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Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More – Review

This won’t be the first review ever written for Mumford & Sons, and there’s probably countless other website more reputable for music reviews than this, but these are my four cents worth anyway.

Mumford & Sons definitely live up to their reputation. At the moment, they’re mostly known for their single “Little Lion Man” which appears on this album. But with time, they will continue to grow into common discussion on music.

Their songs fit into a folk & country feel, with strong guitar rhythm and pounding drums to create a drive that forces your foot to tap. There is an Irish/Celtic feel to a few of their songs which strikes straight to your soul. Apart from a couple of swear words in the chorus of “Little Lion Man”, the album really does encompass all listening preferences.

The cover design is adequately standard, but nothing to write home about.

This is definitely an album worth getting. I got it… and now all I can do is sigh in wonder at it all.

★★★★★ – 5 Stars

Purchase Album

Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk – Review

This week I got Hugh Laurie’s new album “Let Them Talk”. Lets just say one thing.

Magical.

Having followed his masterful career in ‘House’ (which I’ve followed since Season 1), I have seen links to Laurie’s musical side, seeing a glorious Les Paul hanging on the wall in his apartment, and the occasional scene of House sitting by his grand piano. However, I half expected to hear the ‘House’ character with the gruff voice and slightly “Americanised” accent to be coming through the dullest tunes of New Orleans Blues.

There are quite a few tracks on this album, so you get value for money. They range from upbeat numbers, to mellow, laid back and gentle. The vocals are distinctly Laurie, and he’s supported with well mixed backing vocals. The range of sound is well catered for, from slide guitars, to saxophone, with the piano being the main feature. It’s not that this is a demonstration of raw talent, but rather a team collaboration which brings the overall sound up to a higher level.

From the first listen I loved it. I must admit, piano based songs are not my preference, but the mix is done so well, that other instruments aren’t dwarfed. There’s enough guitar based songs to keep me interested.

The only downfall to this album is the cover. Whilst the overall design of the cover is well weighted, the cardboard sleeve is unimaginative and flimsy. The CD just slides in, and if held on the side, could just slide out unprotected. It would struggle to hold its own in a standard CD rack. However, I love the fact that the disc is designed to look like a vinyl, which suits the whole feel of the album.

But lets face it, it’s the music on the disc that matter most, and it’s the music that cannot be faulted. I say let them talk… because all the talk will be nothing but praise for it.

★★★★☆ – 4 Stars

Purchase album

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Everything Is

I’ve just finished watching Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual”, and I thought I’d tie it in with my thoughts on worship.

Lately I’ve written an article on the fact that worship isn’t just music. Rob alludes to the detrimental problem of defining a ‘spiritual life’ as separate from life in general. He says that it can lead to seeing God as being in a place, or a time of the week, or a combination of both. The other issue is that if something is ‘Spiritual’ in our life, it leans towards there being parts of our lives that are ‘not spiritual’. This was not God’s intention for mankind.

In the same way, if we see that everything is spiritual; that everything we do has a spiritual tie because we are made to be both spiritual beings and physical beings – then all that we do should be to glorify our creator. In Colossians, the writer Paul says [pullquote]”And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)[/pullquote]. Doing things in the name of the Lord, and giving thanks, both fit into the premise of praise and worship.

Worship is not just something we do on Sunday. Worship is not just singing songs or playing music. Worship is the way we approach everything in life, dedicating it to God, and giving thanks to Him that is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving.

 

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Playing By Ear – Part 2

There are many benefits for playing by ear in a worship team, just as there are benefits for having music in front of you. I must say, that when I lead the congregation in worship, I like to have the music in front of me as a fail safe, although there have been times where this has been completely unnecessary. I don’t want to get into an argument between Playing by Ear and Playing by Music, although my preference is that for the majority of songs, playing by ear is by far the best way to encourage worship. The following are just some of the reasons for this:

1. No more paper to turn

One of the biggest annoyances I’ve found is having to reach forward and remove the previous song as it sits on top of the one you’re about to play (one could say to put it into a clearfile and make it easy to turn pages, but I’ve always found glare from overhead stage lights to bring a whole other set of problems with this). Then theres the issue of where to put the discarded music. Some dump it on the floor (for a quick solution, I do this) others on the bass amp, and others fluff around trying to slide it in behind the rest of the music.

