Duncan Africa Guitar – Review
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If you are a guitar player like me you can never have too many guitars. Like just about anything, they can be an obsession. An electric guitar for this and an acoustic guitar for that and the next thing you know, you have guitar cases stuffed in every corner and hanging on every wall. They are all unique unto themselves and they all have different personalities. If you are also a songwriter like myself you get this crazy notion that within each guitar are different songs just waiting to be discovered. There is also that strange idea that they have feelings and don’t want to be neglected for too long. Weird I know, but sometimes I can’t help but get the notion that we develop symbiotic relationships with our instruments. They become our voice.
Close to a year ago now I began another obsessive and compulsive search for a new acoustic guitar. Don’t ask me why the ten or so acoustic guitars I have access to aren’t enough. I admit it wasn’t from a practical need as much as a hunt for a particular sound I was looking for. You know you have been there!
During my quest that involved searching craigslist, pawn shops and online music stores, I came across the Duncan Africa Society and the man himself, Jay Duncan.
The more I read his story and mission, the more I wanted to become part of it. My obsession moved from chasing that elusive “sound” to becoming a participant in a mission to help the lives of people I didn’t know, in a land I have never been to and will probably never go. I know it isn’t much of a “sacrifice” to buy a guitar. I’m not giving up anything for sure, but in some small way it is contributing to the livelihood of folks who have far, far less than I have.
A few months back as I was preparing and organizing all the details for a recording we were about to do, I contacted Jay again. Not to bug him with the “is my guitar ready” but to ask if I could borrow a guitar to record with. The crazy guy shipped me a guitar! Who does that kind of thing?
So, I have had the guitar for maybe six weeks or so. Played it around the house, played it at church, put it in front of various microphones, stared at it, held it and imagined the hands that crafted it, wondered about their lives and considered the differences in the world they live in and mine, and spent quite a few moments in awe over the whole thing. This guitar was not made by a machine cutting out templates driven by a high tech computer. It was not made by a boutique craftsman with a renowned reputation and a price tag to go with it. It was made by someone in Africa with almost primitive tools and signed by a guy named “Mwesige”. I will call him “Jeff”. God bless you Jeff!
Enough of my rambling, after all this is a guitar review right?
Here is a breakdown of the guitar that Jay sent me.
Back & Sides: Western Bigleaf Maple
Top: Western Red Cedar
Pickup: L.R. Baggs iMix Dual Source
If you have been around the instrument world for any length of time you know there are a myriad of adjectives to describe sounds. I will do my best to describe this guitar and it’s particular sound as well as comments on the construction. I just don’t want this to read like an online guitar store add!
I also want to say that I am pretty much a “dreadnought” guy and also not very fond of maple guitars, or at least used to them, other than my Guild that I bought in 1974 which has had lots and lots of years to grow on me. Having said that, in the end I really like this guitar.
Here are some of my thoughts, subjective as they are. For all I know this is a factory “second” and I’m sure Jay will let me know otherwise but it is a pretty darn nice guitar.
This thing is built like a tank. When I first picked it up it felt very solid, a bit heavy as maple guitars can be but not too bad. It could definitely stand up to some serious guitar bashing.
The finish is a nice satin finish that considering it was probably sprayed outside turned out lacking any insects or other flying creatures! No drips, runs or fingerprints, and I looked!
The inlay on the rosette is meticulous and makes the guitar really stand out.
A few things I did notice but be in mind I am comparing this guitar to ones that cost at least twice as much.
1.) The inlay around the binding has a few spots where it isn’t exactly “perfect” and maybe some glue squished out or the different kinds of wood “ran” when it got sprayed. I don’t know.
2.) There are a couple frets where the ends were not finished as smooth as you would expect but these were on the neck close to the sound hole and I never play there anyway. Again, not horrible but not perfect.
3.) Where the neck joins the body while being a nice and tight fit, there looks like something that is either glue, spray or something in the joint. I had to look real close to notice it.
4.) Bracing. Who looks inside a guitar anyway? I do. The bracing looks like it could have used a little bit more time fine sanding to give it a smoother visual presentation and again, I can see where there are places where the glue misbehaved. I am not saying it looks like it was made with a kitchen knife but I am trying to be super picky for those who are super picky!
