I've now been a worship leader for 56 years, and I think that makes me a geezer.  It almost makes me Yoda!  When I began, How Great Thou Art was not found in hymnbooks, and wouldn't be for another decade, until illegal Xeroxed copies began appearing, pasted to the inside cover of the hymnal. 

Today, I lead drum-driven, kickin' contemporary worship at 9 a.m., then slip on a choir robe and play a massive organ, and sing with the choir, occasionally presenting Psalms I have written, laced with African rhythms or folk-guitar.

I have been welcomed as a savior for churches wanting a fresh approach to worship music, and been quietly squeezed out by factions demanding some mysterious flavor called "cutting edge" in their music. 

OK, that's a bit of my history.  I began thinking that it was stupid to write about music, and smart to play and sing it.  Now I've come the other way around, and like to talk about it.  I'm especially interested in you geezers out there - don't have to be as old as me, but maybe have at least, say, 25 years doing this.  I'm interested in what developments you have scene, physically, mentally, socially, spiritually -- whatever might seem worthy of sharing -- that could be helpful, not just to smooth over the ruffled feathers of older musicians who feel left behind, but for the benefit of anyone, young or old, who might read this column.

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A theme, a theme, so good you made it twice. ;-)

I'll cogitate, maybe post in a bit. 'Course I'm a mere stripling by comparison, with about 38 years playing in worship and only 20 or so leading.

Yoda. :D

Talking of geezers, I've been looking back through some older threads, prompted by Nathan reappearing. I really miss Stevo.

Stevo made a post June 25, 2015.  Do you know more than I do?

Toni said:

Talking of geezers, I've been looking back through some older threads, prompted by Nathan reappearing. I really miss Stevo.

Twice?  Now I KNOW I'm a geezer.

Toni said:

A theme, a theme, so good you made it twice. ;-)

I'll cogitate, maybe post in a bit. 'Course I'm a mere stripling by comparison, with about 38 years playing in worship and only 20 or so leading.

Yoda. :D

I started doing this a little over 25 years ago (my college years in the early '90's), which was just before the big "explosion" of the worship music industry. 

Back in those days most of the music was coming from Integrity Music and Vineyard, but then starting in the late '90's all of a sudden Hillsong got big, and also Revival in Belfast ("Days of Elijah", etc.), the whole British crew (Matt Redman, Tim Hughes), the Passion Movement, and suddenly new worship music was coming from everywhere.

And then with the information age it suddenly became possible to share music with anyone anywhere in the world instead of songs circulating more or less by word of mouth.

I guess if there's one big negative and one big positive that I've observed over the years it would be these:

Negative:  old stereotypes die hard - people automatically think that all "contemporary worship music" = overly-simplistic repetitious choruses or "Jesus Is My Boyfriend" songs (whatever those are) or "me-centered" emotional lyrics

Positive:  some of us are actually working on that - there's still a lot of mediocre contemporary worship music, but there is also some really excellent stuff if you know where to look (Townend & Getty, Sovereign Grace, Citizens, to name a few), and many worship songwriters are working hard to improve our craft and create theologically substantive (but hopefully still musically interesting) worship music.

Just a few thoughts...

I've really appreciated the wealth of new songs with excellent lyrics coming from major distributors.  Sure, you still hear plenty of songs with Scripture-fragments just tossed everywhere like tomatoes in a salad; but quite a few are really focused and - wow!  amazing!  musically interesting.

I've wondered how long King Rock would keep his iron grip on popular Christian music - but now I hear an nice acoustic guitar here (without the obligatory amplified string-scraping), a wind instrument there, a cello singing low and sweet, singing of things that cannot be conveyed by a harsh, demanding drum set.  I can play my keyboard and not be ashamed.

Some, like Townend and Getty, who would have been tossed out as nonconformist geeks just a few decades ago, are still writing wonderful songs which challenge every part of the soul.