All of this however leads to what I call “Stage Distractions”, where ongoings on stage impose unnecessary distraction from the worship that is brought. These distractions should be kept to a minimum in worship services, so that the people can focus on God alone, and not your paper flying everywhere.

2. Burried

Now I know this is a touchy area. Whilst the worship team are not ‘performing’ as such, there is a thing called stage presence. This includes things like dress, where tatty shorts and a singlet are not going to enthuse people to worship (its not a science, its a courtesy. There’s nothing to stop people worshipping because it should have nothing to do with what the worship leader wears, but it does…) This stage presence is an important part of encouraging corporate worship.
Now, if you have music on a stand, and all you do is look and read the music, you’re burying yourself in the music. [pullquote]You make little or no connection to the people you are leading, and come across as dull, bored, or not worshipping[/pullquote] (even though you might be!). You will also find it hard to connect with the other musicians and keep in touch with them visually, especially when the worship leader might be indicating to play the chorus again.
By playing by ear means there is no music to follow. It frees you up to look out to the congregation, make connections with them, lift your eyes to heaven to connect with God and in general show that you are worshipping too. While beginners may focus on their instrument in order to concentrate, eventually it is best to look up and out, away from the self involvement. It also allows you to keep in visual contact with the other musicians in your team and see where they’re at.

3. Finding Music

If you like to be organised like I do, I had all my music in alphabetical order by title, with double ups for songs that might have been referred to by two titles. Keeping it organised meant that finding the music was a breeze, but required about 10-15 mins after each service to put them away, meaning that fellowship afterwards was often a non-event since everyone else had left.
Finding music can often take time before the service, and even more so if one can’t find their copy. Extra copies have to be found and photocopied for them.
Learning to play by ear removes all of these. Whilst it can be handy to play new songs with music, playing without the music can save a lot of time and hassle.

4. Impromptu

Rather than memorise the music, I like to memorise the key that the music team decide to play a song in. By learning these, it allows for me to quickly cross reference and begin playing without the use for music. The reason for this is because there may come a time where a song might need to be played impromptu. Such an occasion for this was at a baptism, where a visiting family member asked me to play a song off the cuff (the problem being he wanted it in a different key!). Other occasions could include the prompting of the Holy Spirit to merge into a chorus from another song or the like. Having to search through music in a folder would limit the ability to do this (but one of the reasons I kept my folder in alphabetical order for fast finding, should the need arise).

5. You can Worship too

Most of the set, you focus on the music, trying to get it right. It requires concentration. It requires your attention. While playing by ear requires just as much concentration, by developing the skill and becoming better at it will free yourself up to worship as well. And if you’re able to worship yourself, then the people you are leading will also be able to worship. Now, I’m not suggesting that you CAN’T worship whilst reading worship, because you can – I’ve done it for years. [pullquote]But since playing without music, I have found myself much more able to worship God as well.[/pullquote] Some have argued (and quite rightly) that by having the music in front of you, it is one less thing your mind has to do, freeing it up so that you are able to worship. However, I have found that whilst this theory works for some, that playing without the music is far more freeing than playing with it.

These 5 points are by no means the only reasons. I am sure there are many reasons. I could probably come up with the same number of reasons of why playing with music is beneficial. As I have stated, this is merely my reasons why I prefer to play without relying on music when playing in a worship team.

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How to play by ear

One of the most valuable skills I have learned over the years is the ability to play worship by ear. The benefits are endless, least of all because you no longer need to flick through music folders or have a music stand in front of you. The fact of the matter is, that with music in front of you to concentrate on, it restricts your ability to free yourself to worship as well. Some have made arguments against this, saying that having music in front of you means your mind is doing less work as it doesn’t have to remember the music. But the reality is that playing by ear isn’t actually remembering music, but listening to it.
I have compiled a few steps which I have found most helpful when learning this skill.

