Category Archives: Music Review

Worship Wars

 Every church faces worship wars at one time or another.  The comments come in many varieties, but the basic issue is always the same.  “I don’t like style X.”  “Why does every song have to be so old?” “Why all this loud new music?  Weren’t the hymn writers inspired as well?”  When worship wars erupt in a local congregation, they can be a major source of stress for the worship leader as well as the senior pastor.  Hopefully by understanding that these complaints are really nothing new, some of the stress will be eliminated and our focus will remain on the One who we worship.

Historically, the most famous worship war occurred during the Counter Reformation.  The Council of Trent, a meeting of bishops considering reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, complained that the current form of music was too loud because of those new-fangled organs and was too worldly in its structure.  Composers were beginning to include secular melodies in their sacred works;  in other words, Saturday night’s dance sounds were finding their way into the Sunday morning mass.  The kicker, however, was the complex harmonic structure of the music.  The music was getting in the way of understanding the text in the opinion of the Church elders. The Council of Trent made a single recommendation – let’s end the conflict and just return to the official music of the Church…..Gregorian chant.  Let’s just keep doing things the way we have always done them in order to stay comfortable.  (Sound familiar?)  Thankfully for musical development, the Council saw the error of its ways and polyphonic music continued to be a part of the sacred worship service.  (In my Music Appreciation class, this is the point that I would recommend they listen to Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass to hear an example of the beautiful music that came out of this conflict.  If you aren’t familiar with the piece, do a youtube search now and take a listen.  You will be glad you did!)

Because our current situation is based in worship and not history (a common rebuttal to the above argument by many traditionalists), let’s also examine music in the Scripture.  Music has been a part of the worship service since its earliest inception.  Recall the role of the Levites in preparing music for the various feasts and festivals of the Jewish people as recorded in the Law of Moses.  It is assumed that these priests received formal training in music theory and performance as part of their rigorous preparation.  As we move forward in Jewish history, we encounter Israel’s greatest songster:  David.

David’s early life was that of a shepherd boy.  While Scripture does not confirm this, I find it hard to believe that there would have been time (or finances) for private instruction in harp-playing and song writing for this country boy.  David was probably a self-taught musician;  many of his songs as recorded in the book of Psalms are so highly esteemed because of their simple quality.  These simple down-to-earth songs had little in common with the high praise songs heard in the Temple on a regular basis.  Despite their simplicity and repetition (consider Psalm 136 and others), David’s contemporary songs brought joy to the ears of the Heavenly Father.  After all, David was a man after God’s own heart.  (Acts 13:22)

Imagine the struggles within the New Testament church immediately after the resurrection of Christ.  The traditional Jewish songs were still true of the majesty, excellence and glory of God, but the Church now needed new songs to express their revelation that Jesus was the Christ!  The old songs simply could not adequately express the new work that was being done in their heart.  The issue is expounded even further when the Holy Spirit comes in Acts 2;  then and now — new experiences require new expressions of the Spirit and soul.

I can only imagine the struggle the early Church faced as they attempted to blend their traditional Jewish music with the songs written for the new day in which they were living.  Based upon the frequent statements regarding the Church’s unity of mind, I am convinced that they kept their focus on the One they were worshipping rather than the mode in which their praise was expressed!  What a lesson our modern congregations could learn from this…..and how our Father would be honored if we would simply worship Him in unity of voice, mind, and purpose.

Are contemporary songs anointed?  Some are, some are not.  Weren’t the songs of previous generations anointed?  Some were, some were not.  The discerning worship leader will prayerfully follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the congregation they serve and blend music — old and new — to lift high the praises of the One we serve. 

Certainly we won’t all like the same style of music used in our worship service.  However, when we all love the One we are worshipping and keep our focus on Him, the style won’t matter so much…..only the heart of worship will.



