Why it’s better to sing in unison than with bad harmony

Schola Cantorum de Caracas (Venezuela) led by Maria GuinandDown through the more than 30 years I’ve been teaching vocal harmony for various choirs and groups I’ve developed a reputation as a “perfectionist”. Unfortunately I don’t think everyone who says this about me means it in the most positive way. In fact I’ve been accused of nothing short of dictatorship, although not in so many words. I suspect the same is true for many choir directors, music ministers and musicians around the world who are charged with teaching the songs their various choirs and praise teams bring before the congregation week after week.

As we discussed in another blog, some of the hardest, most frustrating rehearsals in fact have been those where the harmony didn’t come together quite so easily, but I continued to push until we got it right. In fact sometimes we didn’t get it right, and we decided to simply come back to it in another rehearsal rather than perform it before we had it perfected. And it’s times like these when people really wonder why it’s such a big deal to have everything so “perfect”. It’s most frustrating too, when it’s a really small thing that we just can’t get our heads around, you know what I mean? Like one note in one section that is being sung a half-step off, making this really unpleasant clashing of  harmony between the musicians and the singers. Often it’s hard for the choir members and praise team members to understand why it’s such a must that things like that be fixed.
Well, I can really sum it up for you with one sentence. it’s something God dropped in my spirit when I was very young, and it’s been one of the driving forces behind my style of teaching and ministry. He said this:

“The harmony is right when it’ becomes transparent.”

Looking back I think I knew everything that sentence meant the minute it came to me. And I knew that if I could help my choir understand this it would change the way they felt about the work involved with perfecting the harmony. Instead of resenting it they would come to embrace, understand it’s necessity and even prefer it. So God started to not only reveal this to me, but to admonish me to teach it to others so they really had a whole new understanding of why it’s so important to do this work.

So to explain it in a nutshell, God showed me that when harmony is right, nobody is paying attention to it. They’re only paying attention to the message. Beautiful harmony just makes the message that much more powerful. But when it’s right, the harmony is NOT the main attraction. The message is. Ironic, isn’t it? That we put so much work into the sound for the express reason of getting it to the point where nobody pays attention to it? But that’s the real reason we do it. The reason we MUST do it.

Because you see, when it’s wrong, everybody’s paying attention to it. But nobody for the right reason. When someone or some section is off-key, even if everything is going great up until that point, it will immediately draw everybody- and I mean every member of the group AND every member of the audience- OUT of worship and praise and focused solely on trying to figure out what’s wrong; “something doesn’t sound right”. Choir or praise team members start looking around at each other, the musicians, the director- ANYBODY that can help them find where they’re supposed to be. So again; NOBODY’s thinking about the message. There is no praise or worship going on at this point. Just uncertainty, confusion, embarrassment. Now everybody’s out of the Spirit and in self. So the negative effects are even worse on the choir or praise team than they are on the audience.

Case in point.

Our choir was doing a particular song one Sunday morning. It was a beautiful, powerful worship song. As we began to move through it the Holy Spirit started to move through the members and the audience as well. People were starting to lift their hands and just worship God through the song. But then we came to a place in the song where there has always been some uncertainty. It was a rather complicated movement, and not everyone really understood what was happening there.

The minute we reached that part in the song, it was as the Holy Spirit hit a brick wall. We immediately came out of worship as the members realized they didn’t know what part to do or where to do it. We didn’t understand it. We hadn’t perfected it until we really, really knew it. We went on and struggled through the whole movement to end the song. The embarrassment and utter disappointment was palpable enough to cut with a knife. Not having been the original teacher of the song, I vowed then that we wouldn’t sing it again until I could make every member understand exactly what was happening in this movement, to the point where it was almost instinctive.

And that is the most clear illustration I can give you for why song teachers, choir directors and music ministers all over the country drive and push their music ministries to excellence. I know what it looks like. But it’s really not about us at all. It’s about removing all distractions, hindrances and uncertainty that would take the focus away from our true mission; to deliver the word of God in song, and to do it in such a way that it’s effective and reaching the hearts of His people.