1. Get rid of the music.

This goes by the adage that the best way to learn to swim is to throw you in the deep end. [pullquote]By getting rid of the music, you force yourself to play by ear.[/pullquote] Initially you might find this daunting, but try it with just a few songs in a set first. Then try it with a whole set as you build confidence playing by ear. Another angle you could take would be to memorise a song first (choose an easy one like Mighty to Save, or How Great is Our God) and play it without music. Whilst this isn’t technically playing by ear, but playing by memory, it will get you into the habit of playing without the music in front of you.
Often it can only take one song in one practise, if only to show yourself that you can actually play a song without the music. And hey, if you don’t try it, how will you know that you can or not!?

2. Know the chords.

Okay – time for some music theory. But it’s a life saver. Know the chords that are likely to be in a song in any given key. A lot of songs fall within a select few keys. It works on the following principle:

(1) Root. (2) Minor. (3) Minor. (4) Major. (5) Major. (6)Relative Minor. (7) Dim7

This may or may not make sense to you, but the likely chords you’ll come across are: (1), (4), (5), (6). And sometimes (2).

So for example, in the key of C you would have:
(1) C. (2) Dm. (3) Em. (4) F. (5) G. (6) Am. (7)Bdim7
with those in bold the most likely chords you’ll come across in the key of C.

The following are a quick reference guide (1, 4, 5, and relative minor) for common keys: Learning these will serve you well when it comes to playing by ear.
A:    A,  D, E,   F#m
C:    C,   F, G,   Am
D:   D,  G, A,   Bm
E:    E,   A, B,   C#m
G:    G,  C, D,   Em

Note: Any strange chords that occur out of these (Such as the Esus in God He Reigns (Key of G) pre-chorus) you begin to learn as part of that song the more you play them.

3. Listen.

This almost goes without saying. But its amazing how many musicians don’t do it. [pullquote]Listen to where the song is going, anticipate the sound and match the chord to it. It requires you to learn what the chords sound like and match them to that anticipation.[/pullquote] To help with this, I tend to cheat. I will endeavor to play any song in C or G. Any song out of these keys, I use a capo on my guitar to set it to be in either C or G (this also helps for Tip #2). This is so the chords remain the same, and my brain can link the sound to the chord to the anticipation. Sometimes there isn’t a change in chord, but a change in bass note, so part of this anticipation is knowing the song or the common practices in music using bass notes (Such as the progression from G -> D/F# -> Em.). These bass notes can make a big difference in the sound.

4. Loops

As pointed out by my good friend Kenny, throughout most Christian songs (and some secular ones), there is a loop. This would be where chords repeat themselves. Such songs include “How Great is our God” – Chris Tomlin, “You Won’t Relent” – Jesus Culture, “Our God” – Chris Tomlin. Once you find the loop, it becomes very easy to play along, almost without having to think.
The loops often include similar chord progressions.
For instance, How Great is our God is: G(1)    D/F#(5)    Em(6)     C(4)      D(5)    G(1)
If we take a look at You Won’t Relent in G:    Am(2)     G(1)     D(5)     Em(6)
And Our God in G is as follows:    Em(6)       C(4)      G(1)       D(5)
We can see that these follow a similar pattern (actually for most of the song).

4. Practise.

Practise makes perfect. The more you practise, the better you’ll get at listening for the chord. I’ve found the best way to practise is to try playing along to a CD, or if you want a real challenge, the radio (as you don’t know what the next song will be). Begin by working out the key of the song (I use bass notes and pentatonic scales to determine this initially) and then begin by using the root chord and finding the rest of the chords. As the song plays, you’ll begin to find the loop of the song and then be able to build from this into other songs. Just last week, I was listening to Mumford and Sons “Winter Winds” and found it really easy to pick up.

5. Different Keys

This one is from my sister, who was essentially taught to play by ear rather than by music by her first worship leader. Practise playing songs in different keys. This goes against what I do, in that I use a capo when faced with different keys, allowing me to play the same chord shapes no matter what key the song is in. But it still requires you to listen to the chords. By practising in different keys, it forces you to think about the intervals more than just repeating the chords. And don’t just pick the easy ones (D, G, A) – challenge yourself from time to time by playing in Ab or C# (for piano; ‘difficult’ keys will be different for different instruments, such as Eb or F for guitar).

6. Know the Song

Listen to the song on CD, on YouTube, or any other way you can get to know a song. Don’t look at music, or poorly typed out chords. Just listen to the song. Know how each part sounds, how the verse goes, how that transitions to the chorus, and how the bridge goes. Knowing the song will help you to anticipate of where the chord changes are, what sound comes up next, and in all, helps you to become familiar with the song so you can explore it musically.