5.) The groove on the nut for the “G” was a bit tight and does the “pop” thing when tuning.
6.) The headstock and the logo are amazing. You can tell the makers took pride in their craftsmanship here. Really, really nice and meticulously crafted.
7.) The shape of the neck is a little different than what I am used to as it “flattens” out as it meets the fretboard. Once I got used to it I found that this shape actually enhances the playability and is confortable to play. Not sure if there is a name for this shape but I like it.
8.) The intonation is spot on and even with my affinity for using a capo, it stays nicely in tune. I have not had to spend time tuning again after using or removing a capo, which I do a lot of.
Lets see, that is about all I could come up with. Let’s move on to how this baby sounds.
1.) To my hears at least, this guitar has a very focused midrange sound. Not “quacky” or uneven but seems to fit where it is at. It does have a bit of brightness to it but not in a thin and annoying way, more of a “ring” than anything else.
2.) The sound is very even. There isn’t anything that jumps out at you, just a nice even volume and tone across the strings.
3.) Being a maple guitar with a cedar top, it doesn’t have the “boom” associated with a dreadnought guitar. This has a tremendous advantage when playing in a band that is competing with frequencies. Whether live or recording, the tone of this guitar would “fit” nicely between bass, drums, keys and all that. Something that a big dreadnaught with a lot of low end has trouble doing without sacrificing it’s inherent tone qualities.
4.) I don’t think this guitar sounds it’s best when it is played real hard. To me, it really shines being played either lightly or with medium pressure. I think it sounds best when it is given space to let it’s characteristics do their thing. Finger picking or light to medium strumming and this thing is a delight. Bashing away like cleaning a rug with a broom handle…. Not so much.
This guitar came to me with the L.R. Baggs iMix dual source pickup installed. Admittedly, I am fond of L.R. Baggs products but man does this guitar sound nice plugged in. When I used it on Sundays, I ran it through the L.R. Baggs “Venue” DI and straight into the house mix.
Call me crazy but this is where I liked this guitar best. I LOVE playing this guitar live.
The combination of the guitar, pickup and DI really makes this a “lively” guitar. Responsive to finger picking, strumming and I confess, even a little “bashing”.
It is a joy to play.
I really wanted to only say nice things about this guitar. Who wants to read a glowing review without at least some “negative” comments? But I had to look very hard to come up with anything and most of what I did find were minimal and not glaring but slight “imperfections”. To be honest, I find them endearing.
Overall, not only is it a nice hand made guitar and reasonably priced, holding it and playing it brings one closer, if only a little, to the lives of some wonderful people.
It is a guitar with “value” in more ways than just monetary and I would think anybody would be proud to own one. I can't wait to get mine soon!
Like most acoustic guitar players or any musician for that matter I have spent years in pursuit of the elusive "tone" when playing an instrument. Throw in the "live" situation into the mix and a whole new world opens up to explore. Often as musicians we tend to run in packs. A certain guitar, pedal, amp, becomes the norm in our group and we all tend to rally around that particular piece of gear. For quite a few years now I have settled in with brand "X" acoustic guitar pickup. Fairly well known among acoustic guitar gearheads, I have found it reliable, predictable and consistent. Recently I have had the opportunity to acquire and install the LR Baggs "Lyric" acoustic guitar microphone into one of my guitars. http://www.lrbaggs.com/pickups/lyric-acoustic-guitar-microphoneI was able to preview the microphone this year at the NAAM show in California and was fairly well impressed. I decided to "take the leap" and stray from my "go to" brand "X" pickup and try something new out. Here is my take on it. 1. INSTALLATION:I put this thing in myself. The most difficult part was reaming the hole for the jack in a pretty expensive guitar. I went to the hardware store and bought a brand new T-handle hand reamer, removed the end pin, put some tape around the hole and slowly, ever so slowly enlarged the hole to make the new jack fit. After a few attempts at adjustments the jack fit perfectly. Next was installation of the microphone. I searched youtube and found a good video of installation and pretty much just copied what they did. It is a no brainer to finish the installation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48I5vsXNo2kOne thing to note is that I set a few of the string pins into the bridge when putting the microphone on to make sure there was room for both the pin and the ball end of the guitar string and it wouldn't be hitting the microphone. The microphone, volume control and battery case are all mounted with double stick tape. Gotta love modern technology! 