Questions, Suggestions & Tips: from friends and readers

Q: We're just getting started in a contemporary-style service. What are some popular resources for praise-style music?

Suggestion: This is a great time to begin, because there's a virtual explosion of good praise music going on. But consider starting with a few classics, and build from there:

Word/Maranatha Praise Chorus Book (Red - Expanded 3rd Edition) is a classic collection of 300 songs. The expanded 4th edition (green) is an updated and improved collection. CD's are available for the latter. It includes a number of songs done by the great Maranatha! Praise Band at Promise Keepers events. Both are distributed by WORD, Inc., 3319 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203.

Hosanna! Music's "Come & Worship" is another good collection of 200 popular praise and worship songs. Distributed by Integrity Music, Inc., P.O. Box 851622, Mobile, AL 36685-1622. Integrity also publishes an exciting "Hosanna! Music" series that includes Hillsong material from down under (Australia) and other wonderful new songs.

Tip: Don't be overwhelmed by the range of choices - and especially by the many different directions that your praise team, leadership, and membership may want to go. Use good judgment; visit around; see what works; and consider your available talent. Then put a stake in the ground and start building repertoire. Start by learning 3 new songs each week, then back off to two, then one. You'll be thrilled how quickly your inventory grows. But remember to use your rehearsal time to polish presentation, and continue raising the overall quality of your offering. You'll want to get a CCLI license. This is the best deal imaginable for permission to use thousands of songs, without the worry and complication of potential copyright infringement liability.

Q: In a small to medium-sized sanctuary, how much mileage can I reasonably expect from a portable PA system and mixer?

Suggestion: Like any practical solution, don't try to do a lion's job with a house cat's stature. Most churches don't merely deal with funding issues - they struggle with them. So consider your goal and resources. Will a small PA support preaching and reading? Certainly. Will it be enough for a solo guitarist or pianist song & worship leader? Probably. The beauty of a portable unit is that you can try it out! Even three or four singers plus a few instruments can be handled by a 12 to 16-channel portable mixer. If you elevate speaker enclosures on stands, positioning them widely apart at chancel right and left, you can ensure your best "gain before feedback" levels - assuming sound source is in center - behind the speakers. Visit some churches where more permanent installations are used, and gage your size and quality profile with theirs. With that said, realize that in general, solution of a sonic management challenge will tend to be as good as the tools and talent you shepherd to the table.

Tip: When considering songs for contemporary worship and especially arrangements, be mindful of the song keys and presentation of the music. This can be a make or break issue, particularly in early stages. Any ensemble is a mixture of varying levels of ability. How great it would be if all pianists and guitarists could play any song in any key. But here in the real world, we're often blessed just to have committed ear-taught guitar or piano players who can handle six-chord progressions in a half-dozen basic keys (i.e., 1, 4, 5, 2m, 3m & 37, 6m - in keys of C, G, D, E, A, F). Some churches are simply more blessed with great players - of many instruments. As a general rule, great keyboard accompanists who can read, play multiple styles, and improvise from basic chord charts, are hard to find. (Unless you're within a hundred-mile radius of Nashville, of course.) If you're blessed with such a player, be sure to say a prayer of thanks every Sunday.

So we compromise. Consider your players. Honestly reckon with their abilities without making anybody feel like a snail. Then pick and arrange (if necessary) simple lead sheets or charts that include lyrics, standard chord symbols, measure marks (bars), and a melody line. Many contemporary singers can function quite well by ear - including harmony work. As your talent pool grows, so can the sophistication of your arrangements. Above all, be realistic. The shoe has to fit before you go on a long hike. If you pull off a coup and recruit a great top 40 bass player from a local rock band, don't expect them to hurry back if you lay a ten-page piece of sheet music in front of them. Consider that Paul McCartney couldn't read music - but it didn't seem to hurt his bass playing. He needed to know words, chords, melody, and the song structure. So will many of the players and singers we can realistically aspire to recruit and groom.