7. Listen

I know I mentioned this one before, but really, it is the most important. Listen to the song. [pullquote]Listen to the other musicians. Anticipate which sound (and therefore chord) is coming next.[/pullquote] Listen, listen, listen.

So I encourage you, give it a shot. Get your feet wet. Use a mid-week practise, or even in your own time at home, to give it a go with a song. You’ll find more often than not that you’ll get it mostly right. You may find it slightly frustrating to begin with, but things can only get better with time. The more often you do it, the more trained your ear will become, and the easier it all becomes.

Go on. Do it.

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Choose to Worship

So you’ve come to church, again. Things havent been going well for you. The latest deadline at work passed on Friday and the project wasnt complete. Your dad’s just been diagnosed with cancer, and your mate was just over at your place telling you that things are over with his 6 year marriage.

You enter into the auditorium, fake a smile to those that greet you, and wait for the singing to start.
You’ve never really liked singing. It’s not a very manly thing to do. You’re far to macho to be caught singing. Especially when the words of the song are talking about love, and beauty, and grace. And especially when you’re tone deaf and couldn’t hold a tune to save yourself. What if those around me heard? Oh the embarrassment.

The first song starts. You stand and subconsciously fold your arms. Your heart slumps as the song is that old one you’ve heard a million times before. What’s more, they aren’t even playing it the way you like it. Too much guitar and drums. You look at your watch and can’t believe that it’s not lunch time already. Mmmm lunch. Pizza or pie? Or maybe chips and a sandwich?
Around you, the other voices lift and rise, and one voice is unfortunately out of tune. Oh embarrassing. You snigger to yourself. You even turn around to see who it is.

It’s this guy. You don’t remember his name. But you know that last year his wife passed away in a car accident. Drunk driver hit her. He has 2 small children to look after. Last week you over heard him saying how the company he worked for was going into receivership. Yet here he is, eyes closed, hands raised, singing his heart out, albeit out of tune. But he doesn’t seem to care.

You realise that he has made a choice.

He has put aside his own thoughts and feelings.
He put his song and music preferences behind him.
He has even put aside his own pride and shame to sing, even though he’s out of tune.
He’s put aside the troubles and worries that he has, if only for a moment.
He is choosing to worship with all that he has.

And because of that, he is able to truly worship God.
And God is able to truly bless him.

Surrender

I am not Worthy

Many times we come to worship our God and feel completely unworthy. Our sins of the week have mounted up and we might feel like the worship that we bring is tainted and blemished. This can often lead us into a position where we choose not to worship our God.

But God wants our worship. [pullquote]It is the reason he created us and set us free, and we have to much to worship Him for.[/pullquote] It is indeed humbling to even contemplate that the all powerful, all knowing, and all loving God could want anything from us, especially when we sin so freely.

And surely no words we could say, no worship we bring can even come close to pleasing our God?

Think of it like this.
A child draws a picture of mum and dad, crudely put together with crayons on a scrappy bit of paper. The figures are by no means perfect, and the scrawled handwriting at the top “I luve Mummy and daddy” even has a spelling mistake. But there is no doubt that it has taken a lot of time and effort on behalf of the child. When given to Mum and Dad, the child is met with encouragement and the work of art is hailed with the words “lovely” and “beautiful”, before being lifted high into the centre of a magnet covered fridge door. A big hug of love ensues and happiness and joy embraces all.

[pullquote]God desires our worship. We might not feel like we can worship Him.[/pullquote] We may not be perfect. We might feel unholy, unworthy to even be in His presence. We might have made a few mistakes. But God accepts our worship because we have chosen to put the time and effort into worshipping Him with all we have. He delights in us and embraces us with His grace and His love.

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Worship: It’s not just the music

A trap that church-goers can fall into is thinking that Worship is music, and that the only possible way to worship is to sing a song or bask in the ambience created by talented musicians.