2. SET-UPIn the spirit of full disclosure here is the set-up I am using this microphone in. 1. Goodall OM guitar2. LR Baggs Anthem DI3. LR Baggs Lyric Microphone. 3. SOUND QUALITYBe forewarned. This microphone has some good and some bad. The good is, it sounds extremely close to the natural sound of your guitar. The bad is, it sounds extremely close to the natural sound of your guitar! If you like the way your guitar sounds, you will like it through the LR Baggs Lyric microphone. 4. ROAD TESTI took this set-up out on the road for a couple different events and gave it a whirl. One venue had wedge stage monitors and the other had in-ear monitors. In both situations the microphone delivered the natural acoustic sound of the guitar. On the stage with the wedge monitors, there wasn't a problem with feedback even at moderately loud stage volumes which is usually one of the big problems with microphones. The circuitry in the microphone does a great job of keeping the natural overtones of the guitar while almost perfectly and invisibly eliminating rumbling lows, harsh mids and squeeling highs of the inside of the guitar. In my ears, it does give the guitar a slightly compressed sound but not so much that it takes the life out of the sound. Most would probably not hear it unless listening for it. Combined with the LR Baggs Venue DI and a little tweaking I was able to dial in a great tone that fit just where I wanted it in the sonic mix of the band. Another great thing about this microphone is that you can really get after it and play your guitar aggressively and it retains the natural sound without adding the "honk" of most piezo pickups when you play hard. I know there are a lot of choices out there but this microphone made my guitar a joy to play, inspirational and it quickly spoiled me! If you are in the market for a pickup for your guitar check this thing out. Do your homework, read some reviews, ask people, don't be afraid to rebel against the "pack" and make a well informed decision. As for me, I love this thing! jb
It's been a busy summer so far, at least it's been as busy as I care to be. In June and July so far we have been blessed to visit folks in Oregon, Washington and California. We had the chance to reconnect with old friends, make some new ones and enjoy the bond that comes through a common faith that flows from the Holy Spirit and is infused with the life that comes from the love of our Father. Of course we don't all think the same way, worship with the same songs or musical style and I'm quite sure that we could spend nights upon nights debating the finer points of why our particular take on some theological topic is the right one. What we did do was gather together and with one heart, worship the one true God and Creator who loves us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us and to welcome and soak in the loving arms of His presence.
I'm learning this, at least I think that I am, and the stronger this revelation grows in my heart I guess you could say the more "ecumenical" I've become. What I'm learning and experiencing is this. Our Father is a Family Man. Our Father LOVES US. He might not be happy about some of the things we do, He might not think that some of the church systems that we have developed are all that we think they are, even if we treat them like they came down from the mountain written on stone. I have experienced both the reprimand and the blessing of the Father and I've come to learn they are one in the same. He is good and what He does is good and not surprisingly, He is good at it!
I've also seen that God really is "doing stuff" and He is doing it everywhere. I'm seeing that He is so creative and loves His children so much that from the smallest gathering of believers to conferences that fill stadiums and everything in between, that He is moving, He is calling, He is shaking to the core and He is bringing peace, justice, light and forgiveness. I'm seeing that the body of Christ, with all it's problems and imperfections is alive and well. Not because of anything that we do or don't do but because He dwells within us. He is making the Bride ready.
I think there is a connection between when Jesus told Peter, "feed my sheep" and Paul said "all that matters is faith working through love" and "above all put on love, which is the bond of perfection". I think if we don't love then we resign our right to "feed". Maybe I'm off base there a bit but I feel that if we begin to love the church the way our Father does, we might do some things different and hold our tongues a little bit more.
Our Father is a FAMILY MAN!
