Cutting vocals today at @fortyonefifteen with my new gf. #honey #goldendoodle #taybray #studio #vocals #honeythedog
One of the many reasons I love Carey Day. This guy needs a new kidney badly. If you’re type O+ or O- and would consider donating, please contact me.
#day2 at @fortyonefifteen #studio #taybray #ilovelamp
Back at it today. @fortyonefifteen @fordphotographs #studio #taybray #everybodyclapyourhands (at Forty-One Fifteen)
Some #passionpit inspiration from the studio. @fordphotographs @fortyonefifteen #taybray #tracking #day1 (at Forty-One Fifteen)
Surprise! Back in the studio cutting some new tunes. Excited about the next few weeks! (at Forty-one Fifteen)
I first started leading worship at the end of middle school. They put me on drums and piano at first, but later on during my freshman year of high school, when our youth pastor moved away, I was given the opportunity to take his place as music coordinator for the church. That meant my responsibilities expanded significantly. Instead of simply playing, I began leading other players, getting a band together, scheduling practice times, choosing songs for three distinct services, etc.
The position certainly intimidated me at first, especially at 14. At the beginning, when I’d sit down to choose songs, I remember being gripped by a certain paralysis over the set list. What sorts of songs lined up with the message? Should the congregation sing Blessed Be Your Name or Trading My Sorrows that Sunday?
No doubt most of my indecision came from being young and naive in a position I was only just learning to navigate. However, I truly think that I was experiencing something else also: even then, it seemed that I was beginning to understand that worship meant more than simply singing songs together. I think I may have been onto something important — that worship is formative, meaning, the words we sang had a great impact on what we believed and therefore how we lived out our Christian lives. And I surely didn’t want to be responsible for stunting the growth of any member of First Baptist, or worse, leading someone towards some unhelpful set of beliefs.
Of course, anyone in a leadership position probably experiences that sort of responsibility to a certain extent. But what made the matter much worse for me was this: many of the songs that the church had been singing simply didn’t sit well with me. Though I couldn’t really articulate why, I felt a consistent need to tack on little amendments or buts to certain lyrics I found myself singing.
I could sing of your love forever…
- but I’ll probably forget to pretty often
- but I don’t know if I’ll be as happy doing it as the song seems to suggest
- but knowing me, I’ll probably need to stop and eat at some point
Here I am to worship / Here I am to bow down / Here I am to say that You’re my God…
- but my focus on you is so fickle
- Yeah, I’m here physically, but my mind is far away and it’s hard to reel it back in
- but I’m also here because of the pretty girl in the third row
Or here’s another good one for more contemporary readers:
And I will call upon Your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise / My soul will rest in Your embrace…
- but I’ve been known to say all sorts of bad things, and my ability to keep my eyes on you sucks
- but I doubt a LOT, so I’ll probably be doing a lot more dog-paddle than this song seems to suggest
- but I forget about you often, and I’m still figuring out what it means to rest
I believe the silent objections I felt singing those words stemmed from a certain understanding of myself — that I was and am unimaginably sinful, so that any proclamation I made before God to live my life as it should be lived never came out whole-hearted (and never will in this life). I’d heard my pastor say it before: even my best deeds were dirty rags. I struggled so much because frankly, the proclamations at the heart of those songs (which were: doing things for God) seemed so opposed to God’s proclamation in the Gospel, which is, what He has done for us at the cross. When I sang about how I was doing, I found I could very rarely sing it truthfully. However, when I sang songs about what He’s done, it was always true, no matter my state or condition during worship.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon one such song early in my life as a Christian that changed my idea of worship completely.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above
I gobbled up Come Thou Fount when I heard it. I remember thinking, “Finally, somebody’s being honest!” The song was saying, “yeah, I know that my heart is broken and doesn’t know what’s good for it, but You are the sealer of hearts, and I have no hope apart from You.” So I began seeking out more hymns like that one.
It was like a new world was opened to me. Up until 8th grade, I grew up completely apart from the church, so when I was introduced to the larger body of church music intended for congregational worship, I was introduced to all of it at once: contemporary music, psalms, hymns, etc. I was a stranger to it all, until everything was laid out before me in one big heap to pick up and put down as I wished. And you know what I was always picking up before all the others? Hymns. While all my friends had developed a natural aversion to “old people’s worship” from their pews growing up, I had the benefit of seeing hymns plainly side by side with their contemporaries. I had no trouble picking favorites.
In all respects, hymns simply seemed to carry more integrity than their contemporary counterparts — musically, melodically, and especially lyrically. I still really enjoyed playing modern songs, (and I had to play them because that’s what my youth group wanted), but my favorite were always the hymns. Hymns told stories, they expressed difficult emotion honestly, they were eloquent in their praise, and sound in their theology. It was evident that their messages had been well-planned out to the very word. I’d try to sneak them in as much as the congregations would seem to allow me.
I continued leading worship until I graduated high school and moved to Nashville. Although I stopped leading then, I retained my love for worship songs and hymns, and after being submerged in a culture where it seemed everyone wrote songs, I developed an even greater fascination with the authors of the songs I sang in church. So I studied up on them.
