Wagesants (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, I started sharing some thoughts about live music, and the importance of practising. Rocket science it was not. Today, I want to delve a bit deeper, giving both challenges and encouragement.
To kick things off, I have crafted a hugely deficient classification of all live bands in the world, placing them neatly into 5 levels:
- Those that practice irregularly and gig irregularly (eg SputnikLive crew)
- Those that practice regularly and gig regularly (eg Midsummer)
- Those with widespread recognition inside their genre and local acclaim outside their genre. (A Birmingham example would be Boat To Row)
- Those with national acclaim inside their genre and national recognition outside their genre (People who play pretty high up on the ‘other’ stages at Glastonbury)
- Those with international recognition and acclaim inside and outside their genre (people who win Brit awards and Mercury prizes and that sort of thing)
Many people getting into music would have an aspiration to get to level 3 at least. However, I’ve got to say that in the church world that I inhabit, there are very few musicians who make the important jump from 1 to 2.
There are a number of things that need to happen to make this jump. Practice and regular gigging have been mentioned, but behind this there is a level of commitment and seriousness with which you need to take your art. At level 1, your music is a hobby, at 2 your music is a commitment with serious ramifications on your time. If you have church commitments, as well as jobs and/or families, this is a real obstacle.
But as I said in my last post, there’s no getting round the fact that if you don’t jump from level 1 to 2, your music is going to remain pretty contained between you and your mates and the occasional interested onlooker. To put it bluntly, if we want to see more Christians at national music festivals, being profiled in serious music magazines and blogs, and being listened to on a wide scale, lots more people need to make the jump from 1 to 2.
It would be no disgrace to stay at 2 either. Far from it. We should strongly resist the temptation to think that our music only has meaning and significance if it takes over the airwaves (for airwaves, read internet). Many 2s (and even 1s) produce meaningful art, make great connections in a local music scene and have great fun. None of which is to be sniffed at.
Here’s the good news: the jump from 1 to 2 is the most important one AND amazingly it’s the only one that’s really in our hands. We can decide whether we’ll practice regularly and find more gigs. We cannot decide whether people will love our music or whether our talents will connect with people in a way that gives us a wider platform. That’s in other hands.
Increasingly worship bands are expected to rehearse and deliver well-crafted, carefully orchestrated sets. Organisations like WorshipCentral have emphasised this sort of thing for ages, and the church has followed suit. This is an encouragement in one regard: the hard graft ethos is already there in our churches. However, it may also go some way to explain why so few of our musicians can give the time and commitment to other musical projects and aspirations outside of church.
I certainly don’t want to undervalue the worship bands that serve our churches so well each week. However, if our commitment to tightness and excellence in our Sunday morning worship sessions is even part of the reason for our absence from the wider music scene, I would want to raise some questions. Does this state of affairs line up with our values? Does this suggest that deep down we prefer to entertain Christians rather than bring those who don’t know Jesus in on the conversation? Is it more important to give a more satisfying worship experience to your average pew filler (more committed members of the churches should surely be able to cope with the odd bum note or dodgy key change) or to reach out into a world that has forgotten that any sane, creative, interesting Christians really exist?
In a 2003 review of a Danielson Famile concert, non-Christian music journalist Everett True expressed admiration, delight and full-blooded suspicion of this band of Jesus-followers. He’s thrown by their combo of vibrant showmanship and Christian spirituality, something apparently rare in his experience. Wouldn’t it be great to make live music reviewers dig deeper as they attempt to describe the quality and vibe of our well-crafted gigs?
So let’s make those questions a bit more practical:
- If you’re a church leader, would you consider giving your musicians space (and even active encouragement) to pursue their musical calling in committing to their local music scenes rather than the worship band, if they feel a tug in that direction?
- If you’re presently playing regularly in a worship band, could you be using your gifts outside the church as well? Or, drastic as it may seem, could you ask your worship leader if you could cut back your commitment for a season so you can explore this possibility?
- If you’re not involved in a worship band and have been seriously considering writing, rehearsing and gigging locally then ask yourself: ‘What current commitments do I need to give up in order to make proper time for this musical endeavour?’
As rapper Yasin Bey says: ‘All the things that are worth doing, take time.’ And it’s important to remember that ‘things that are worth doing’ really can be outside of our Sunday meetings.
With help from Joel Wilson and Owen O’Brien
Jonny Mellor is a rapper, a writer, and the director of Sputnik.