If you’re going to stay, be dedicated

“If you’re going to stay, be dedicated”. No, that’s not what I’m telling you. It’s what God told me Sunday evening, driving home from an engagement with the choir. He didn’t say it in those words exactly. Sometimes He doesn’t have to say anything at all, you know what I mean? It’s just that heavy feeling of conviction that you get sometimes. Suddenly things become clear and you get an epiphany without anyone saying anything at all.

Such was the case Sunday evening driving home from a musical where our choir was scheduled to sing.  People were missing. Important people. Musicians. Our director. Tenors. But I was there and Monica, my dear friend and minister of music was there. So I could stand in as director and other musicians there could help her out with the song. And we had a choir.

We  were first on the program. We go up, I stand in as director, Monica plays for us with help from other musicians that were there, and everything goes fine. You must be thinking at this point “sounds like everything worked out, what’s the problem?” You’re right, everything did.

But in the hallway after we exited the choir stand Monica came up to me and said “I was so scared, Ron. I thought I was going to have to try to direct and play in front of all these people. I didn’t see you back there.”

Again, I was there to direct, we had all the choir members we needed and everything worked out. But I couldn’t feel good about it because as soon as Monica came up to me and expressed how upset she was before she found out I was there, it’s like God slammed into my head every instance I had put her in that position before by not being there myself like others weren’t there that time. Even if everyone else was.

You kinda have to be familiar with the traditions and practices of Pentecostal/Church Of God In Christ denomination to really understand how often this situation occurs. In the COGIC denomination it’s very common for these “evening services” to occur several times a month, either at your own church or at someone else’s.  You go to your regular Sunday morning service and serve, get out for an hour or two and then you’re back for a second service, usually dismissing around 7.

So music departments are constantly on the go and constantly going to second services. They make for some very long days. Over the years I’d become jaded with the whole thing to the point I was starting to wonder if it was time to switch denominations. But I didn’t feel like I was hearing that from God. I felt like it was my own frustrations with denominational traditions and whatever else I decided to have a problem with.

So rather than leave over it I decided I would simply find my own balance. I’d go to these extra things when I felt like it, as long as I took care of home events. Over time I became known for NOT going to engagements away from the church and was simply not expected to be there.

I hope you’re getting a better picture of what’s going on here and why this particular Sunday ended up being a defining moment for me as far as my ministry is concerned. You see, today I had made up my mind I was going; first because it was a special request of our pastor that we all be there. Secondly I’d really been trying to make an effort to simply be more faithful about going to outside engagements.

So I was there, and thank God I was. But God wasn’t about to allow me to feel like I had come in and “saved the day” or something, no. When my friend of over 30 years walked up to me in that hallway, looked into my eyes and told me how panicked she was in the seconds leading up to  mounting the choir stand…knowing she didn’t have her band there to help her and thinking she didn’t have a director either…I thought of all the other times she must have been the only musician. Even worse though, I thought “what if I hadn’t came today?”

Our drummer and bass player were arriving as we were leaving the parking lot, over an hour late to the engagement. I was angry. But really all it did was heap more coals onto my own head.
I felt so much personal conviction in that car driving down the highway. I didn’t hear any voices, guys. I didn’t think the words. I didn’t hear a small still voice in my head. I didn’t hear my conscious talking to me.

I just knew everything at once. I knew that whatever issues I was having with COGIC and the way they do things, as long as I was going to stay I was simply going to have to be more dedicated. It’s funny because we had a meeting at work one day about a bunch of changes and all the challenges they were throwing at us.

The regional manager put it this way. “I understand that things are tough. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff I don’t like and I’m not happy with. But at the end of the day if I don’t like it I can walk. I can vote with my feet,” he said. “But as long as I decide to stay I understand that I OWN it.”.

That’s what I felt like God was telling me in that car, without saying anything to me at all. If I feel like it’s time for me to go then I need to pray about it, get confirmation and start looking for a new church home. But for as long as I feel like I’m supposed to be where I am, I need to be dedicated. I need to own my position and all the responsibilities that come with it. Regardless of how I feel about anything outside of that music ministry, that’s my job for as long as I “own it”.

