Next month:
December 2005's Christmas time in the city...

...but it's Thanksgiving in the States.

Yes, we here in Canada have had Christmas on our minds since the day after Halloween.  Our Thanksgiving is in October so the idea of being thankful has long since past and we're on to full blown consumerism.

At Grace we've been in the planning stages, for several weeks now, for our Community Christmas Eve service.  We have opted this year to cancel the Sunday service on Christmas day and do a service/concert on the evening of the 24th.

We are going through a bit of a paradigm shift this year in regard to our activities at Christmas time.  Traditionally, we have always backed our schedule down at this time of year and allowed our church family the time and space they need to pursue their corporate and family holiday functions.  After some serious reflection, we took note that in our secular culture, we have two free opportunities to shout "Jesus" from the rooftops without fear of offending our neighbors - Christmas and Easter.  For the last seven years we have failed to completely capitalize on those opportunities but this is the year that will end.

We are pulling out the stops for a Christmas Eve service that will be exciting, relevant, entertaining and totally non-threatening to people who do not attend church regularly.  Our hope is that we can begin to connect with people in our community who want to have some sort of religious experience on the "Jesus Holidays."  So what if they only come out twice a year!  I heard Bill Hybels tell a story once of a neighbor of his who attended Christmas and Easter at Willow Creek for something like 5 or 7 years before he placed his faith in Jesus and started his life journey with God.

As we plan for this Christmas Eve service, I've got all my unchurched friends in mind with the songs, arrangements, readings and video clips.  Our kids' programmes and First Impressions ministries are already in the planning stages too for how they will use this exciting opportunity to love a whole lotta people we've never had the chance to love before.  And the best part about it all, is that for all those friends and neighbors we've always wanted to invite to church...HERE'S OUR CHANCE!  We can invite them to a church service that they are likely to be somewhat interested in and it's not even a Sunday morning.

What is your church doing to love people over the Christmas season?

Easy Vocal Harmonies

When I visit churches around Canada and the U.S. there are a couple of the things that I often notice in many praise and worship bands.  One; there are too many vocalists singing the melody of a song. Or two; there are too many harmonies - or too many people trying to sing harmonies - in support of the melody.

As a worship leader, my primary objective is to ensure that the congregation can easily join in to the songs that we are leading.  Being able to clearly hear and sing along with the melody is the main thing when it comes to participation.  My secondary goal is to create a musical palette that brings sensory pleasure to those that are listening (and hopefully participating) drawing them into a deeper commitment to the song.

I have set up my vocal team to meet those objectives.  I sing the melody on all songs (and rarely stray from it) and my vocalists sing a harmony and rarely sing the melody.  On the occasion they do sing the melody, it is for specific musical purposes, adding strength to a particular vocal line.

That being said, the guys running the sound board know my vocal is the one they hear, the harmony vocals should be "sensed" or "felt" but not quite "heard."

My current vocal team line-up consists of five ladies who all have little or no vocal training.  We rotate the team so that we usually have 3 vocalists backing me up as the leader.  I have developed a system for teaching the ladies harmonies which has proved to be nearly infallible. 

Before introducing a new song to the team I begin by making a recording of myself playing the chords (on piano or guitar) and singing the lead vocal line.  (Before I had a computer-based multitrack recording device, I would simply use a small tape recorder.)  I then develop a single, simple harmony for the ladies to sing as a group.  I work at keeping the harmony based around a single note  (often tonic) and try to keep it from moving too much.  But I never allow the line to hit unison with the lead vocal.

Once I have worked out the harmony I make a second recording of the song while playing the chords and singing the harmony.  When I was using the tape recorder system, I would play the original tape back on one recorder while playing the guitar and singing the harmony line onto a second recorder.  Obviously, using a multitrack recorder simplifies this process.  But use what you've got!

I make sure that the new recording has the harmony line as the prominent, dominant vocal that can be heard.  The lead vocal (if heard at all) should be background.

When my vocal team arrives at rehearsal, I set them up in a room away from the band and have them learn their vocal line from the tape.  They sing it over and over again until they have it solid.  While they are doing that, I am rehearsing the instrumentalists on the new song.  Because the vocalists have never heard the melody (except perhaps faintly on the tape) they know their part as the melody. When I join in and add my part - the real melody - the two pieces fit together perfectly and they have no confusion about what they should sing.  Additionally, most of the ladies bring tape recorders to rehearsal and record themselves singing these new songs so that they can rehearse on their own before Sundays.