I really wouldn't mind a few more simple songs - ones you can carry with you in your memory - but perhaps the Screen gives us access to so many riches it's hard to write a simple song and just keep it to one verse.

(I tend to write long once I start writing, I should probably write blogs, huh?)

Well, it's been a long, strange trip.  The first church I really "went to" was a Foursquare (pentecostal) church back in 1961 or so, and the ministers did a lot of "country gospel" music, so I guess I've had a sense all along that church music is not just hymns.  And maybe even a bit more resentment than I should have had, later on when I found myself at churches that DID think church music was just hymns.  I never did "speak in tongues," but I did come out of that experience with a sense of a calling to WRITE Christian songs.  Not necessarily to publish, perform, or record them, the calling was pretty specific to writing.  Along about 1970, I got involved playing guitar for a youth choir ("Pass It On" was the hot new song that you couldn't sing in church), which showed me that rock was a valid style for Christian music. 

Wrote a lot of songs and did a bit of performing, in and out of church settings, through the 1970s and 80s.  1978-82 I helped lead a Christian music camp where we filled up the big meeting hall at the camp with guitars, amplifiers, recording equipment.  By 1980 I had moved through the Foursquares, Southern Baptists, Assembly, and Baptists to the Methodist (UMC) church, where I still am today.  Just doing whatever we could get away with :-)  Got banned from singing in church for two years after the pastor didn't like the story line of "The Emperor's New Testament."

1992, we joined a new UMC church here in Phoenix; the music started out as a choir but the pastor had said that when we had to go to two services, we would do something different, and I was about as different as he could handle (when they handed around the choir signup sheet, under "vocal part" I put "'57 Stratocaster").  We spent several months figuring out what to do for music (I wouldn't have lasted very long if we'd wound up doing folk hymns), and I discovered Hosanna, Maranatha, Vineyard and friends) and went that direction.  I did that from 93 - 2002 and then took a break for ten years while the church went through a couple pastors I just couldn't connect with.  Yeah, I know, submit to authority, but I at least tried to step aside gracefully (after six months of unhappiness and another six months "notice").  The guy who took over wanted to lead edgy worship, but basically just played too loud. 

When he moved on (2013) I came back and I'm still the chief organizer, song picker, chord chart preparer, and guitarist. I have never been very good at "leading" in the sense of talking to the audience, encouraging them to sing (Aspergers), but I can organize your socks off, so I just bring my particular spiritual gifts to the party.  And, ya know, if they decide they want something else, I'm quite willing to step aside again.  But they like me because we keep the volume down, and they seem to like the songs I write.

So, on to the actual question... for me, I think "contemporary worship music" started in 1980 or so - there was contemporary Christian music before then, but most of that was the singer telling the listeners that they needed to get saved, stop sinning, rededicate their lives... and worship music, for me, is about writing a song that expresses what the congregation feels (or is supposed to feel).  Yeah, folk hymns, but I never had much use for those, so I would say that around 1980 people started writing contemporary worship songs.

One thing that has certainly changed since those days is just the technology of it all - when I started leading our band, if you wanted to hear songs, you had to buy the CDs; I found songs by going through the songbooks... and if Lenny Smith joins this conversation, I didn't realize until yesterday how "country" of a song "Our God Reigns" is, I just thought of it like a choir would sing it.  So the big change is that now we can go on youtube (or soundcloud or whatever) and hear just about any worship songs we want.  So when I'm looking for new stuff, instead of paging through songbooks, now I'm listening to youtube playlists.  And I suppose that has focused things more on the music, whereas when I was looking at songbooks... there are songs we do today that I would have skipped over before just because the lyrics didn't work for me / us.  So now, the music works, yeah, let's try this one.

