In Defense of The Band

Don’t get me wrong — I love worshiping with a full band.

And I think it’s funny how we all think of a “full band” as different things. Depending on the church you’re coming from, a host of scenarios could come to mind. In my church, a “full band” means we have guitar, bass, drums, a keyboard/piano, and at least two backup singers. I’ve visited churches where a “full band” meant a diverse strings section, and I’ve visited churches where a “full band” requires a percussion kit separate from the drum cage in addition to a full  brass section (as Joel 2:1 says, “Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near”).

I’ve been in a church where the associate pastor apologized to first-time guests for not having a “full band” because half of the choir was out sick, and I’ve been in (many) churches where it was finally a full band when the guitarist bought his little brother a bass guitar to go with his electric (usually a solid black Ibanez Gio or a sunburst Squier Strat) and their cousin’s new drums. And bless their hearts, all three of them sang loudly and joyfully. Maybe not skillfully yet, but certainly joyfully.

I have loved them all. And I do love them all. And will I always, always love them all.

Because even in the case of three young family members looking like a post-grunge garage band belting and screeching out renditions of “Ocean’s Floor” (Audio Adrenaline) or “Blessed Be Your Name” (Matt Redman), there is usually a consensus of semi-amused-but-mostly-proud-and-admiring response from the adults watching, just happy to see a younger generation pouring out their hearts for God. I think even the most cynical of believers looks at them and sees it better for them to be studying modern worship music than any of the negative (let alone adulterous) messages of the secular music world of any decade.

And if there is such a real-world thing as magic, (pardon the nerdy hundred-dollar words ahead) it never makes itself more clearly evident than that perfect moment in a parted choir mid-decrescendo, bringing a cacophony of notes to restful simplicity, for the collective sigh of the audience as they come to rest is a tool of and to both the mind and the spirit. That moment waves over us like a wand, literally in-spiring a sense of tranquility and rest in a manner unparalleled by literature or most physical art. (note: for an example, skip ahead to this part of a choral arrangement of Robert Frost’s poem, “Choose Something Like a Star,” further explained in the P.S. at the end of the post)

Lo, even in the case of the most tone-deaf parishioner, a horn blast accentuating “His name,” *blart!* in the middle of a chorus sounds downright admirable, and it creates a response in the listener which says, in short, “yes!” There is something about a joyful noise that inspires and resonates within us. Joyfulness is almost always exuberant: it is loud, it is bombastic, it is grand, and it is dang hard to convey by yourself, musically.

A “full band,” regardless of what that means to you and where you come from, evokes a response in you when you listen, and that response is exactly what all art is made for: both the admiration of the product and the ellicitive rising of our souls to touch the artist’s metaphorically outstretched hand across any time or distance.

The artist says “here is the result my work!” and the patron of the arts says “yes, well done! Here is my admiration!” I have ever been and will ever be a defender and champion of art and her artists, of the process and the pieces, the work and its result. I celebrate the maddening and enriching foundry and crucible of ideas and their dross, and  to me there is little on this earth that is more beautiful than an art which is appreciated by a single soul, even if just for a moment. Every Sunday morning, you are the soul that sees the result of hours of practice and a lifetime of development from a myriad host of honed talents. You see, the artist creates and offers, then we appreciate and receive, and it is the philosophy of this site to admonish artists simultaneously towards humility and skillfulness.

I simply argue that you are and should be an artist, as well.

Psalm 67:5 says “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee” (emphasis mine). And yes, before you heckle me for cherry-picking, “peoples” can be translated as “nations,” but I argue that a nation’s praise is not its Bon Jovis or Elton Johns, its Hillsongs or its Housefires. The nations are their peoples, all of them, so stop being argumentative and join the song.

“Let all the peoples praise Thee.” Not just the worship leaders, all the peoples (I’m going to drop the ‘s’ now for clarity’s sake). Not just the backup singers, all the people. Not just the radio artists, all the people. Not just them, you. I want all the people to praise Him. Are you a person? Are you and yours good people?  Then open your mouth and praise Him. Open it. Open it right now and say “I love You, Lord.” Say it. If you’re at work, whisper it so the people nearby don’t think you’re a freak (but kudos to you for reading Christian blogs at work, that’s terrific, really, I’m flattered).