For that reason alone it is almost better to just sing in unison than to sing with bad harmony. But I feel the need to also make sure everyone understands that it isn’t about harmony. You don’t have to have harmony at all to have a powerful, anointed performance. A group of people singing in unison has the same effect as a group of people singing in perfect harmony. The sound becomes transparent vessel that delivers the message without distraction. Hezekiah Walker’s “I Need You To Survive” is a great example of a very powerful choir song that has no harmony.

The real point is to never allow yourself to be ok with putting something before God’s people that doesn’t sound good and you know it doesn’t. Not, at least, when He’s blessed you with the talent and resources to give Him better. There is a reason why the most disciplined, hard-working choirs and praise teams are usually the most anointed. God honors your music ministry when you’re giving Him your best. Once you really understand that you’ll slowly see your attitude go from “why does it have to be so perfect, we ain’t no professionals!!”- to ” can we go over our part one more time?” And that’s when God takes your ministry to another level.

 

9 ways we can help improve your church’s music ministry

9If you grew up in the church working in music ministry, you know that we pretty-much learned everything by trial and error. Some people were in fact blessed to have a mentor to sit under to learn their craft, but that’s the exception, not the norm. I learned how to teach vocal harmony and direct the choir on my own. God gave me the gift of a good pair of ears and a natural ability to teach, but I had to learn my craft by getting in front of the choir and making mistakes. Then, sometimes, getting in front of the church and making mistakes. So my main mission and reason for starting The Music Ministry Coach.com is to provide professional-level training products and services to the music ministry that have traditionally not been available before. Here then, are 9 ways (some of them free) my company can help train, enhance and improve your church’s music ministry.
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Striving for excellence means pushing past frustration

Day 27 :: Some daysIt’s pretty common knowledge that music is one of the most powerful tools God has given us for for ministry. It stands to reason then that music ministries are the Devil’s favorite target. And, like anything else you try to do in excellence to God, when you’re trying to go to another level is when the enemy begins to attack even more. Perfecting music ministry can be a lot of hard work. Long rehearsals filled with repetition after repetition as choirs, praise teams and groups strive to perfect their harmonies and sound so that God may get the glory.

In a previous blog I gave you scriptures that support the fact that God honors this work. Scripture always speaks highly of skilled musicians and singers. But sometimes it doesn’t come easy. Often it’s the most simple of things too, isn’t it? One little part that you just can’t get down, or one little line that somebody keeps forgetting; something that any other day would be easy for this group. But tonight. This song. It won’t come together. And it’s times like these that we forget what we’re doing all this for in the first place. We get weary. Tempers flare. Arguments take place sometimes. And inevitably someone will question why it’s even all that important.
How do you keep going? How do you push past this? What do you do when you’re stuck on a song, it’s not coming together and everyone is getting angry and frustrated.

1. Stop and pray. Join hands and just begin to pray as a group. Ask God to bind the spirit of division of strife. Pray for unity. Ask Him to move self out of the way. Pray genuinely and not with malice or strife in your hearts. Honesty and truly worship God. A negative spirit has a hard time surviving in this environment. Try going back to the song afterwards, when hearts and minds are in a better state.

2. If it’s harmony that’s causing the problem, try singing the difficult passage a cappella. Often singing the harmony without music helps your singers hear all of the parts blending together. It can really help some singers make sense of their part and understand why it is what it is.

3. If it’s lyrics talk about the subject of the song. Connect with it’s message. Talk about different lines or passages and ask members what it means to them . Moving forward, get into the habit of NOT using lyric sheets unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lyric sheets can be more of a hindrance than a help. They cause your brain to be “lazy, so-to-speak. There’s no need to memorize something as long as the words are in front of you.

4. If all else fails, table the song until another rehearsal. Sometimes getting away from a song gives members a chance to renew their hearts and minds and come back refreshed and with a new attitude about the song.

Whatever you do, continue to strive to give God the best your music ministry has to offer. Often that does mean you have to push past tricks of the enemy like discontent, frustration and anger. Time after time though, those music ministries that do are rewarded with God’s favor and anointing.

Grateful

universal thank you noteToday I’ll be spending time with relatives to celebrate Thanksgiving. Aunts, uncles, cousins and offsprings will all come together to break bread, laugh and enjoy each other. It’s such a beautiful thing and I really look forward to it.