A couple years after moving, I landed an internship at a publishing company which, at the time, remained the largest publisher of contemporary worship songs in the US. I entered the doors with high expectations and wide eyes. All at once I began meeting the writers of my favorite songs face to face, entering their newest lyrics into the database and anticipating singing the tunes in church months later. My desk sat right outside the writer room, which meant I had the great privilege being able to hear writers craft their songs one note at a time.
But the shine quickly wore off. After only a few weeks, my lofty expectations began to crumble. I tried to deny it at first, but the truth was that everything coming out of that writer room had started to perturb me.
It began with a song I entered into the database for a writer I particularly looked up to. Writers wrote all sorts of songs, of course, and not all of them made it outside the publishing house. But for the sake of the contracts with the writers, I still typed them into the database, and so many times, I could barely believe what I read. I confess, I didn’t have the most developed theology at the time, but even I could recognize a complete lack of biblical knowledge when I saw it. I copied lyrics to songs about spiritualized American patriotism, about loved ones turning into angels when they died, about universalism, about cutting deals with God for favor in return for the writer’s faithful church attendance. Though I had expected to encounter writers with developed knowledge, well-equipped to get the truth into the hearts of millions of people who would be singing their songs on Sundays, I realized that most of my heroes behind that door were simply paid musicians with little, if any, theological training.
Baffled by the lyrics I began putting into the computer, I began eavesdropping on conversations that drifted out of the writer room for some clue as to the character of these writers I admired. It didn’t help.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the most common first line I heard when people entered the room was: “Alright, how do we write the next Revelation Song?”
“This one needs to be a hit,” a writer said once. “I’m running a little low, if you know what I mean.”
I got to meet the majority of the company’s writers, and out of all of them, I can only recall one who started the session of by asking, “What does the church need to sing?” The others consistently began by asking each other how they could write a radio-friendly hit that would make them money.
This came in stark contrast with what I knew about the hymn writers: the majority of them were pastors, articulate in their speech, vast in their knowledge of the word, and keen in their recognition of the church’s present-day needs.
But perhaps the most shocking experience at the company happened towards the end of my time there. I was allowed to listen in on a song critique with some writers and the company’s directors. After the song finished playing, the head of publishing — the man who decided which songs were sent out to the masses — finished scribbling down some notes and looked up from his pad.
“Great song,” he said, “but I think you use the word ‘Jesus’ just a little too much. It’s definitely a great message, I just don’t know if it will appeal to a wider market.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The writer nodded. “Yeah. We can scratch it out of the verses.”
“Why don’t we see what happens if we scratch it altogether? I think it’s just too Christianey. The market will connect better if it’s a little more toned down and general.”
That conversation is not at all exaggerated. I must have had trouble understanding what I’d heard exactly, because the horrible truth didn’t hit me until I went home that night and thought about it. And that was this: the majority of songs we sing on Sunday here in America are no longer determined by pastors trying to build up, challenge, and comfort their flocks, but rather by musicians with shoddy theology and businessmen trying to turn a profit. Of course, I believe in a God who is able to accept our worship (because like I said above, all of it is like dirty rags), but guys, if it truly is formative, we’re not doing ourselves or the church any good by perpetuating this defunct ‘worship’ machine.
So what do we do about all this? In my opinion, worship leaders everywhere could do a better job understanding the great responsibility it is to sing the truth. Calvin said about music: “We experience that [music] has a secret and almost incredible power to arouse hearts in one way or another.” He compares music to a funnel that leads into one’s heart, and implies that the words which we use in the context of melody in worship have a great impact for good or for evil on the condition of our hearts. So let me ask you: if that’s true, wouldn’t it be important to give due thought to the songs we end up singing in our congregations? Should they be words crafted by someone in a writer room and edited by a market-savvy businessmen, or by saints with mature faith, with a desire for the edification of the church?
Of course, there are many wonderful songs written today. I will still encounter great new songs on Sunday morning. But we must not forget the abundance of time-tested resources at our disposal. Great men and women have been writing truly edifying material for centuries. If you were to buy a collection of hymns and read through them, you’d no doubt find that they covered an extraordinary range of subjects pertaining to the Christian life. And if you continued, you’d also probably discover yourself growing in understanding of God’s character and his grace. However, I’m not sure we could say the same about the majority of today’s worship song texts. The range of subjects covered in such a collection would probably seem pretty narrow.
Am I proposing that we should sing hymns exclusively in church? No, though some churches could probably stand to. I simply felt compelled to share my experience, and to say this:
Worship leaders, in the next few weeks, you will likely sing a song that has had the name of Jesus struck out of it because it sounded too “Christianey.” How does that sit with you? You, as well as I, as well as our pastors, as well as the men and women sitting in their music business desks have a greater responsibility than we realize to get truth into people’s hearts rather than untruth, and we will be held accountable for that, especially if we’re leaders.
So go sing great songs, write great songs, and meditate on the truth, because the church needs it.
Studio day! New video coming soon! (at Forty-One Fifteen)
#tbt #throwbackthursday Senior Year #baseball
I worked this up in 2010 and pretty much forgot about it until this year. Decided to dust it off and give it away for those of you (like me) already listening to Christmas music :)