Open your mouth and do it again. Praise Him right now. If you’re about to stop reading in disbelief, then you need this more than you think. And to be honest, this blog probably won’t be for you, because I’m here to encourage action on your part. I want you to worship, actually. And actively. Acutely. Accusationally, even. Affirmatively. All-encompasingly. So if you’re going to become a better, more fulfilled worshiper, I want you to do it right now. Part your lips, grin just a little bit, and tell the God of the universe that you love Him one more time: “I love You, Lord.”

With that act, the artist in you rises a bit because someOne has heard your art, has heard your heart, and responded with a bit of a grin of His own. Your voice is recognized. Your voice is valued. And it will no longer do to sit back in your pew (sorry, couldn’t resist the rhyme) and passively accept the worship in front of you. The stage is no longer in front; the stage is in your seat, and you are on stage when we worship. You’re part of the band, now. I argue that the stage has been, for far too long, too much like the theatre: a place to sit back and watch the action. I argue that the whole sanctuary is the stage now.

Let all the peoples praise Thee. That’s you.

I love bands. I love worship bands. I love having them, I love being part of them, I love leading them, and I certainly-and-quite-possibly-mostly love not leading them. Bands elicit a response, and I am grateful for that as an artist, but I fear that the response we get is oftentimes too physically distant from the points of action and the thing that we call worship in our churches begins, just begins, to idolize the talents up there while I take my humble seat back here and applaud my restraint for not lifting my voice too loud and ruining the experience of others around me who are trying to observe that ephemeral journey that a full band can make us feel a part of when we just listen. Or, we keep our voices down to a respectably-audible-but-not-overwhelming level when they turn loudly into a well-known refrain so that we can all sing along without standing out, but we return to “listening mode” when they quell the volume lest we miss their well-rehearsed decrescendo and that popular “voice in the wilderness” ending to the song.

Let all the peoples praise Thee. Praise Thee. Not appreciate Thee and those that Thine hath risen to microphone-assisted degrees of worthiness.

I’m asking that when you go to church this Sunday, that you look at the words on the screen, and the worship team starts playing, mean the words from the depths of your heart. And if you can’t mean them, I want you to know that it’s okay. Just try to mean the words. That’s all.

And look, if you want to, you can stop reading here, or skip down to the end. I’m about to go off the rails a little bit, so really, it’s okay. This week, just go try, and I’m happy with that, and later we can get into why I want you to vocalize your worship instead of just encouraging you to live a lifestyle of worship, or do all you do to the glory of God, et cetera ad nauseum. I mean it, we’ll get into that later. So you can now go about your day and I won’t feel bad for a second. But if you have a couple more minutes, stick with me a little longer and hopefully we can share a little more of a heartbeat together for this thing we call “worship” in the corporate church. I’m going to indent this part that I think is really important but it’s optional for you if you’re short on time.

Are you ready? Are you still with me? Okay.

Before we part ways today, I want you to think of worship in a completely different manner through a short, short exercise. I want you to picture two different scenarios where characters would be forced to respond to the phrase “I think I love you.” After some extenuating variety of circumstances, someone has just confessed their feelings, and now we have a character responding to the speaker.

The first scene I want you to think of is someone new to the confessor’s day-to-day life: let’s say, for example, two high schoolers. There’s a cute guy in the cafeteria, he plays sports but he keeps his grades up, and his hair is always just right, and after a few days of less-than-totally-inconspicuous ogling, a cute girl walks up to him in between classes and says “I think I love you.”

Picture that guy. Be, for a moment, that guy. He doesn’t… know her? Maybe they’ve passed by each other a few times, but have they ever really spoken before? I mean, she’s got a sense of style, she seems nice, but… who is this, walking up to him and confessing love? Or worse yet, has he seen her before but he, maybe knows about her because she tends to jump from fling to fling, never really settling down with anyone? Who is this girl, really? In the middle of the hallway, stopping him with a timid little smirk and blurting out “I think I love You?”