I had no idea that the day back in 1982 when I visited a small Vineyard church In San Luis Obispo, California that it was the beginning of a whole new path for my life. From the great worship to the simple yet profound teaching and even watching Danny Daniels who in later years was to become a good friend, swinging his jacket and with a booming voice speak the words "Let the power come" while rows of people went to the floor leaving a sea of bodies and folding chairs strewn about, it was a defining day in my life. It was a totally new experience for me and I wanted to run but I couldn't decide which direction. Out the door or to the front! I stayed.
This week as I observed the photos and updates posted online from a live recording being made at a conference in the southern part of the US, I was reminded of another defining moment for me. It was a year ago this June at a conference that I was at in Florida. I was tired and pretty well spent as I sat in a back office trying to get my head focused for the last session of the conference. I felt like I had been talking for weeks and was praying for inspiration, any inspiration at all to get me through this last speaking session. I did something that I rarely do. I did one of those "random" flip open of the Bible hoping for encouragement.
The passage that I opened to and read was Psalms 127:3-5. "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has a quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed but speak with their enemies in the gate".
I felt like I had been mule kicked. I was crying, sobbing, couldn't breathe. I was undone.
You see, I had just spent the last few days getting to know, worshipping with, training, encouraging and yes in some instances, tolerating the group of young worship leaders & musicians that were at the conference. In the previous years I had been spending more and more time with young leaders and figuring out just how this generation thinks.
Of course, at my age they are all young! What I was discovering wasn't a bunch of indifferent postmodern relativists but young people passionate for God, for the church, for worship and for His kingdom, and these kids had captured my heart. They were bold, brash, confident, energetic, resourceful, and a bit naive.
When I went up onto the stage, trying to control my emotions, I began to share that passage and there they were in the front row. Don't they know musicians don't sit in the front row?. And what made it worse was they were all looking at me like puppies and darned if they weren't grinning! Where do kids like this come from?
As I continued to share my heart with them, I believe the Lord spoke to me and told me this.
"It's in good hands". Like the Allstate insurance thing. Well, I lost it. It was as clear as a bell. What I saw before me wasn't a group of testosterone fueled musicians who never saw a distortion pedal they couldn't resist stepping on.
It was a quiver full of the next generations arrows!
I called them and the rest who were there to come up and with all that was within me and as much as I could petition the Lord, blessed them with all my heart a father's blessing. This generation needs to know that we are FOR THEM.
It was a memorable night for me.
It seems these days that me and Marie have had our quivers being almost continually filled with new arrows. From our children and grandchildren to the worship leaders, singers, musicians, songwriters that God has blessed us to have in our lives. There is a richness and satisfying flavor to life when it is surrounded with such as them!
And so, this week, as I read their messages and looked at their photos from their recent recording session, I thought of them and some of the times we have spent together. Both me and Marie would point at someone in this photo or that and laugh and share memories about them and our hopes to be with them again and I was reminded once again that it's "In Good Hands". God certainly knows what He is doing.
So, good job you kids, we are proud of you. (you know who you are)
NEWS... NEWS... NEWS!
Well my suitcase is packed and there are new strings on the guitar. Tomorrow morning I'll be off for Douglasville, GA for a "night of worship" and a Sunday morning service. Then off to the mountains of Georgia for a few days holed up with a bunch of outlaws writing, co-writing and above all, seeking God for what He has for us. I'll be home for one day then off with Marie to Maryland and Virginia for the weekend. I'm not used to being this busy!
Doing these events are always a leap of faith. God is faithful though and He always shows up.
It's never the same twice but it's always good. He's always good.
The night before I leave for anywhere is like a mix between Christmas Eve and going to the dentist. Expectation to anxiety, then back again in the blink of an eye. It would be one thing if it was just a "gig" and we played songs and entertained for a couple hours. It's another thing to spend a couple hours worshipping with your eyes on heaven and your ears listening intently to the Holy Spirit while following a set list that has been thought out, prayed over and practiced but always ready to be interrupted by the Holy Spirit. It's always a welcome interruption.
I have been doing this long enough that I've developed a sure fire game plan though. I'm a pretty simple man so I have a very simple plan. It's not something that fosters late night esoteric conversation until the wee hours of the morning. It's just this, a very simple prayer.
"Come Holy Spirit"
Three simple words that I pray over and over. Three simple words, but powerful words.