Here is an mp3 of a song called Your Voice where I used this technique: [Your Voice mp3] [Your Voice Chords/Lyrics pdf]

The harmony vocal is very simple but adds a lot of depth to the vocal line because the ladies are rock solid on it.

If you, as the worship leader, are not a confident harmonizer, perhaps someone on your team is.  Use that person to work with you to make the tapes and teach the team just as I prescribed above.  By adding vocal harmonies and reducing the number of people singing  the melody of a song you can create an exciting level of aural depth and texture to your songs.

My Best for the King

Innocent Bystander:  "Hey, Bart.  How many different instruments do you play?"

Me: "Play?  That's sort of subjective.  None, really."

Innocent Bystander: "What do you mean 'none?'  You play the guitar or piano at church on Sundays."

Me: "Well, I guess I can sort of play the guitar, the piano and the drums.  A smidge of the bass.  But the truth is, someone who can actually play those instruments would watch me and know that I'm really a great faker."

Innocent Bystander: "Well, you sure fooled me!"

Me: "Like I said; a great faker!"
I've taken drum lessons and piano lessons, but never really excelled at either.  I started learning guitar about 5 years ago when a desire to lead worship began to evolve inside me.  The truth is, however, my skills on all those instruments is quite limited.  BUT my desire to improve is not at all limited.  I am constantly trying to improve.

Outside of "worship rehearsal" every week, I practice piano and guitar at least 1-3 hours weekly.  I am constantly stretching myself.  I think it was Paul Baloche that I once heard say to try something new as you play your instrument every Sunday to force yourself to get better on your instrument.  That's something else I do.

A big thing for me is watching other musicians play.  I like to get out to nightclubs or pubs with live bands to see some of the great local talent in our city.  There are some wonderfully talented people out there.

Another thing I do is buy concert DVDs.  My collection ranges from Hillsong to Coldplay, Simon and Garfunkel to Rush, Rascall Flatts to Evanessence.  I want to watch people who play their instruments for their paycheck.  I want to watch their hands, listen to their tones, study their instruments and then take it with me into my own development as a musician.  It is true that I do not limit myself to Christian musicians alone.  Brian Houston once said (at least once), "If I was a professional carpenter I wouldn't limit my training to being taught by a Christian carpenter. I would want to learn from the best there is."

I think that's something as musicians and songwriters we should take to heart. Dmatthews_1

For the last year or so I've been watching the Dave Matthews Band Concert in Central Park DVD semi-regularly.  These guys are a bunch of brilliant musicians.  BRILLIANT.  Watch and learn!

A Great 28: Tips For Songwriters

This is a list of tips written by Terry and Randy Butler, "some of the Vineyard movement's most effective worship trainers and songwriters." originally posted at

 1. Let God be your promoter.

2. Floss every day!

3. Don’t obsess over a song that seems hard to finish - move on - you can always come back to it.

4. Take the long way home. Take in the trees, flowers, and green grass. Roll down your windows and feel the breeze.

5. Learn the meaning of three new words every week.

6. Buy a new CD once a month, and explore new styles/artists.

7. Remember that God writes the best worship songs!

8. Be on the lookout for that co-writer that’s a match for you.

9. Read these books…

û The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

û Lyric Writing by Sheila DavisTo Know You More by Andy Park

û Dangerous Wonder by  Mike Yaconelli

û Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

û Raggamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

û Leap Over A Wall by Eugene Peterson

û The Message by Eugene Peterson

û Desiring God by John Piper

û What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancy

10. Hang out and play guitar/piano  with someone better than you.

11. Say over and over again, to yourself, “I’m a lifelong learner!”

12. You need solitude to write songs.

13. Shoot the TV!

14. Remember: 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

15. Get honest feedback about your new song. Be selective. Find people who will nudge you towards growth.

16. Schedule time to write and edit. Even if you never pick up your instrument, read and think.

17. Remember, some songs come seemingly in an instant. Others come in installments.

18. Writing a song can involve all these feelings… exhilaration, frustration, desperation, exhaustion, euphoria, and fragility.

19. Give at least seven hugs a day.

20. Stop the comparison trap. No, you’re not Matt Redman.

21. Caution! Don’t over analyze your song. Don’t throw stuff away too quickly.

22. Read a children’s book.

23. Don’t “should” on yourself.