How To Take Your Group Christmas Caroling And Actually Sound Good

If your choir, praise team or other group has never gone Christmas caroling you absolutely must. Our church choir has done this for several years now, and I can’t even begin to put into words here what a rewarding, absolutely wonderful feeling it is to go out and do this once a year. We have arrangements with about 4 or 5 locations who expect us to come out once a year and have scheduled our visit. (It’s very important, by the way, that you call ahead and get permission from the locations you’d like to visit ahead of time.)

We simply pile into our cars and follow each other from location to location, visiting  nursing homes and other chosen locations that have been arranged in advance. If your ministry has a small bus or van, that would be even better. But I can’t tell you what it’s like to see the faces of people in Wal-mart when we begin to sing and the sound starts to carry throughout the store. Or the smile on the faces of the residents at the nursing homes when we finish singing and begin talking and visiting with them. Often we have trouble leaving a particular location because people keep asking us to come to their section or department and sing.

One main reason, I believe, that it touches people so much is because we actually sing songs that lend themselves well to being sung a cappella. the nursing homes actually get a lot of people coming by to sing, as you can imagine. But it’s very common for both residents and staff members to comment to us about how much better we sound than most who come through. The secret? I carefully chose the songs we sing every year to insure that they are songs that actually sound good a cappella. Then we just learn pretty basic 3 part harmony and actually rehearse for our caroling outing. I note which keys we do each song and then at the location I put us in the right key using a simple pitch pipe.

The mistake many groups make when going out to sing is that they simply choose Christmas songs from their Sunday morning song list, or songs written to be sung with music. These songs were written around heavy musical arrangements, so they don’t often transfer well to being sung a cappella.

The worse thing when you’re singing a cappella is to have large spaces where nothing’s really happening except this awkward clapping and stomping where music would normally be playing. So the key to going out caroling and actually sounding good is to choose standard Christmas carols that have constant lyrical movement and no dead spaces or required leaders. With minimal effort I was able to find a handful of these and easily create simple 3 part harmony arrangements for them.

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Here are my top 5 Christmas Carols that sound great A Cappella.

1. Joy To The World

2. Oh Come All Ye Faithful

3. Hark The Harold Angels Sing

4. Angels We Have Heard On High

5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

 

Now, here’s how to go out caroling with these songs and sound so good they’ll want you back every year. The first 3 tips definitely need to be done by the musician and/or parts instructor/director.

1. Assign a key to each song.

Keep these keys as close in proximity to each other as the vocal arrangement will allow. This way it’s easy to quickly identify the key with a pitch pipe or even the little piano app on your I-Phone

2. Create a simple 3 part vocal arrangement for each song, soprano alto and tenor.

Do SATB if you have that luxury. Writing the arrangements should be as simple as taking the well-known melody line from each song, assigning it to Soprano or Alto and then writing harmony around that. We just use SAT every year and it sounds just fine for caroling.

3. Dedicate one rehearsal to learning the vocal harmony.

The entire rehearsal should be done a cappella with only a pitch pipe or your piano app to give the key.

4. Use lyric sheets!

This is the one time it’s perfectly acceptable and even expected for the choir or group to sing with lyric sheets in front of them. It makes everything that much easier to perfect, and it actually looks more christmas-y, lol . One of our administrators usually puts our lyric sheets into nice red or green folders so it looks good as we stand and sing.

5. Coordinate your colors.

It never hurts to look good out there, and when you’re all wearing similar colors it’s very easy to identify you as a group. We usually simply wear red tops and denim bottoms.

If you guys can put this together this year- even as few as 3 songs- try going out caroling this year. This is an annual event for our church choir. Attendance is not “mandatory”, per se, so we usually have a small group of 10 people or less. But with the right songs and just basic 3 part harmony, it really makes an impact every year. You really haven’t understood the true meaning of music ministry until you take it outside the walls and do something like this. It’s an amazing feeling, and once you do it you’ll be hooked.