The night before though, I sat in my couch in my apartment writing this blog on my cell phone, alone. You see just 3 years ago I finalized the divorce papers and dissolved a 16 year marriage. I walked away from everything I had spent most of my life building and working and fighting for-my home-so that my ex-wife and kids wouldn’t have to be uprooted from the only home they had ever known.

Sounds like a sad story,I know. And yet I write you with a heart full of gratitude. Because through it all God has been faithful and given me favor. God has blessed my ex-wife and I to have a healthy, respectful and friendly relationship with each other.

I have unrestricted access to my boys and spend every other weekend with them. They are healthy and well adjusted young men who love us both equally and are proud of their parents for how we handled everything.

This year God placed my business on a new path that is in line with the calling He gave me. Since taking the old company website down, changing the company name and completely changing its direction and focus, I am now more fulfilled in my work than I’ve ever been.

Not only am I doing the work I believe God created me to do, but it’s touching people on a much bigger scale than I ever dreamed. I’m thankful that I get to meet, interact with and serve people like you and help you take your your ministry to the next level as I continue to seek to go higher myself.

And so even though I’m alone now after 16 years of living with a family around all the time, I feel like I’ve gained an even bigger family. And that family continues to grow.
And so as my family member I’d like to wish you a special happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and yours richly today and in the coming year.

9 powerful guidelines for your church’s music ministry

bylawsRecently while doing research for ideas for my next blog I came across a great article- actually it’s more like a governing philosophy- written by a pastor as a philosophy for his church’s music ministry.
I thought this was awesome and I wanted to share it with you.

Rev. Larry D. Ellis, author of the book “Forgiveness- Unleashing A Transformational Process “ ,developed this biblically based philosophy over a number of years. It is offered as a suggestion and starting point for your consideration as you examine your individual situation, traditions and sense of calling from God. He would welcome your input and suggestions to his offering.

Contact Pastor Ellis at larry.ellis@softwright.com

This philosophy statement and its guidelines apply to all aspects of the ministry of music at our church, including all the choirs, children and adult; instrumental music; soloists; and all church activities such as Christian Education, bible studies and retreats.

1.The definitive criteria for selection of our music is its message that it communicates. If it is instrumental music, we assess its musical quality, timbre, harmony, amplitude, and rhythm and the propriety of its use in our worship. If the music has word associated with it, we value the text being Christocentric and Trinitarian.
We see worship as our response to God’s initiative with us. Praise is not about what we want, need, desire or prefer.

2. God considers music a very high priority in celebrating His worship. – I Chronicles 14:25-16:22, Ephesians 5:19

3. Musicians are ministers appointed by God and music for worship is not our entertainment. – I Chronicles 16:4-6

4.The leadership is called by God to be teaching the composers, soloists, choirs and congregation how to minister to one another through music. Performing music is ministry just as composing and writing it is, when equips others to minister by using the music. As a part of the ministry of equipping we may bring in resource persons to maximize us where our leadership is limited. – Ephesians 4:11-12

5.Singing praise to God is not optional. It is commanded to all. – Psalm 66:1-2, I Chronicles 16:23-35

6The extensive use of musical instruments is commanded in the scriptures. – Psalm 98:4-6, 81:1-4, 33:1-3, 147:7, 150

7.All texts sung must be consistent with scripture and doctrinally sound. – Colossians 3:16

8.All music must be appropriate for the occasion, inspirational. – Ephesians 4:29

9.The ministry of music is seen as a great opportunity for evangelism. It is open to both members and friends of our congregation, not just formal members of our church. However, since we see ministry as being done for the body of Christ by the body of Christ, we normally desire to maximize our own participation before supplementing our efforts with those outside our local fellowship.

I’d like to thank Rev. Larry Ellis once again for granting permission to post this great piece of work. It’s sure to bless many music ministries. Please do me a favor and check out his book at The Forgiveness Book.com

Talent/Skill vs. Anointing; Does God Really Care If It Sounds Good Or Not?

Balanced debateI don’t expect that everyone who reads this article will be happy with it’s content. Because today I’m going to challenge one of those old sayings that people have heard recited and repeated for so many years that nobody ever questions it or even bothers to look for any biblical proof, one way or the other. But the bible is exactly where we’re going today to get some answers.