Now picture another scene. A middle-aged woman working her 9 to 5, making her ends meet and having met an interesting, sweet guy in a small group somewhere. They hit it off, make time for each other outside of group, have coffee some evenings, maybe go for a walk in the park and chat once in a while. They’re definitely interested in each other, but neither has made it clear what any of this means, and one evening he walks her home after escorting her to a non-committal chick-flick that all of her co-workers bailed on, and a light drizzle starts to come down, and before he leaves her doorstep, he turns in the mist and looks up at her, not smiling but not not smiling, you know? And he looks her in the eye and takes a deep breath and says “… I think I love you.”

Is there a mutual hope built on months of shared experiences together? Didn’t she wonder about the depth of his sincerity just last week when he was reading her an interesting paragraph from book club’s monthly pick because she might find it relevant to a situation she’d described? And most importantly, how does she feel, looking at him with water droplets gathering at the edge of his imperfect hairline, having uttered a phrase that could change them both irrevocably?

And between our high school flirt and our increasingly-drenched well-meaning idiot didn’t check the Weather Channel that morning so he left his umbrella at home next to the hanging magazine rack with two-year-old issues of Rolling Stone, who really means the words they said? And who says the words because a relationship with that one would be, like, totally cool?

And then which one are we, singing “You’re a good good Father, it’s who You are… I’m loved by You, it’s who I am…”? Are we making God out to be some high school hunk, almost overwhelmed by our naivete, semi-nervously chuckling “uh, you don’t… really know a thing about me yet…”

Or are we asking God to break into a smile and run down the steps and jump into the rain with us and swing around laughing and hugging and stepping into that imperfectly-shaped puddle in the sidewalk sharing a hotly-debated sloppy wet kiss because they’ve been waiting for someone to finally mean it?

So this Sunday, if your worship team sings Hillsong United’s “Hosanna,” go get excited when they get to the bridge, and let your heart bubble up and force some joy out of your mouth, singing:

“Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen.
Show me how to love like You have loved me.
Break my heart for what breaks Yours; everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause,
As I walk from earth into eternity.

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!…”

And if they don’t sing that song, go request it, ’cause it’s good. Dang, it’s good.

Or if they sing the old hymn “Come Thou Fount,” dwell on the words as you pray/sing (can we make up “pring” as a collective choice? Can we “pring” worship? No, that sounds cheesy and awful, scratch that) the first verse:

“Come, thou fount of ev’ry blessing! Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”

Then, suddenly, ask Him to

“teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above! Praise the mount,”

and have a lightning-rod moment split between revelation and conviction as the next words rush in,

I’m fixed upon it,” oh no am I really fixed on the mount? “Mount of Thy redeeming love!”

Resolve yourself to become fixed upon the mount once more, and continue pouring out your worship, because you see the words and you mean them, and that makes all the difference.

The artists on stages everywhere this Sunday will go on with their songs, being heard and appreciated by us and the Lord. But now the artist in you will pause to feel the smile radiating from the lover of our souls who hears your praise, hears your voice, hears you standing in the rain saying words that can change everything, and He is beckoning you in deeper and deeper still. Today, you are the band, you are the people, and you. will. praise.

 

 

– j

 

 

P.S. – The star sits high above the earth, unaffected by the muck and mire below. It simply burns bright enough to be admired from afar, and that inspires us. So we join the song at the point of the star asking us to rise to its level, “it asks of us a certain height.” And then (I’m going out of order to tell the story, here): “we may choose something like a star to stay our minds on and be stayed” when “the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far.” The mob, as evidenced by the dissonance, is tense, tightly packed, and almost riotous, particularly when they go “too faaaaaar.” But when “we may choose,” we find harmony, and that harmony rests is in our choice: “something like a star,” and we are almost, almost at perfect rest, if only we didn’t have to finish the song. It’s that moment, that little breath that we take as the choir sings “something like a star,” that breathes rest into us like magic. That’s what I want you to feel. Altogether, it’s a beautiful song and you should read the original poem, itself, and read about the poem, and then sit back and enjoy the full presentation sometime.  Randall Thompson did a phenomenal job turning the poem into a choral arrangement, and I am proud to have sung this arrangement, myself. Enjoy.   – j

1 thought on “In Defense of The Band”

  1. For what it’s worth, I have a lot more thoughts on how amazing bands are and their value and place. But it got to be 11p and I had to get up at 5a to drive at 6a to be at work at 7a, and honestly I needed to wrap it up and get some rest. Thank you for reading today. I’m honored to have you here.

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