 

How To Plan Engaging Christmas Worship Services

I found this article on ChurchLeaderInsights.com. It’s one of several sites I’ll be telling you about in a future blog post that I believe can be really beneficial to you as you strive to grow and improve your worship team. What I love about this article is that while the title suggests it will include content specific only to Christmas, the content really covers the one thing most worship teams struggle with all year ’round; getting our audiences engaged in worship. I’ve never seen someone explain WHY they aren’t engaged as well as Jason does in this article:

 

…the congregation doesn’t experience the worship set the way you and I do.

They aren’t hearing what we hear (or should I say feeling what we feel).

We’re actually playing the music, feeling the connection with other musicians, onstage and amplified.  In short . . . we’re fully invested.  Whereas the congregation can oftentimes feel like bystanders, simply observing what’s happening onstage.

Ever heard it explained that way? Me either, but that makes so much sense doesn’t it? So anyway, check out the rest of the article here. I think it’ll bless you!

Piano Lesson: How To Go From Basic To Amazing In 5 Steps

I often write about ways praise/worship teams can encourage more organic worship by allowing spaces where the music is allowed to “breathe”.
I’ve also talked about the importance of creating a flow between songs, rather than the complete stop-down “now for our next number” thing many praise teams do.
There are also moments in every service where there just needs to be some soft music playing. I found this video on Youtube where the instructor teaches a simple 4 chord sequence that works great for all of those moments and more.
I love it because the instructor, Keven “KC Conley, shows you how to take it from a very simple sequence to an advanced, complex movement. But don’t be fooled by the title. It will be very clear to you that you won’t go from step 1 to step 5 quickly.
You know I’m all about sharing content that teaches here, so I also love that Keven has links to many more resources and lessons available. You’ll find them all in the video below.  Be sure to check him out and tell him where you learned about him!

8 Reasons Not To Leave

Who among us hasn’t contemplated leaving the church where we’re serving? I know I have, and I’ve written about it before here on the blog. But this article right here, guys. This is probably the most powerful powerful article I’ve seen on the subject. If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself able to identify with all 8 of the reasons on this list, because at one time or another we’ve all contemplated leaving for every single one of them.

I found the article on Ministry127.com  Check it out by clicking below.

8 REASONS NOT TO LEAVE

DON’T CONFUSE A PERSONAL STRUGGLE WITH A PROVIDENTIAL STIRRING

10 Traits Of Spiritually Mature Worship Leaders

I love it when God blesses me with something that I know will benefit the body of believers as we all strive to reach higher heights in our music ministries. The only thing I love as much as sharing something God gave me is sharing something He gave someone else.

Easily the most popular topic here on the blog as well as the Fan page is praise and worship teams. Worship leaders and team members all over the world are seeking more knowledge about how to serve God better in this calling. I ran across this powerful article on a site called Ministrytodaymag.com called 10 Traits Of Spiritually Mature Worship Leaders. What I really love about this article is that not only does it get right to the content, going almost immediately the list, but it’s so intently focused on the one thing that I think many of us don’t focus on nearly enough; that being spiritual maturity in our service. This one is a must-read. Click on the link below to go straight to the article.

10 Traits of Spiritually Mature Worship Leaders

Does your church's worship leader possess these character traits?

 

12 Steps To Discovering Your Call To Music Ministry

If you’re a regular around here you know I try to share information that offers information to help take your music ministry to the next level. That’s really my only requirement for content here. It needs to teach something. Offer some advice, or some tips. Some kind of how to.

Many people who know they’re called to music ministry still find themselves searching for their specific calling within music ministry. I realized at an early age that mine was teaching and directing.  But if you’ve been struggling to really nail down what your specific calling is in music ministry you’ll love this great article I found on Churchleaders.com .

I really love articles that give specific steps. In his article “Discovering Your Call To Music Ministry” Minister Michael Dottin not only gives us 12 specific steps, he also includes specific scriptures related to each one.  This piece is a quick read, but full of great information I know will bless you if you find yourself in this place. Click the title or image below to read the full article.