Much more powerful than "Lets All Stand". It's my belief that without the Holy Spirit that songs are just songs. Yes, they along with music and instrumentation have the ability to touch and effect us, but only to a certain depth. There is a lot of music that moves me but it is incapable of changing me in my deepest places. That is God's prerogative and his good pleasure to do in me and in us.
It's the presence and touch of the Holy Spirit on the songs that helps us to encounter, engage and experience the Living God.
So tomorrow I'm off across the country to visit my family in Jesus. We will gather together and pray "Come Holy Spirit" and see what happens. It outta be good.
Sometimes you come like a still small voice
Sometimes you come like a falling rain
Sometimes you come like a cannonball
Sometimes you come like a runaway train
For His Glory,
In the last couple years I have journeyed way outside of my comfort zone and started traveling a little here and there. I've been blessed to meet some great people and start some budding friendships that I hope will last. I've met worship leaders, musicians, song writers, pastors, janitors, poets, firemen and everything in between.
But it hasn't been easy for me. Sending emails, making phone calls etc. I hate it. I feel like a moron doing it. I get miffed when emails aren't answered, phone calls aren't returned, or even better, when I get a reply that implies that I am trying to do something I'm really not. Obedience isn't easy. Rejection, or I should say the "appearance" of rejection isn't something that I handle well. But I'm learning. Slowly, step by step I'm learning. I think one of the things that God is teaching me is grace. This isn't about working through ministry issues though, this is about something bigger. We all have some hot button that gets pushed and tears down the walls we've built around ourselves that say "I love Jesus and I've got it all under control", but this just happens to be my button of the week.
It's easy to forget, at least it is for me, that the Body of Christ is ONE body. We all share one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. We all share the same lifeblood of the Spirit.
In Christ we share a COMMON DESTINY. Together... forever.... all of us who by faith have received forgiveness and entered into real relationship with God. .
I do forget this though, and when I do, I forget big time. When I feel maligned, misjudged, ignored, rejected and unappreciated. When I feel like I'm trying to do what's right and have to fight the urge to try and defend it. I make it too easy for my pettiness to become a seed of bitterness. When I've dared to throw my hat into the ring and play only to be reminded once again that Christians don't play nice. And then laying awake in bed at night angry with myself for being so immature. Telling myself over and over, "you are quick to judge... you are quick to judge.... you are quick to judge" and who are you to do that?
This isn't something new to me. For years it's been a lifestyle. Judging is easy. Judging keeps you safe because they are wrong and you are right and they can't hurt you. In the end, judging is stupid.
But Grace. Wonderful, wonderful grace! Such grace we've received from the Father.
Immeasurable and inexhaustible grace. Amazing Grace, undeserved yet continually and freely poured out on us. We love soaking in the spirit of His Grace and the confidence that grace promised is grace provided. We sing about it, teach about it and depend on it more than we can imagine. Grace is good.
There is a catch though. It's always something with God. Does he really expect us to extend the grace we've received to others? I mean really. Am I really supposed to extend grace to those people down the road with the church so big they have a parking lot the size of Super WalMart? Come on God. They sing hymns for crying out loud. Remember God, you aren't using that wineskin anymore or did you forget? If so, I have a book you should read. Then there are those people who meet in homes. Troublemakers, all of them. Then there are the pentecostals, charismatics, catholics, anglicans, crazy people on t.v. telling me faith = money, emergent, emerging, prophetic, fundamentals and oh yes, the dreaded calvinists. This grace is crazy stuff.
Oh, and then there's catch #2. You mean we are supposed to extend this grace to the whole world? When does this end God? You mean the guy down the street who borrowed my lawn mower and made a gokart for his kid with it? Or that lady next door who always lets her poodle go poop on my newspaper? O.K. God, maybe that Republican down the road with the NRA sticker on his truck but certainly not those people with the "occupy everywhere" sticker on their Prius! It doesn't seem fair at all!
We are to salt the world with grace. We are to salt the church with grace. Neither stands alone. Grace upon grace. As we have received, we are to give. Freely and abundantly without holding back and without remorse. It's difficult, but it's our call.
