Under Construction

This album is free to download, however I encourage you to make a donation to CARAD at www.carad.org.au. CARAD is the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees, and do incredible work on a limited budget. As this album speaks about loving others, I encourage you to share the love of others, by donating to this cause that is close to my heart.

You can download the album at BandCamp.

This album started in conception in 2014. Captain Mal Davies came to lead the Tasmanian Divisional Men’s Retreat, under the theme of “Under Construction”. The weekend was based around the Two Great Commandments, broken down into three parts – Love God, Love Others, and Love Yourself. In my reflections from the sessions, I ended up writing a song, the title song to this album – “Under Construction”. When exploring an idea to write an album, I posed myself a question: If I was to only ever put across one message in an album, what would be the most important message to put across? For me, it was this idea: to Love God, Love others, and Love Yourself. So I started writing songs based around this theme. I roughly aimed at following a preaching outline for each point, to present a strong start for the whole album (Praise God for all of my days), a Problem, Opportunity and Result for each of the three parts, and then a final wrap up (Under Construction). It didn’t quite work out this way, but I believe the album works well as a whole, and each song has a strong message that is contained within the individual song and the album as a whole. Continue reading “Under Construction”

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What U2 can teach Worship Leaders

I’ve just finished watching U2’s 360 Tour DVD, recorded at the Rose Bowl in California. It’s an incredible show, well worth watching. I love U2, and think that they might possibly be the world’s largest Christian band that isn’t a Christian band. Many of their songs draw from Christian spirituality, but do so in a way that it doesn’t sound cheap or fluffy. As I was watching it, I started thinking about what Worship Leaders could learn from U2. There’s a lot that could be learnt, but I’ve decided to narrow it down to four things that I think Worship Leaders and musicians need to hear.

Know your equipment

Part of the reason that I wanted to get this DVD was to watch The Edge at work. I’m wanting to improve in my guitar playing, and the best way of improving is by observing, listening to and working out what they do that makes them so great. Now, The Edge is legendary for his set up. I’m sure that he alone has more gear than many great bands have for their whole band. In the concert, he plays a different guitar for pretty much every song, and his pedal board is custom made to utilise every setting and effect that he has in his box. He knows every piece of equipment intimately, and knows how to use it.

Now, I’m not saying that every person needs as much gear as The Edge – none of us have the money for that. What I am saying is that you need to know what you have, know how to use it, and know how to use it to create the sound that is in your head. Guitarists are notorious for getting GAS – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. We want to get the next guitar, the next effect, the next amp, that will help define our tone and make us sound better. Instead of looking for the next thing, utilise what you have, make sure you know what it can do. Try different things, don’t just set it and leave it. Singers – why not try singing while crouching, with arms open – opening up your chest – head up, head down, mic pressed to your lips, or far away in your hands. Work out what your equipment can do.

Tell a story through your songs

One of the things that impressed me most about the concert was how the band was able to take you through a story, to portray a message, with barely any talking between songs. The reason that U2 is able to do that is because their songs are so full of meaning. They are able to send a message. If you need to explain to the congregation why you chose this song, chances are either the lyrics aren’t strong enough, or you’re using the song in a way that it wasn’t intended.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a song in a different context. One of the goosebumps moments for me was when they were showing images of the Syrian conflict, before launching into their classic song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is about the conflict in Ireland. It worked a treat, getting me to rethink a classic song in that it’s not just about a single conflict, but it’s about conflict wherever it happens. Utilising a song in a different context can work wonders, but you need to make sure that the connection works without any explanation.

Utilise multimedia

I think you would be hard pressed to find a church that doesn’t have projection software of some kind. Churches are finding that this is a far better solution as people aren’t as distracted by finding a song in the song book, getting lost, and having to hold things. It also opens churches up to using a wider range of music – so long as you’ve got permission to show the words, you can use the song, no matter where it comes from. However, a projector isn’t just a super expensive song book. You can utilise videos and images to help bring people into a state of worship.

Now, you may not have the same production budget as U2, and be able to make custom graphics for every concert, and record dignitaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but there are multiple websites out there that have videos available for purchase (please purchase them, don’t use keepvid or other youtube downloaders). I love Worship House Media, as well as Sermon Spice, but there are many others. Take the time to find items that will enhance your worship.