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Talent Or Spiritual Gift: What’s The Difference?

We’ve been talking a lot about talent vs. anointing on the fan page lately. I ran across this article on GotQuestions.org that really handeled the subject well. I appreciate the fact that the author gave scriptures for every point. The summary at the end really ties up the whole subject very well and makes a lot of sense. I’d quote it here but I’m afraid if I do you may not go read the full article, and if you don’t you’re going to really miss out in my opinion. So go ahead and check that out and leave me your comment on the fan page, or right here below this article.

How To Deal With Challenging Situations In Your Music Ministry

I was sitting at my computer one night- about a Thursday or Friday night I think- when I got an e-mail from the choir director. In the e-mail she explained that she had thrown her back out and needed me to cover for her Sunday. I joked with her a little bit, telling her she’d better get herself a wheelchair and be on her post, lol! But then I assured her that of course I’d stand in for her. Little did I know that was only beginning of what would seem like a snowball of challenging situations that would occur that Sunday.

So I get to church and there’s hardly anyone in the choir stand. As members started to come up the MOM and I realized that we had a skeleton crew for a choir. One Tenor, who was apparently having issues with his voice, about 5 Altos and NO Sopranos. The details as to why they weren’t there aren’t really relevant. The point is we had a situation. One not unlike situational challenges we all deal with week in and week out in our music departments.

My MOM and I sit right next to each other, she on the organ and myself on the keys. She turned to me and said “I guess we won’t be doing the two songs we’d planned to do”. “I guess not!”, I replied. So after a little discussion we came up with two alternates we thought we could do well with what we had.

So the time came for us to do our first selection, and I took my place in front of the choir. Ironically (and not intentionally) we had chosen to do a song called “With God I Can (get through this)”. It was a song with no leader that we thought was easy enough for us to do but still far from a “crutch song”.  As I looked at the faces in the choir stand I could see the frustration and…I don’t know, fear? Anger? Hard to describe. But suffice it to say the choir was “affected” , both emotionally and spiritually by the situation at hand. It was all over their faces, their countenance. There was just no life, energy or enthusiasm there.

I approached the song as I always do, smiling and directing with the same level of enthusiasm I would any other time. But it was just not happening. We struggled and hobbled through the song, not really giving anything to it. Glaringly noticiable facial expressions beaming towards the audience that seemed to scream “I’m not into this at all”.

So I did a shorter version of it, sat everyone down and went back to my seat. It was only then that I allowed my own frustration to show with my back safely turned to the audienc. But my frustration had nothing to do with the situation we were dealing with. No, my frustration had everything to do with how we handled it.

My MOM turned to me and said “boy that was an appropriate song” (with God I can get through this). I said “Yeah but we were singing those words but our faces didn’t reflect what we were singing. “That’s why we have to sing to the Glory and honor of God”, she replied.

The experience stayed with me and really got me thinking. Usually when I start thinking the first place I start is with my own thoughts. I have a tendency to examine my thoughts and hold them accountable. I ask myself why I’m thinking what I’m thinking. Feeling what I’m feeling. I question my motives. Even my own emotions. It’s called “Introspection”. And I remembered the first thought I had when I realized we wouldn’t have any Sopranos. Now, I knew that everyone was kinda freaking out about this.

But I guess I’ve been practicing this stuff so long that I’ve just developed a different way of assessing things. So the first thought I had when I realized we’d have NO Sopranos, was: “Ok, so we’ll sing with 2-harmony instead of 3-part harmony. It’ll still sound fine. The audience could care less.” And I fully expected that we would go on to deliver the song just like we do with a full choir stand. With all the praise and enthusiasm that we would any other time. But that isn’t what happened. We allowed the situation to completely defeat us. And because we sang to the situation we completely failed to sing to the Glory and honor of God.