About halfway home I sent my friend a text message that read:  “I’ll be there from now on, Monica”.

Piano Fingering; which finger goes where and why?

I’ve been playing keyboard for years now, but I’m self taught and I’ve never had lessons. One thing I struggle with often, especially when trying to do some kind of run or something, is where to place my fingers. What’s the proper fingering for all those great piano and organ runs? How do you know where to place your fingers on the keyboard or organ when you’re doing Gospel runs?

Well I found a video that really made it plain for me. I love it when someone teaches in plain, easy-to-understand language. The instructor in this video really did a great job of taking something that many piano teachers over-complicate, and explaining it in very common-sense language. I’ve never heard proper piano fingering explained quite this way. Check it out and by all means, please follow the link over to his channel and subscribe or leave him a comment.

Piano Fingering: Which Finger Goes Where, And Why?

http://www.playpianocatalog.com Piano Fingering: Which Finger Goes Where, And Why? There are some excellent reasons to use the fingering that is recommended …

Maximizing Defining moments in your ministry

ID-10094994If you’ve been serving in music ministry any length of time- especially in a leadership or “simi-leadership” role, chances are you’ve had something happen that changed your view of where you are. Something that made you say “wow, I wasn’t ready.” Or “Oh wow, if I had known how to do this or that, we would have been able to do this or that”.

I may not quite be making sense here just yet so let me give you a couple of examples. I often talk about my dear friend Monica, the minister of music at my church, and the lifetime of friendship and service we’ve shared working side by side in the music ministry there.

One year on the first rehearsal of our huge annual Family And Friends rehearsal with a house full of participating visitors, I walked up to the front of the room to begin  teaching my first song. I was waiting for my band to begin playing like they always do, but they were struggling with the music.

After several uncomfortable minutes of that I suggested we go to another song. It was pretty-much the same thing there too. I was NOT happy, and I shared that very candidly with the guys later. I can’t believe, I told them, you guys had me out there like that in front of all those guests. Monica has shared with me many times since that incident that she vowed from that moment on to never ever be caught not ready for another rehearsal. And she hasn’t.

I recently shared with my followers on the fan page a story about how, after years of saying I can’t play and sing at the same time, a situation that the devil was using to try to undermine the ministry of the praise team forced me to have a similar epiphany. There I was, sitting there with the talent and ability to fix this issue simply by DECIDING- because it’s always our choice whether or not to do what it takes to go to the next level in our ministry- to start putting forth the effort to start singing and playing. It was a defining moment that caused me to make changes that have helped the praise team thrive and become more and more powerful each Sunday, it seems.

Recently our choir director accepted his call to the ministry. Shortly after, and without any notice at all, he decided to step down, leaving us scrambling for solutions. Well everyone knows I direct, but everyone also knows that I teach 4 groups, play for everybody along with the band and everything that comes along with preparing for all that.

I was frustrated, to say the least. But even when Monica told me the news I decided (after I exercised my 5 second rule of music ministry, lol) to just be positive about it. But I’m human, and I was feeling frustrated and a little overwhelmed even. So much so that I actually sat out one Sunday to get my spirit right ( let’s just say sometimes it takes more than 5 seconds).

While I was out though, God began to show me things. You see Monica’s daughter Tiffany was in the choir for years and had left. She recently came back, joined the choir and the praise team and has been an important and productive member since then.

And it just so happens that Tiffany is an awesome, anointed, energetic director. So I’m thinking about all this and as I’m doing so God is showing me that He was in the plan from the beginning. That He was going to use the two of us working together to reignite a fire and enthusiasm in the choir that had been missing for a while.

These are just a couple of examples but I could go on and on. Because defining moments are always happening. In music ministry and in life, God always presents us with opportunities that show us very honestly where we are. Then He just kinda waits and watches to see what we’ll do.

It is at those moments that we can choose to be victims, blame others, make excuses, be negative. Even when we’re absolutely justified in our feelings,  there is usually a path God wants us to take that would put us on a direct course to a higher level of service and excellence in music ministry.