“God doesn’t care what it sounds like, as long as my heart is in the right place”. It may have been said slightly different one way or another when you heard it, but no doubt you’ve heard people make this statement many times.
But is that really true? How does God really feel about the quality of the music we offer up to Him? Does He care about skill or talent? Is it really even necessary to perfect it? Rehearse and polish our harmony and sound? Is it really worth it to train your voice and perfect your gift? Or is this all just vanity for the sake of our own egos?

Many don’t think He cares at all. In fact some believe as long as you’re singing for, to or about God pretty-much anything is ok. Often you see this argument come up when people are being pushed past what they can comfortably do with a minimal amount of effort and/or rehearsal.
For some reason people really resent any extra work, training, effort or rehearsing to perfect music done for God. Let’s set aside for a minute the curious change of attitude you find in the same people if they were, for example, rehearsing for a secular music performance. Perhaps we’ll discuss that in another blog.

Today though, let’s see if we can get some idea from the Word of God how He really feels about musicians and singers and what they offer in His service. We’re talking specifically about talent and skill, and what scripture has to say about it.

When you start to really study scripture relating to music ministry; in particular, musicians and singers; one of the first things you notice is that almost every time scripture speaks specifically about a singer or musician, it goes out of the way to point out that singer or musician’s high level of skill. Take a look at a few examples here:

Often when a musician is summoned, it is made very clear in the request that the musician be highly skilled:

I Samuel 16:17 “And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.”

Psalms 33:3 “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”

Only the most highly skilled were appointed as song leaders and instructors:

I Chronicles 15:22 “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skillful.”

David had a choir of 288 voices, and all of them were skilled singers:

I Chronicles 25:7 “So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.”

I could go on here, but clearly when you really search the scriptures you see skill and cunning given high regard in music ministry. But you also see that skill alone is not enough. David was famous not only because of his high level of skill, but because of the anointing on his music.
In fact most of the time in scripture you see anointing mentioned in direct coloration to skill ( I Samuel 16:14-23, II Kings 3:15).

And yet even though we have scriptural proof that skilled playing and singing is clearly highly regarded in scripture, we’ve all seen that little choir singing in unison or that little mother stand up and sing a song and tear the church up- even though neither of them were necessarily “highly skilled” singers. The anointing definitely makes the difference, and breaks the yoke (I Samuel 16:18) .

That’s the quote you hear most often when people start making the argument that God doesn’t care if it sounds good. But let’s take a closer look at the real motivations behind this argument.

You see, often it’s not a passion or even a genuine concern for doing right by God that causes people to begin protesting against the work that goes into perfecting music ministry. It is the disdain for the work itself.
The truth is, to play or sing skillfully in music ministry does take a lot of work. Anointed Gospel choirs don’t just walk into the choir stand and automatically sing like that. Exceptionally gifted musicians don’t just wake up playing that way one Sunday morning. It takes work and hours of practice. It takes higher levels of training and study. It takes going over parts over and over. And quite honestly, there are many who would much rather phone it in every Sunday than to do that work.

Not everyone has the same level of natural ability, that’s true. But many people who don’t could certainly get there with some extra work. Or some training to hone their craft. But rather than do that work they would rather give themselves a pass by making the argument that “God doesn’t care about all that”, or it’s not about being perfect, it’s about what’s in your heart”. The problems often arise when these people want to be elevated to leadership positions often reserved for those with the highest levels of skill (I Chronicles 15:22) without having to put forth any extra effort to perhaps tweak or improve their offering.

Ironically that statement about how God really cares more about what’s in your heart couldn’t be more true. God doesn’t care if your gift is perfect. What He does care about though, is whether or not what you’re giving Him is your best. That explains why those singers and musicians and groups and choirs who train and practice and perfect their musical gifts and ministries are often bestowed higher levels of anointing.

It also explains why that little old lady singing off-key and that little choir singing in unison can also minister under the anointing. The anointing makes the difference but the anointing only comes when you’re giving God your best.
Sadly though, rather than give God their best, many people opt instead for Giving God their best excuse. (Gen. 4, 2-7).