But the truth is this situation is not unique by a long shot. Music departments all over the world deal with these kinds of issues on a regular basis. That’s not the devil, that’s life. And usually the minute we realize that there is some kind of challenging situation at hand the first place our attitude goes is south. We become so frustrated and angry about the situation itself that the situation overshadows everything. So now we have to get up and try to minister in this negative state. And you know as well as I do that ministry just isn’t going to happen when our heart isn’t right.

So what do we do? After all, circumstances are going to continue to happen. That’s just the reality when you’re dealing with groups of people who all have their own lives, challenges and problems and yes, attitudes to deal with. So since we can’t change that, there’s really only one way to address these situations.

if you can't change the situationIn my opinion every situation we deal with in our various music departments will fall into two basic categories:

1. Situations We CAN’T change.
2. Situations We CAN Change.

On any given Sunday we may find ourselves dealing with anything from several members out of town on vacation or at a confrence, key personnel out sick, unexpected work schedule changes that prevent people you counted on being present from being on their post, etc. These are all situations we can’t really do much about. But in these situations we must remember that our charge and level of responsibility to minister doesn’t change. God doesn’t deserve any less from us because we’re in our feelings about whatever challenge we happen to be dealing with this week. We must be on our post and we must give God the best we’re capable of, period. We must sing from a sincere place, and we must sing to the Glory and honor of God.

When we find ourselves in challenging situations it’s only human to react emotionally.  In fact talked about that in another article, The 5 Second Rule Of Music Ministry. It’s frustrating and I’m not saying pretend not to feel it or that you’re wrong if you do.

Where we go wrong though is when we fail to move past that initial frustation, anger or whatever it happens to be for you at the moment, gather ourselves and re-focus our minds and hearts on the charge we’ve been given.  When we can’t change the situation we MUST change how we see the situation. We must change our attitude.

Often because we’re “music people” we tend to forget that the audience doesn’t see things the way we do, nor do they care about all the little details we obsess over.  For us, an entire section missing is catastrophic. It changes everything. We can’t minister effectively (or so we think). We’re not gonna have 3 part harmony. How dare all those people not show up! Whatever. But what we don’t realize is the audience could care less about any of that.

They don’t even know a “section” is missing. They might be able to tell you’re few in number, but they still fully expect that you will go on to minister in song and let God use you. And they don’t care if you do that with 2 parts or 3. With or without a leader. Full band or no bass player. Or no music at all. It just doesn’t matter as long as you get up there, sing from your heart, sing under the anoiting and let God use you.What they are affected by though is our attitudes. Facial expressions. Lack of sincerity, enthusiasm or any sign that you even care what’s happening at that given moment.
But what if we decided to let situations like this make us that much more determined to go on and give God our best in SPITE of the situation? Oh man, we don’t have any Sopranos. “Oh well, we’re going to use what we have and sing to the glory and honor of God andway. We’ll just have 2-part harmony instead of 3-part harmony.”

See we’re the only ones that care about stuff like that. All the audience wants is to be blessed by the music ministry. And the audience will always be blessed if we’re giving God our best from a sincere and real place. In fact the audience is MORE likely to be blessed by your ministry when they see that you refuse to let a challenging situation change your whole attitude about the song you’re about to sing, or even showing up that day.

And that’s true for any situation, whether the leader didn’t show up (ok so we’ll sing another song, or use a back-up, or sing the song without the leader), or the musician didn’t show up (ok so we’ll sing one of our a cappella songs ( you do have a couple of those for just such an occasion, right?) or we’ll simply sing the songs we planned to sing, just a cappella). You get the idea.

What I’m getting at is when you can’t change the situation you have to concentrate on the thing you CAN change, and that’s how you feel about the situation. How you choose to see it. How you’re going to react to it. But attitude is a choice. We can’t often change what happens to us but we can always change how we react to it.  Resolve, no matter what, every Sunday, regardless of the situation, that nothing will stop you from Giving God your best praise when you sing that song. Know that if you do He will use your ministry in a mighty way, because perfect praise will always overcome imperfect situations.

This is already pretty long, so let’s tackle the second category- Things We CAN Change- in a part 2 blog post next week.

Be blessed!