(And don’t be afraid to use humour. Many churches shy away from humour, however, utilised effectively humour can break through a barrier which can then help the message break through. Take a look at some of the Skit Guys videos to see how well they utilise humour to make the message hit home).

Utilise dynamics and instrumentation

There’s no doubt that a band as large as U2 can produce a massive sound. But, for a sound to be massive, you need to contrast it with softer sounds as well. This can be done effectively through two methods, dynamics, and instrumentation.

The first, dynamics, relates to the song itself, and you’ll find it generally follows the pattern – softer in the verses, (building in the pre-chorus if there is one), louder in the chorus. But feel free to change it up. Using dynamics, you can highlight certain passages of songs without having to explain it with a mini sermon beforehand.

The second item is instrumentation. Sure, you can have a 4 piece rock band, with a brass section, strings section, and a 200 voice choir, but sometimes reducing it to just an acoustic guitar and a voice can cut through more powerfully than all of that other stuff. Bono and The Edge did “Stuck in a moment…” with just the Acoustic and the voice, and it cut through like nothing else. Sure, they could’ve done it with the whole band, and it would’ve been great, but by breaking it down to it’s simplicity, it brought so much more power.

So there you go, four things that I learned from watching U2. What have you learned from watching other bands?

The Stations of the Cross

A number of years ago now, when I was 21, I was housesitting over Easter. I watched The Passion of Christ on Good Friday. Through watching it, and thinking about music (as I was want to do at the time, studying Classical Music), I realised that there weren’t many compositions that explored this idea of the Stations of the Cross. While there are many examples of pieces relating to Easter, such as Bach’s St Matthew Passion or St John Passion, I couldn’t think of any that actually combine the stories as is found in the Stations of the Cross. Part of the reason is probably because many versions of the Stations of the Cross include extra-biblical material – that is, parts that have been accepted into the stations through tradition, and weren’t actually biblical. So I decided that I would start writing a piece based upon the Stations of the Cross.

First, I found a version of The Stations of the Cross to follow, which was the one that Pope John Paul II followed in 1991, which I chose because the 14 stations were based on passages from the bible narratives. Of the 14 passages, there’s 3 from Matthew, 3 from Mark, 5 from Luke, and 3 from John. I decided to write for String Quartet and Narration, mainly because I knew how to write for strings, and would be able to utilise the colours and effects effectively to evoke the text. In terms of overall arrangement, I decided that it would work best in 4 movements – the first covering the first 6 stations, then the second with stations 7 to 9, the third with stations 10 to 12, and the final movement with stations 13 and 14.

I originally wanted to base this work from a relatively popular translation of the text, however the number of verses was more than their fair use policy allowed, and upon seeking out permission to use it, I was going to be charged a large amount to use the text, for a licence that would only last 3 years. (As it’s been 7 years since I started this, I’m glad I didn’t shell out the money). As such, the text comes from the Open English Bible, an “open source” Bible released into the public domain. The Narration is notated, but is only intended as a guide as to where it starts, and roughly where it finishes. The narration is intended to sound as natural as possible, but lining up with the elements in the music.

I started by writing prose notes to describe my thoughts as to how each of the four movements would come together. The notes that follow are largely based off those notes, along with what it actually ended up as. Continue reading “The Stations of the Cross”

Removing the Barriers – Creating Inclusive worship for the new person

Photo by CBGlades on Flickr

In class the other day, we were talking about how our language – and more specifically our accent – can sometimes form a barrier that can prevent people from fully engaging in worship. Two of the main points was that Australian’s have an accent, we just don’t acknowledge it and as such we don’t make the appropriate adjustments to ensure that we are heard clearly; and that we often use language that people don’t understand.

Christianese is its name, and there are a variety of dialects within Christianese that can leave even a well versed Christian perplexed. How much more for someone who doesn’t even know about Jesus? Continue reading “Removing the Barriers – Creating Inclusive worship for the new person”

Composing Power

I am enjoying living close to work at the moment. It’s a ten minute walk to my workplace three days a week, and this week, I’ve been walking home in order to get some arranging done.

It’s something that I’ve been embracing more since I am not playing my violin as much any more, so this is something that I can use my musical skills in. I’ve arranged a couple of worship songs so far for the songsters at my church, and I’m working on another arrangement at the moment, this time of the hymn “There’s Power in the blood”.

I pulled this song out at a recent Chrysalis retreat and the guys really got into it. As the weeks went on, I couldn’t get the song out of my head, and it turned from this slightly rock, slightly rockabilly version into this kinda jazzy version that I’m now arranging. I’m working through this arrangement and hope to have it done really soon.

After that, I’m thinking I might have a go at a brass band arrangement. Got a few ideas running around, just need to see what would work well.

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons (via Elissa Milne)

Great post. Mainly reblogging this so that I’ve got a memory of this so that I can convert this to a violin post soon. Stay tuned.

I promise I’ll get back into blogging soon. Really I will. When it gets less busy. Like October. Or maybe next year. Or the year after… surely there must be some free time by the end of the decade….

This is a quick checklist of things to do, buy, learn and decide before your child has their very first piano lesson. Working your way through this checklist will speed up your child’s learning curve, possibly by months (maybe more!), and once you’ve covered every item below you will be a superbly equipped parent entering into the role of nurturing the growth of a new little (or not so little) pianist. 1. Buy a piano. This may or may not seem lik … Read More

via Elissa Milne

Christian Music Sucks! (well, some of it)

The logo at the Christian Music Wiki
Image via Wikipedia

I was thinking the other day. Liesl tells me that it’s never a good idea. But I was thinking that there’s a lot of really bad music out there, and a lot of it is Christian music. Take this video for an example:

Take a real good listen to those lyrics. “He is like a Mounty, he always gets his man, and he’ll zap you anyway he can. Zap!” I’m sorry Sonseed, but you really can’t get much more cheesy than that.

See, that’s the problem with bad Christian music – they try to write a “Christian” song, and it ends up being cheesy, kitschy and just plain wrong. However, there is hope. There is a multitude of musicians out there, who are Christians, who write fantastic music that is up there with “secular” music.

Take for example this little band. They’ve got some great songs, and are really deep in faith.

U2 are fairly well-known as being a very spiritual group, with Bono having a deep Christian faith, but also an understanding that to get his message out to the world, it can’t be shoved down people’s throats, but coming through every facet of their music and lives.

Naturally 7, if you’re not aware, are a band that only use their voice. Liesl and I saw them opening for Michael Bublé, and were amazed. Their version of Can you feel it in the Air tonight is amazing.

And they write their own songs too, like Bless this House.

And remember, every sound they make is made with the human voice. And they’re Christian too – they’re headlining at Easterfest 2011, a massive Christian festival being held in Toowomba.

For something a bit heavier, why not try Underoath? This Christian metal band have played at the big heavy rock/metal festivals such as Soundwave, and are not shy in hiding their faith at those events either.

One of my favourite bands at the moment is New Empire. They’re currently touring with Good Charlotte, opening for them. It’s very much a pop-rock sound, but if you didn’t know they were Christian, it would sound very much like any other band out there.

And there’s heaps more out there too. Everything from Metal to A capella. Ska to Soulful, it’s all there, and it’s all brilliant. All you need to do is go searching for it.

Band I’d Love to see live

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Ken...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s late, and I need to post, so this will be a short one. The band I’d love to see live would be The Beatles. Not only did they form a lot of the “rules” of rock music that bands would come to live by for years to come, but they also broke those rules and did things like write a pop song accompanied entirely by string quartet (Eleanor Rigby) or one accompanied by a Clarinet Trio (When I’m Sixty-Four), yet also did really quite rocking songs. So that’s the band that I would love to see live.

Top 5 Violin Showpieces

Pablo de Sarasate
Image via Wikipedia

Violin show pieces are the pieces which are at the limit of violin technique. They are difficult, flashy, and impressive. Here’s my list of the top 10 violin showpieces.

Paganini – Caprice 24

Paganini’s 24 Caprices are some of the most difficult for the violin, and being able to play any of them is a great accomplishment. However, the 24th Caprice is by far the most famous, and most difficult. Based upon a Theme and Variations model, this caprice employs many of the most difficult violin techniques in a musically solid base. This video is of Hillary Hahn performing this Caprice. Continue reading “Top 5 Violin Showpieces”