In Search of Advanced Offertories

Like many church pianists, I am constantly searching for new piano solos that are advanced harmonically and technically while still maintaining a worshipful quality for use in the weekly worship service.  Sadly, this proves to be more difficult than one would expect.
Before the Christmas holidays began, I ordered some choral music from Word Music to preview for the new year and noticed that there were several new folios of piano solos.  I decided to take a look and was encouraged by the description of two books in particular:  Hymns for the Spirit arranged by Matt Hyzer and The Best of Cindy Berry.  Both books are included in Alfred’s Sacred Performer Collections and are labeled as “early advanced piano.”
When I received the music, I was sadly disappointed!  Cindy Berry’s arrangements are of her original choral works — so not terribly useful in a blended worship setting.  This was a fact that I missed in the ordering.  Hyzer’s arrangements are simple, but nice. However, they are almost too easy to include in a normal service, but might be nice to include in a youth emphasis service or a week that has a lot of thick textures in other parts of the service.
While I am not thrilled with the content, I realize that the source of my irritation is due to the marketing by Alfred’s.  The label of “early advanced” suggests that there will be some level of mature playing required to navigate the arrangements;  what I found should be appropriate for a piano student with 5-6 years of study under their belt.  Have all of our labels been dumbed down to make pianists feel better about their skill sets rather than giving an accurate representation of the content?  I’m frustrated by the situation, I don’t have a solution to recommend, but I know that I probably won’t be purchasing any more solo books via the internet in the foreseeable future.  Thankfully, I have some wonderful arrangements by Marilynn Ham and Bill Wolaver to rely on for a few weeks.  
Which arrangers do you return to when you need something musically satisfying for your weekly offertory?  I’d love to get some recommendations of collections to check out.

Loving God Through Worship

Rarely do I share sermons, but I stumbled upon this one tonight and was profoundly touched.  It is especially appropriate for those of us who labor in worship ministries.  The sermon is preached by Brian Bloye, lead pastor of West Ridge Church in the metro Atlanta area.  I hope that you will be blessed.  (By the way, check out their website at; some truly interesting things for worship ministry there.)


Music Review: Down From His Glory

Down From His Glory

August has finally arrived.  It’s currently 87° outside.  Before the end of the day, the high should reach 100° with a heat index of 115°.  While most of us are sick of this insane heat, it’s time to do the only sensible thing:  crank up the AC and begin listening to Christmas music.  Rehearsals for Christmas are scheduled to begin in mid-October, so I need to do some listening and make a few decisions.  Here are my thoughts on the first musical I’m considering — Down From His Glory by Mike Speck (orchestrated by Lari Goss).

This cantata is definitely a possibility for my situation for a couple of reasons.  I love that it includes both adult and children’s choirs and has plenty of opportunities to feature soloists.  The range is great for most church choirs — the sopranos rarely sing above the staff — and many of those notes are either optional or are doubled in another voice.  The orchestration is richly textured without being overly schmaltzy.

The song choices provide something for everyone.  Classic Christmas songs are featured — including an effective arrangement of O Holy Night without the high Bb in the middle of a carol medley –as well as standard hymns.  For the Southern gospel lover, Light of the Stable and It’s the Messiah are sure to please while He Loved Us More and The Story That Never Grows Old will fit the bill for the main-stream.  Personally, I am most excited about the inclusion of simplified arrangements of classical works associated with the holiday.  Who can resist the charm of Pat-a-Pan and the majesty of Handel’s For Unto Us a Child is Born?

So no one thinks I have found the perfect option immediately, I must point out some of my concerns.  The first issue you encounter is the overture.  Quite plainly….IT’S LONG!!!!  50 measures to be exact before the choir’s initial entrance.  Without a sanctuary orchestra, this demands that some type of pageantry accompany it.  That’s just something else that has be fit into an already crazy rehearsal schedule.