It is never without sacrifice. More time. More learning. More stretching. Being pushed out of comfortable places. But when we allow God to show us ourselves in these defining moments and then take steps to maximize them, God takes us higher. A year ago you couldn’t have told me I’d have my own dedicated microphone in front of the keyboard and I’d be singing and playing through much of the service. Or that I’d actually be excited about directing again in ADDITION to everything else I already do. But it’s not me I’m excited about. It’s what taking these steps will mean for my personal ministry and how positively they will impact the ministry I serve in.

Well, Tiffany stepped right in with only days notice and has been doing an amazing job as director. This past Sunday though, was the first Sunday that we both directed. It was one of those things I think everyone felt but nobody had verbalized yet. The paring of these two was going to be a good thing for the choir and God was in the plan.

After church we looked at each other and gave each other a high five. “I think we make a good team”, she told me. I smiled and said “This is the new era, T. We got next.” “We got this”, she said smiling back at me.

Have you had a defining moment in your own ministry? How did it change you? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your story.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Gospel Organ Effects And Tricks

I’m a keyboard player myself, but growing up in the black church with the whole Gospel music experience, I love the sound of a Hammond Organ. Some musicians can make those things produce some of the most amazing sounds. I’ve heard them make that organ sound like thunder, or like it’s talking or screaming. Ever wonder how they make the organ sound like that? Well I found this awesome video that demonstrates exactly that.

Instructor Carlton “C Dub” Whitfield freely shares some of the most closely guarded trade secrets in this Gospel Organ training video. Which, if you’ve ever asked an organist to show you some stuff, you know is rare. So please check out C Dub’s video and by all means stop by and connect with his channel. Leave him a comment, show him some love and let him know you saw him on The Music Ministry Coach.com.


Learning to sing and accompany yourself

I’ve already had a couple of people ask me about it this year, so I thought I’d post a blog about it. I’m talking of course about learning to play an instrument while you sing (thanks Don 😉 ). I think most singers want to learn how to do this, honestly. And the thought of it can be really intimidating even if you do know how do both- let alone the thought of having to actually learn how to play an instrument.

I’ll say off the bat that I’m not an expert at accompanying myself on the piano while I sing. I have, for years, been emphatically insisting that people who wanted me to play and sing choose one or the other. I’ll sing for you or play for you, I’d say, but I can’t do both.

However, through a series of events I wrote about in another blog about the word “Can’t”, I have recently started doing the very thing I’ve been saying for years I couldn’t do. Again I’m far from an expert and still learning. But I’m doing it enough now that I’ve been set up with my own microphone and stand at the keyboard so I can sing along with the Praise Team as I play. So, while I don’t consider myself to have “arrived” when it comes to the subject of accompanying yourself while you sing, I have a couple of tips that I think will get you started on your own path to doing it pretty quickly.

1. Just Try It!

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably been saying for years you can’t sing and play at the same time, but you’ve never actually made a real attempt. Once I finally did I was really surprised at how easy it actually was.

2.  Choose Songs That Are Easy To Play And Sing

Let’s face it. We all know what really scares us about playing and singing at the same time. it’s coordinating it all! Getting your hands to do some kind of rhythm that is different than what you’re singing can be tough to master.

I knew this going in, so what I did was choose songs where the cadence of the chords kinda matched up with the cadence of the words I had to sing. For example, songs where every time I sing a word I’m also playing a chord, so my hands and singing are in sync.

I found that choosing songs like this for my first attempts made it really easy; much easier than I thought, actually. But I realized that doing those easy songs gave me a lot more confidence and motivation to do more singing and playing.

3. Graduate Gradually

I’m at this stage now, actually. I’m starting to think about songs that will be more challenging to sing and play because they’ll simply require more coordination of me. These are songs where I don’t have the luxury of having the chords locked in with the cadence of the words.

Even in cases like these though, it’s really as simple as building muscle memory- just like everything else we learn. Simple sitting down with a challenging song to sing and play, then slowly and methodically playing and singing through those awkward phrases where your hands and mouth have to execute two different cadences, over and over until the awkwardness starts to fade and it starts to feel more natural.

For the Gospel singer especially, learning to sing and play at the same time could really take your music ministry to the next level.  It’s simply a matter of getting over “I can’t do it” and deciding to start.