The fact is that music is just a tool to a means. If the means is to worship God, then music is just a tool.
I know many people that find that they can’t worship using song. [pullquote]They find it awkward to sing, or don’t find that they can connect with God.[/pullquote] The main reason why song and music is used, is because it seems to be the most effective way of connecting with God on another level, and also the most effective way for a congregation to worship together as one voice. All through the Psalms and Isaiah it mentions singing praise to God, and making a joyful noise unto the Lord. In Colossians 3.16, Paul suggests that the congregation “…Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”

But, read what Paul wrote to the Romans:
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” – Romans 12.1 NLT

The reason I like this verse is because it mentions that to truly worship Him, we must live out lives as a sacrifice. It mentions nothing about music.

But what does this mean? What is this true worship Paul mentions? How do I worship God? I have 5 practical suggestions as to what true worship is:

  1. Live Each Day as an Act of Worship – Wake in the morning and choose to serve Him in everything that you do that day, no matter how trivial. Be a humble ambassador for Christ, for you are not serving this world, but God’s Kingdom.
  2. Choose to Worship – Worship is a choice. You can choose to keep your heart hard, bottled up and kept to yourself. Or, you can choose to open your heart and your soul to God. This might be expressed in song, or a mantra, or an image, or movements. You can choose to keep this worship to yourself, or you can choose to share it with God and with others.
  3. Everything You do, Do unto the Lord – Serve God as you drive to work by being considerate to others. Serve God as you eat lunch by saying grace, and enjoying that which He has provided. Serving others is an act of humility; and to be able to worship God truly, it requires a humble heart.
  4. Put Self Aside – As I’ve just mentioned, humility is an important part of service and worship. Every decision we make affects us, and affects others. Too often we can make a decision based on what we want. Next time, stop and think. Think: What decision would the other person want me to make? What decision will benefit them? Put yourself to one side for just a moment, and humble yourself for someone else.
  5. Make God the Centre – Making God the centre of your life is one way to truly worship Him in the things you do. With your heart focussed on Him, you will find it easier to feel like you are worshipping Him. It will help you to live as a Christian each day of the week, instead of just on Sundays, and help you to move away from the myth that singing is the only way to worship Him.
All this aside, I find there is no better feeling that basking in the presence of God as a congregation worships with you, lifting up their praise, lifting up their hands, lifting up their hearts. [pullquote]God falls and covers you in a deep way that nothing else I have found can do. It hits deep inside your heart and everything else disappears.[/pullquote] That feeling is what I long for each and every time I worship. That feeling is why I pour my heart and soul into worship at church, so that the congregation might come to experience what I have experienced.
With all of this, the most important thing to remember is that God knows our heart. He knows how we feel. He knows how we worship. All He asks is that we choose to worship.

 

Teaching: The Noise Level

A while back I made a class resource that was as much fun making as it is using. Many people use the Traffic Light model for noise level indication, with Red being “Silent”, Orange being “Quietly Working” and Green being “Talking”.

I decided it needed something extra, and so, using inspiration from Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss, I created a few poems.

Why I’ve made an entry to my blog about it? Well, because every time I change it, I read the poems, and every time, without fail, it works. Especially Quietly Working.  This is because it helps the students to understand the expectations, in a quirky and fun way.

The Poems are as follows:

Silent
It was just before playtime,
When all through the class
Not a sound was there stirring,
Not even a gasp.
The children were working
In their books with care
In the hope that the Teacher
Would soon be able to hear
The whispers of silence
That had magically appeared.

Quietly Working
After the hustle and bustle
Was gone
And the silence had spoken
And grimaced and shone
The children they worked and
They slaved
In hope that they might talk
Just once that day
The teacher said “Fine,
You’ve worked hard and tough”
And he let them whisper
And a whisper was enough.

Talking
For ages they worked and
Toiled away
Waiting for the chance of
Group work that day
For the students knew that in
Group work they could talk
As long as it was on task and
Not silly parrot squawk!
In their groups they said
It was so,
It’s okay for us to talk now
All systems are go!

 

 

Plank Transport

The last few weeks we have been filming at BB a Planking Safety Video, raising awareness of the dangers of planking.

In the process, just filling in the details for it to look authentic, I redesigned the “Land Transport NZ” logo, to fit in for our cause. It’s only for a tiny little part of a tiny part of the film, but it’s the little details which make films like this so fun.

Here is the final logo. I think it works well; it might even take off!