When the choir finally sings, they introduce the title song of the cantata.  While I love the words and music of the hymn, Down From His Glory is not quite the attention-grabbing opening that I hope for.  After all, this is the centerpiece performance of the year for many church choirs.  I need something to get my singers energized to sing early on Sunday morning and to keep my audience engaged.

On the whole, the cantata feels just a little too long.  At nearly 51 minutes, I am already looking for things to cut.  The narration becomes a bit labored at times.  It tells a beautiful story though, so I’m not sure that’s the place to cut.  When I start looking at the music, the weakest piece in my opinion is the opening song.  As expected, the hymn reappears in the finale, so cutting the first number seems very awkward.  What to do?  What to do?

All things considered, the cantata earns 4 out of 5 stars in my book.  The music is wonderfully arranged, it just feels a little long and as though it doesn’t quite build to a satisfying climax as I wish it did.  Guess that means I’m heading back to the listening station to continue my search. Down From His Glory is definitely not out of the running for this year’s Christmas celebration, but there is certainly space for another work to take its place.

Music Review: 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman

Personally, I struggle staying on top of the latest trends in praise and worship music. It seems as though there are tons of new albums released each month and new worship leaders are getting introduced all the time. I go to the bookstore and quickly become overwhelmed. Should I listen to someone I’m already familiar with or do I take a chance on something new? I’m all for being adventurous, but purchasing all of that music can get expensive. I don’t have that kind of budget to risk on music that I may not be able to use. Shopping on the internet can be even more daunting when I am faced with so many choices. I need input from trusted sources to help guide me to new music.

I have a sneaky feeling that I am not alone in this either. That’s one way I hope that our community of worship leaders can help each other out. From time to time, I’ll share with you what I’m listening to and what I think about it. I’d appreciate your suggestions on music I should check out in return. I know that I always feel a little more comfortable exploring new bands and worship leaders when I’ve at least heard a recommendation from a colleague.

As I looked for a CD to discuss in this first music review, the choice was really easy to make. I walked into Family Christian Bookstore in Hot Springs, Arkansas while getting away for a few days and heard this great song playing on the house system. The lyrics said, “Where would we be without Your love? We’d still be lost in darkness. Where would we be without Your cross? You made a way to save us. Oh, Your love, oh Your love.” I knew right away that this was a song I needed to get my hands on. I marched to the front of the store and learned that it was a track from Matt Redman’s July 12, 2011 release 10,000 Reasons. Without a question, I picked up the CD and headed straight for my car. My hotel was only a few blocks away, but I found myself driving around town aimlessly because I couldn’t get enough of this album. I was immediately drawn into the presence of God and experienced a time of personal worship.

From beginning to end, the album is full of singable songs that most music ministries are going to be able to incorporate into their services right away. Many of the songs are guitar driven on the recording, but it is clear that a keyboard will be able to create a satisfying accompaniment as well. If you can’t get the full album right away, I recommend checking out four songs immediately: “Holy”, “10,000 Reasons”, “Endless Hallelujah” and “Where Would We Be”. I have a feeling you’ll get hooked right away and end up with the entire album.

While you’re checking out the new music, head to and take a look at the videos there. Matt has background information on several of the songs that allows us some insight that might prove helpful as you plan to add these songs to your future worship sets. While you’re there, notice the chord chart tab at the top of the page. These pdf files can be downloaded for free and are marked with both the actual chords as well as a capo progression that is friendlier for our guitarists. This is definitely an incredibly valuable resource for worship leaders everywhere. All eleven songs on 10,000 Reasons were available as of this posting. Matt Redman, thank you for helping us get these songs into the hearts and voices of churches in an economical way. (Worship leaders, don’t just print the lead sheets and learn the songs from internet postings; purchase the album!)

Once you’ve listened to the album, I would love to hear which songs spoke to your heart. Then tell me what you are listening to these days. It’s just about time for me to make another trip to the music store and pick up a new CD. I would much rather go in with one of your recommendations. Who knows…..I may even write a review here to share with everyone else.