I'm hoping to learn more of this "way of grace". It's not easy but I am quickly discovering that the only thing giving away grace costs me is my pride. I'm not worried, I still have a lot of pride to spare! I could use getting rid of some of it. And in the face of what seems like overwhelming odds, I am hoping for a community of grace that grows until His church is seen on this earth as it is in heaven. One.
Last month I was sitting in IHOP (the pancake house) having a late night dinner with a fellow worship leader and writer, having a conversation and fixing all the world's problems. You know how those kind of talks go. One of the topics that came up was how "stylized" many of the recordings we make are and how some of them are so unique to their genre and the style of the "artist" that many worship leaders and worship bands find it difficult to "find" the song in the middle of how it was captured in the recording. I know this can be a daunting task and requires some effort! It can be enough of a challenge when it's your favorite "kind" of music but even more so when it is something you might not particularly like. In many cases there might be songs that you love and would like to do but they seem musically and vocally too far of a reach to ever use them. I for one love the fact that there are so many different expressions being made available today. They aren't all my musical bag but that doesn't mean there aren't some great songs out there. I don't think the answer is to go back to some homogenized sound where everything is intentionally the same, sonically or otherwise. There are indeed some songs today that have become popular because yes, they might be great songs but another element is that they are presented in a way that can easily be grasped to a broad spectrum of people and musicians. That is definitely something that needs to be talked about but I want to approach the issue from a slightly different direction. That direction starts with us.
Back when we were in preproduction for "Never Look Back" and picking out songs to do, one of the songs I wanted to try was Jeremy Riddle's "Stand In Awe". Now, if you've listened to Jeremy and I'd suspect a lot of you have, you know that he is the king of the "octave shift". That boy can sing like nobody's business and does things vocally that I could never touch. I have about a 4 note range and I consider myself doing well if I can hit 3 of those notes! Add to his vocals the sonic avalanche that happens in his recordings. Songs that start softly and end up like WalMart on "black friday" and you have something that a guy with an acoustic guitar might have trouble adopting for his/her worship set.
During this time, I called Jeremy to talk to him about the song. I told him how I had listened to his recording 50 times and still couldn't seem to tame that one. I even asked him if I could "tweak" his lyrics a little bit to make it easier for me to sing. I told him that if it was a problem that I would totally understand and I'd work something else out.
His response to me was what I wanted to share with you.
He said this. "Make It Your Own". I ran with that one and did just that. I didn't make the best version of the song and not the only version of the song, but it was MY version of it. I "made it my own". The good news is, so can you!
So, how do we begin to look at some of these songs and make them our "own"?
I think the first step is to realize that it is something you have the freedom to do. The recording police aren't going to come break down your door on Sunday morning just because you weren't doing a song "just like the CD"! Don't impose rules on yourself that don't need to be there. Worship songs aren't recorded to produce a bunch of cover bands, they are made so people can worship. Embrace and engage the freedom that you have to take whatever songs inspire you and make them your own authentic expression of worship!
Secondly, take a song you like and break it down. Most worship songs are pretty simple even today. They either go "this way" around the chord progression or "that way" around the same 4 or 5 chords. Sometimes they get tricky and the verses go "this way" and the chorus goes "that way" but at any rate, break it down to it's simplest form. You can usually find someone who has already done this for you on the internet. Print it out and you now have in front of you what the song "really" is without all the frills of production. A piece of paper with nothing but some words that have chords written over them. In reality, this is where a song really stands or falls.
Third, find a key that works for you. Your vocal range might not be comfortable in "F" or "C#", so you need to find a place where you can sing without your voice sounding like you are either Frankenstein or that somebody is trying to sew your toes together with a lawn dart. To do this you really need to learn to transpose chords. You can also find charts for this on the internet. Guitar players, you need to learn that when you capo on the 2nd fret that "G" is really "A" and "C" is really "D" etc. Or that with the capo on the 2nd fret that you can play songs that are in "A", "E" and "D" pretty easy. Transposing becomes important then because you can't hand a bass player or piano player a chord chart with your "capo" chords unless they themselves are accomplished in transposing in their head, but it is more polite and responsible to have charts in the "real" keys.