So, I plunged into being a WL in about 1992, and we got most of our songs from the Integrity / Maranatha / Vineyard songbooks.  At some point in there, Hillsong appeared, and that was a point where things changed... the music got rockier, and the lyrics got more fundie-ish.  And, honestly, the change in the lyrics was a turn-off for me, and we never did get on board with Hillsong stuff or any of the other new sources that came out around then... to borrow the title of one of our other threads, that body of work may have been, in a way, MORE "annointed" than the older songs, but it seemed like it brought back some of the guilt trip stuff that I've just decided to leave behind.

When I came back as leader in 2013, I did make a conscious decision to look at "current" songs (copyright in the last five years), and there are some people doing songs that work for what we're doing now... and I think we even have a couple of Hillsong songs in our repertoire :-)  One good thing about how much the industry has grown is that even when there is some hot new trend in the songs that are being written, there are a LOT of songs being written and not everybody jumps on that hot new trend.  Or there are lots of trends.

So, umm... I am constantly reminded that I am a soon-to-be elderly, white, Anglo-Saxon American Protestant male, and I'm just trying not to turn into that guy.  Feeling the Bern.  I've been reading a lot of stuff lately about "millenials and the church" and I've come to the conclusion that what they really want is for us boomers to get out of the way.  "Why don't cha all just fade away / don't try to dig what we all say..."  And if there was a millenial-age person at our church who wanted to take over the band, I would happily retire again.  Or if our pastor decided that we needed to update what we're doing to appeal to the millenials, yeah, it's been fun.  Our congregation (both in our traditional service and our contemporary service) is mostly boomers & beyond and... well, I don't want to say I'm trying to please the crowd, but I'm doing what speaks to me, and that happens to be our congregation, too.  And, ya know, the Methodists, we have a "Book of Discipline" and our annual and general Conferences where an auditorium full of boomers vote on what the church believes and think that that actually affects what the people actually do believe.  But I diverge somewhat.

Anyway... I have this sense that my own songwriting mojo disappeared somewhere around 2007 (the most recent of my own worship songs that we do in our service is from that far back), but I bring sufficient organizational and guitar skills to the party that I'm not ready to retire (again) yet.  May 7, 2017 I turn 65, and that might be the end of the road (it's a Sunday).  But that's how I got to where I am, I guess.  To paraphrase Aimee Semple MacPherson (founder of the Foursquares), "that's my story, and I guess I'm stuck to it."

I am trying to work out whether I count as a "geezer".  I've been in charge of the music group at our church for nearly 19 years, but I first started playing in church music groups perhaps when I was 16 or so, which is (ahem) 26 years back....



Greg Moore said:

Stevo made a post June 25, 2015.  Do you know more than I do?

Toni said:

Talking of geezers, I've been looking back through some older threads, prompted by Nathan reappearing. I really miss Stevo.




Probably not, but I've not *seen* him post here for a while. He had a mildly offensive and down to earth approach to things that I really appreciated.

Hard to say what counts.  When I was 14, I was actually "more" of a worship leader than now, because we had one instrument (organ) and no singers - the congregation just sang together, the organist played, and thus I was "it."  I suppose you're a geezer when you begin to geeze (v.i. - Gk. Ghezios, to be geezish, characteristic of the residents of Gezer), or to have a life history straddling, say, at least two trends, fads or Movements in church worship music - does that sound reasonable?

Daniel Read said:

I am trying to work out whether I count as a "geezer".  I've been in charge of the music group at our church for nearly 19 years, but I first started playing in church music groups perhaps when I was 16 or so, which is (ahem) 26 years back....

Yep, I agree, Stevo is a miss, he was, and am sure still is, one honest guy : )

Toni said:



Greg Moore said:

Stevo made a post June 25, 2015.  Do you know more than I do?

Toni said:

Talking of geezers, I've been looking back through some older threads, prompted by Nathan reappearing. I really miss Stevo.




Probably not, but I've not *seen* him post here for a while. He had a mildly offensive and down to earth approach to things that I really appreciated.

Remember Stevo dealing with that troll?  Good man.

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