is the most appropriate musical contribution.

It has always been and continues to be very important for us to emphasize that our orchestra is more than music – we’re a family.

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April 25, 2006 in Worship | Permalink

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did i miss it, or did this article not explain how to get more musicians involved as the title implies?

Posted by: Shane | Apr 25, 2006 12:05:57 PM

No, I think you're right, it doesn't really seem to answer the question.

Our plant church has a three person band, 2 guitars and a bass, and one of them is a terrific vocalist. They have a weekly "jam" night at one of their houses to try and get more musicians plugged in. They have also tried playing at "open mike" nights and coffee houses and other small venues. They've also put together a demo CD we hand out at services and events.

Just a few suggestions. We're always looking for more good ideas.

Posted by: DanielR | Apr 25, 2006 12:53:51 PM

As a musician and former worship leader, one thing that I have found is that musicians like to be challenged. Not many musicians want to play the same old boring chord progressions. It was only when we as a worship band sat down and started allowing people to come up with new and different ways to do the same old songs that we grew.

Posted by: IndyGifford | Apr 25, 2006 4:54:32 PM

I also meant to add that adding new music was great for the musicians, and ultimately the church itself.

Posted by: IndyGifford | Apr 26, 2006 11:43:00 AM

For Hispanic Choir ministry I have found adding musicinas to be difficult. many of our guys work 10-12 hour shifts sometimes 6 days a week.I write an arrangement for certain instruments and go thru the last minute fustration of having to carry the part myself on the keyboards(emergency split mode)because the guy either had to work ot or just got home and was exhausted.
Another thing is the ego aspect:among some hispanics technical criticisms can unfortunatly be interpreted as personal criticisms and also pulling an arrangement out last minute that featured a particular instrument soloing can on ocasion cause a subconcious resentment. Yet these are the colors available for us to paint with. So I ditto the emphasis on the family aspect(especially for a praise band that gigs on the road)and bottom line DONT FORGET who you are serving and praising because remembering that covers a multitude of sins,musical and otherwise.

Posted by: John | May 3, 2006 1:11:47 PM

I also missed the point of title - how to get more musicians involved.

I've noticed in a small church (less than 200), to have a band is nothing short of a miracle...

... to have a band that worships and leads the congregation to do the same is headline news...

Posted by: Jim | May 16, 2006 1:20:01 PM

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