So, now you have your chords & lyrics and have found a key you can sing in. What's next?
The third thing is pretty easy. Play the song. Over and over and over. Play it how YOU FEEL IT.
Just sing the basic melody of the song, sing what the congregation will be singing.
Experiment with the tempo. Start to figure out how you would play it in a worship set. As things begin to take form you will get to a place to discover whether or not you can WORSHIP in the song. This will probably take some time. Be patient. This isn't a test!
Next, once you are happy with your "new" song, take it to your worship band practice. This is where the process starts over in some ways. Especially if they know the recorded version of the song. YOU are the one to introduce the "feel". Get your rhythm section comfortable and "locked in" to set the context for the song. If the song has a signature "hook" and your electric guitar player is furiously turning knobs on his pedal board, tell him (her) to relax for awhile. Once you have that down then you can begin to add whatever instruments you have available and work out the rest of the arrangement that best suits who you are and who you are in the context of your church's particular worship "style"
Lastly, introduce the song to your church. Realize that after the initial introduction of the song that further tweaking on your arrangement, instruments, vocals etc might need to be made. Even if the song never "works", don't give up doing this system with other songs. If you've gone this far in the process you've come a long way to take something and in the end "make it your own". You will be a better leader, musician, arranger and most importantly a blessing to the church.
So try it, you've nothing to lose, plus, it's fun!
Writing songs seems to be a big deal these days. I'd guess it probably always was but I never paid much attention to it. I do remember teaching songwriting workshops back in the 90's (o.k. 80's too!) during conferences and those workshops seemed to be well attended by both those who were already writing and those who wanted to begin the process. I remember one particular workshop that was taught by Brian Doerksen and myself. Brian began by explaining the process of how he writes songs. He is one articulate guy! The more he talked the less and less I felt qualified to even be in the same room. I had no points and sub-points, no examples, and definitely nothing to say that was profound enough for people to go "aaahhhhh" and furiously write in their notebook.
I was concise though in that my writing "process" could be summed up in one statement, "I dunno.... I just come up with stuff". I'd like to share a few thoughts for writers who struggle in coming up with "stuff"
I actually thought about writing this yesterday while carrying hay in my tractor, feeding horses, getting eggs from the chicken coop and trying to chip out a couple inches of ice that formed in my garage from water leaking into it. In all that activity, I was "coming up with stuff".
So, here are a few things you can do that can help you along the way. (In no particular order of importance)
In thinking about this I realized that I pray a lot but most of that time isn't spent with me talking, it's spent with me listening. I believe that God is always speaking, that His Spirit within us doesn't sit in a corner somewhere and play solitaire until Sunday morning ministry time. He is always moving, creating, sustaining, redeeming, convicting, assuring, consuming and renewing. Ask Him to help you listen. He will speak and you will learn patience. You will learn the peace and joy that comes from "waiting on the Lord", the expectation, the anticipation, the confidence that He will speak and you will hear. There is a paradox in that you can find him in the "waiting".
There is a whole universe surrounding us and He is speaking through it. Joy, sorrow, life, death, seasons, riches, poverty, there is a song in all of it that He is waiting to give.
Another place to "listen" is to our pastors messages. Especially if you are wanting to write the musical story of your church. Don't just listen "topically" but listen for phrases, quotes, examples etc. You'd be surprised that pastors do come up with good stuff sometimes. Another place to "listen" is to prayers. In the Vineyard, which is my "tribe", we like to pray. Anytime, anywhere!
I have to admit and yes, confess that I've picked up ideas for songs from listening to someone pray for a person as well as from people praying for me.
You can get a lot of good "stuff" by listening.
2. Read a LOT
Sit down with the Bible and read it. Slowly. Ruminate on it. Read it for inspiration and not just information. Read books. Good books. If you don't know of any, ask somebody who you know is a writer and ask them to recommend something. Here are a few books that I've read over and over. They never fail to inspire the creative process in me. (I would imagine that most writers have a list of their "go to" books, these are just mine.)
The Valley Of Vision by Arthur G. Bennett
A good friend of mine gave me a copy of it years ago. It's a collection of Puritan prayers & poems. Many of them read like a song while inspiring some wonderful imagery and truth.
