Breakthrough

Wow, so much has happened in just a few days.  I can’t believe it was only Wednesday that I first saw a clip of the George Floyd video on the news. I was so incensed, felt powerless, frustrated, angry… yet I know though I’ve been learning and asking many questions of my black brothers and sisters over the last several years, I still don’t understand what many felt watching that clip (or worse yet, the entire video). We had a regional service scheduled (several churches coming together on our livestream) for yesterday so much of our worship service had already been pre-recorded.  We scrambled to re-record as much as we could and speak to what so many were feeling (including a helpful interview Steve Morici did with Greg Russell, our campus minister in Long Beach).  One thing we had already in production was this song, and the words carried so much more meaning, singing them yesterday.  We need a breakthrough in this country, in racial relations.  We need a breakthrough in our struggle against injustice, in repairing centuries of pain and anguish felt by so many.  May God hear our collective prayer for a breakthrough.

“Virtual Worship Team” recording by worship leaders across the Coastal LA Family of Churches (Westside, Greater Long Beach, MLA / El Mensaje, and South Bay)

Intro and prayer to singing the song:


Anchor for the Soul – Virtual Worship Team

During uncertain times and a road ahead that is unclear, it is so good to know that we have “an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) through Christ. This has been a tough time for me and my family. I’ve been working even longer hours, and need to do a better job of setting some boundaries, as the digital world we’re operating in right now allows bleed into almost every moment of our lives. My kids have missed out on a lot (my middle child is a graduating senior and president of the school band, losing a lot of things he had thought would happen this spring). Of course we are also so blessed and grateful for our surroundings, and any difficulties can’t even compare to those who are right now losing loved ones or who are sacrificing so much on the front lines. Still, I battle anxious streams often, and mediating on thoughts such as those in this song help me “set my mind on things above and not on earthly things” (Col 3:2). This song has become one of the most popular of my congregational tunes, maybe because it ministers to others as well (see this post for more of the history of writing the song). God bless you in this time, and may listening to Betty sing this song minister to you on this Monday morning!  (Sheet music is here.)


My Jesus I Love Thee (in Defense of Old Church Songs)

I have written previously in defense of the inclusion of old songs in our worship sets (see “Why Sing Old-Timey Hymns” and “Old Treasures as Well as New”).

I was looking for the right song for us to sing as we shared Communion together yesterday (over live stream), and the Spirit led me to this old hymn I remember singing in church growing up, “My Jesus I Love Thee.” I like its emphasis on the cross and its emphasis on the present moment.  And what a present moment we are in right now!

I made a comment about the inclusion of old songs (this was already an old song when I first heard it!) on the live stream (see this video here). It might be helpful for you to think about if you are involved in planning the worship of your congregation. I often get feedback from the congregation about how easy it is to participate with older hymns, and even with newer songs I write (those that are for congregational use), I strive to emulate the simplicity of melody of songs like this one that make it easy for even average singers to participate with, rather than melodies that show off my vocal abilities.*

I love the new songs we are hearing in Christian churches too, but we have to recognize that our music culture is a performance-oriented one and even the music of the church can be driven by record sales of performing artists rather than community participation, heritage, and body-life of the church. (Dr. David Gordon has written much more about this.)

Do you have a thought about this? Please leave a comment if so! I love hearing from y’all.

*I must say it does help me as a congregational songwriter that I’m not a particularly gifted singer, but for an example of songs I write where I’m singing higher or not-as-simple melodies, see my alt-pop project “Ties to the Light.”  Some familiar only with my church music have even wondered if it was really me singing on some of those songs!

Intro to the congregation on live stream for the singing of the hymn:

 


People Helping People

Happy Monday!  Hope you are surviving all of this OK and finding new ways to connect with God and people. I appreciate all that HOPE worldwide is doing to meet the need of people around the world, particularly disciples in our family of churches who are hurting right now. I was super honored to be a part of a “virtual concert” HOPE did last Tuesday to raise funds for Covid19 relief ($120K was raised during the event). Here is a video of my contribution to the night, sharing a song I wrote years ago, called “People Helping People.” Please help support HOPE and let’s all pray for each other and be safe.


More Virtual Worship Team Videos

I spent waaay too much time on this last week! I felt like it was important as all of the congregations of the LA Church of Christ came together for a “virtual” online worship service all together that we have singing led by representatives from all the regions of the church, so hopefully the impact was worth the time spent. I used the same process as I explained here, although another brother did all the video editing for us in Adobe Premiere. If you are interested, I’ll leave this page up that has the resources and instructions I sent out to all of the worship leaders who contributed. I made a track for each video of me playing/singing all the parts, so they knew where to build and drop out and stuff like that. You can hear the differences below–kind of interesting. The collaborations are definitely so much richer than just me doing the parts/instruments. (By the way I used cloudbounce for mastering the audio, which I’ve been using lately for my last music projects –I really like it.)

A lot of people have asked “what app did you use to make these” or “what software” –as if it’s the software that does the work. Honestly I think what makes the most difference in quality of virtual videos (and is also the most time consuming thing) is fine-tuning the mix, which is something I feel like I’ve been working on for a lot of years and still have a long way to go to learn. So I would say just use any DAW and do your best, and you’ll keep learning. There are a ton of mixing training videos and tips out there (more than a lifetime’s worth!) so you’ll have lots of resources if you choose to learn more about mixing.

Spirit’s Fire – King of My Heart  – my demo (for people to sing/play along with)

Spirit’s Fire – King of My Heart – LA Worship Leaders  – This is the LA collaboration audio

How Great is Our God – The Stand  – my demo (for people to sing/play along with)

How Great is Our God – The Stand – LA Worship Leaders – This is the LA collaboration audio

Singers:
James Keyes, Metro LA
Leslie Tolton, Metro LA
Peter Wade, North Region
Jeremiah Farias, Lighthouse Region
Bianca Lua, Lifeway Region
Joya Reyes, Lifeway Region
Lukas Perez, Turning Point
Aleesha Perez, Turning Point
Ryan Weekly, Orange County Region
Virginia Weekly, Orange County Region
Dwight Velarde, Orange County Region
Betty Collins, Coastal LA (South Bay Church)

Band:
Keys: Jay Minor, Turning Point
Cajon: Kris Lumowah, Inland Empire Region
Electric: Will Sicam, North Region
Drums: Pete Wade, North Region
Acoustic: J. Brian Craig, Coastal LA (South Bay Church)

 


Happy Easter: Free from the Grave

This will certainly be an Easter we never forget, huh?  Here is a song I wrote for an Easter Sunday worship service many years ago.  (This video is ripped from our Sunday worship live stream  from my home yesterday, during our Communion segment.) The first couple verses are from Jesus’ perspective* to his followers, and the third verse is our response to his saving act of death, burial, and resurrection for us.  May Jesus give us comfort, guidance, and peace during this time.  Stay safe!

*By the way, I have a whole album of songs from years back that are all from the perspective of Jesus to his followers, if you’d never checked it out here is a youtube playlist.

 


How We Made a Worship Leader Mash-Up Video for Streaming Worship Service

Hey guys, we have been streaming our service (like everyone else, I guess), last four Sundays from my house.  Up to now we’ve been doing live worship on the stream, but yesterday since I was speaking I thought we would pre-record a video with several worship team members and play that over the live stream.  It ended up being a bigger project than I realized and took a lot of time.  But I learned a lot and if I do it again, I think it will be faster next time.  Here were the basic steps, and this video shows a little more as you can see some of it on my computer screen:

  1.  Made a scratch recording of the song(s) with rhythm all the way through for people to listen over headphones while they sing or play (must have enough harmonic content for the singers to stay on pitch).
  2. Have members make cellphone videos of themselves singing or playing along to the track.
  3. Export the audio out of the individual videos and use some kind of audio editing software (like Garageband, Logic, or ProTools) to make a nice mix of all the audio tracks. This will get better results than trying to mix the audio when you combine the videos.
  4. Figure out the layout of the videos in some kind of layout software (I used Keynote) using screen grabs of each video (not the video itself) or even on a piece of paper. This is to see how the videos may be cropped or positioned on the screen to make everything fit. Much easier than working with the videos themselves in the editing program (at least if you have a less powerful computer, like I do).
  5. Put all the videos into a video-editing program (like Premiere or I used DaVinci Resolve).  Sync each video to the final audio mix one at a time. Be sure to mute the videos you aren’t working on to save processing power.
  6. Export the video!  My computer isn’t powerful enough to play all 8 videos at once, even at a lower frame rate, but it did a good job with the export –took about 3 hours or so to chew and spit it out.

This time is growing us creatively as it is making us figure out other ways to help our congregation worship.  And some of these videos we are making will have a longer lifespan of encouragement than just one Sunday service, so that’s cool.  Stay safe!  Love you all!

Here is the final video we showed on the livestream:


House church home singing mash up – Be with Me Lord

Hey guys, happy Monday.  I hope you are figuring out how to navigate this time well and worship from home, if that’s the situation you are in.  We started out the year with the theme “Doing Life Together” for our small groups — little did we know how this time would really refine us and make us closer.  Our particular small group has a group chat going where we are connecting every day and it’s so encouraging.

I have heard people are using my lyric videos for house church gatherings (which is so cool — never did I envision that when I was writing or recording these so many years ago).  I have made this page to post some of the ones I have now and I’ll work on getting more up in that same place.  I have also had people asking for permission about using my songs.  Just know that I give blanket permission for any use of any of my songs that are for building up the church or serving those in need.  If you are making a blockbuster movie or TV show and want to use my music, I would accept some royalties 🙂

Last week on the last song of our streaming house church service we asked those in our church to take cell video of them singing along over the live stream and send it to us. This video is a mash-up of the videos that were sent in over the top of the original live stream. Brings a smile to my face to see everyone worshipping from their own homes but all of us making music to God together. We do need God to BE WITH US during this time!


Praise Medley (from Sun)

Hey guys, interesting times to be a worship leader, huh?  It has been cool seeing the streaming services of different services in our fellowship of churches over the last week (from yesterday and the week before).  I keep hearing that the efforts we are making to connect people in worship (even online) are so important right now.  I wanted to share a medley we did yesterday in our little home-based service we streamed out to hundreds of people — it was cool to hear feedback people were belting it out at home!  And the “birds” analogy I share on video here seemed to connect — maybe it’s something you might share if you are one of the people helping people worship from wherever they are.  Praying for you all, for our country, for our global village and the battle we are waging.  Love you!

Praise Medley (in E): We Praise Thee O God / Praise the Lord O My Soul / Great Are You Lord


Congregational Connection

I have always viewed our worship ministry as one in which we “bring out new treasures as well as old” (Mt 13:52).  We like the old songs, we like the new songs.  A capella, gospel, CCM, EDM-style (even the occasional bluegrass tune).  All options are open to us.  As we have tried to incorporate newer worship songs with newer styles we have also incorporated newer techniques of using some tracked materials, pads and arpeggiators, in-ear monitoring, growing complexity.  When we recently launched a new ministry and split our Sunday service into two locations, this gave us an opportunity to reevaluate some of this.  One of the brothers who is helping to lead worship (and is a big proponent of newer worship music) shared that even though he likes the newer music, he felt with all of the complexity we had lost some of the congregational connection.  Our hearts had become a little too hurried, too caught up in the mechanics of what we were trying to do.  We had grown to have more stress in our set up and rehearsal, as we had become more dependent on technology.  We needed to scale back.

In recent weeks we have been trying to simplify a bit, and focus more on the relationship with the voice of the church.  We have been not trying to do too much with our team in terms of technical complexity.  It has been refreshing and encouraging.  Perhaps I will make a video with that brother I mention above and I discussing this further, but today I just thought I would share this struggle we have had and solicit and comments or advise you may have on this.  How are things going in your church in terms of congregational engagement, joy and peace on the worship team?  Any practices or principles that are helping your group?

As with much in Christianity, I think this is one of those areas where things are held in tension – push/pull.  We push into new musical territory, new technological options and techniques, but then pull back and make sure our whole congregation stays together in unity and praise, bringing God “acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28).