The language is archaic here and there but don't let that scare you. Get a dictionary.
Flowers From A Puritans Garden by C H Spurgeon (also called sometimes Illustrations and Meditations)
Spurgeon takes quotes from a guy named Thomas Manton and writes a brief expository on each subject. Some great illustrations, allegories and life lessons.
The Confessions Of St Augustine
It's been years since I read this but am currently reading it again. This guy is as old as dinosaurs but it's amazing how much we all have in common. This isn't a Clive Cussler book where you frantically read until the guy blows up the next thing, it's something you let soak into your being. You can buy paperback copies of this real cheap. Turn off facebook, sit down and read. You will "come up with stuff"
3. Write Everything Down
Notebooks, journals, church bulletins, napkins or the back of your friends shirt. Anything and everything. Be a hoarder! However small or insignificant things might seem, jot them down and save them. Once you look closer, you might be holding something golden.
Ask your Father for songs that tell of His love, songs that glorify His Son. Songs that welcome and embrace His Spirit. Ask for songs that mend broken hearts, free captives and bring in the lost. Ask for songs that bring justice, mercy, freedom and repentance. No matter how great our gifts and talents might be they are unable to accomplish the things of the Spirit without the presence and dwelling of the Spirit. Ask Him that His Spirit might envelop, infuse, consume and empower the songs we write. To His Glory and that His will would be accomplished.
These are just a few things that help me. Find what works for you.
Now go and "come up with some stuff"
It's been a crazy couple of months between the Vineyard Worship Leaders Retreat in Cannon Beach, OR and visiting a half dozen churches in the Vineyard "tribe", sharing in some "nights of worship" as well as some training sessions. So much has happened and so many conversations that it is difficult to process all of them into one concise thought, but something IS happening. I believe that a page has turned and we are in the beginnings of entering a new season and a new dimension in the worship of our movement and hopefully worldwide. These are some things that at least to me seem to be taking place. There is movement beginning to happen and I think it is in a good direction. Relationships are being formed and forged regardless of musical styles, age or location. "I" is being replaced with "we" and "my calling" is being replaced with "our calling". Stylistic diversity is beginning to be seen as an asset instead of a dividing line. Unity is being formed, not through legislation or an institutional edict but through the bond of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be less and less "what's in it for me"? and that is a good sign of things to come.
Today, as I was reading the Bible, I came across something that exploded from the page, something that in just a few words spoke volumes. The passage is in Romans 12:10. I know that over the years I have read this passage many times but today was a surprise. I was reading in the ESV translation and it writes the phrase this way.
"Love one another with a brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."
I thought to myself, "what if"?
What if we really began to love one another? What if we regarded others before ourselves?
And even better, what if we tried to outdo one another in showing honor? To honor God, yes, of course but also I would add and risk to say just as importantly to show honor to each other.
What if we began to honor those with different musical tastes than ours?
What if we began to honor those we would have petty disagreements on over things that are really subjective at best?
What if we began to honor those who seem to have attained the "success" we secretly lust for?
And what if we began to honor those for who it seems will never attain the "success" we foolishly think we have gained by our own merit?
I could go on and on thinking of all the "what if's"?
The music industry is burning and there is a generation of musicians, singers, writers and poets who are rising up from the ashes with a heart and passion for the glory of God and don't give a second thought to the amount of itunes downloads or the top 25 CCLI chart. Nameless, faceless and ageless, with no personal agenda, no sense of entitlement and not satisfied with anything this world has to offer, their ultimate sense of purpose and enjoyment will be in acting as "musical matchmakers" between the Bride and Jesus, our Bridegroom.
As worship leaders, musicians, singers, writers and artists, we may have been sidetracked, but we haven't been derailed. There is hope. God's delight in Himself and in his children insures it.
So, my challenge to you and myself as well. What if we begin to outdo one another in showing honor?
To reach out instead of waiting for some sort of acknowledgment or affirmation. To find just one person out of our comfort group and honor them. Befriend them, support them, be purposeful and intentional in breaking down those walls that we hide in the shadows of.
Let us love one another with a brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor.