Thursday, June 17, 2010

Starting a Band (and avoiding instrumental cacophony)

Some years ago I was invited to kick start a new church band in a tiny rural congregation in Victoria. It was a faith community that had previously been dependent on a small organ. When I arrived the prospective band members were waiting. It was possibly the most unusual instrumental combination I'd ever encountered: acoustic guitar, piano accordian, euphonium, pipe organ and clarinet.

Acknowledging the Challenges
The encounter raised some significant musical and theological challenges for me. The musicians were nervous. They had never played together before, and their previous public 'performance' experience could be recorded on one hand. The age-range of the particpants was vast, with the youngest in primary school and the oldest over 70.

Questions pinballed about in my brain as I listened to them talk:
Is it even possible to combine these instruments in a satisfactory way?
Is it possible to include people in musical leadership with such limited experience?
Is the musical result more or less important than engaging these musicians in the church's life, particularly as some had virtually no connection with the congregation in the past?
What is the minimum skill level advisable for participation in musical leadership?
When and how and should we say 'wait awhile' to those learning their instrument?

Getting Started
Learning to sit and wait for answers does not always come easily, but it often turns out to be quite fruitful. I decided to find out what each of them imagined their contribution would be. It is not unusual for the 'musical director' to have quite a different vision to that of the players. Rather than the process being director-driven,  the opportunity was offered for input from others.

We talked about the willingness and availablity of the musicians to rehearse together and to practise at home. They were all willing to work on improving their musical skills.

We explored the notion of being prepared NOT to play. For some songs, the piano accordian and clarinet would team up, for another the guitar would lead, and in the next the organist and euphonium. These various combinations not only enabled variety on accompaniment for the congregation, but meant the musicians only need to practise up one or two songs each week.

I encouraged them to make further connections with their local primary school and to invite participation from those in the school community.

What about you? 
How do you go about deciding who can and can't (yet) offer musical leadership in your faith community? How do you balance the theological imperative to encourage the developments of gifts, with the responsibilities that come with any form of leadership?
How does the musical life in your faith community reflect 'Kingdom' values?
How does your community blend unusual instruments?
Are there any instruments you regard as unacceptable for use in worship?

What to Play
For tips on how to use The King of Glory with a young band click here.

You may also be interested in
Virtual Music Barriers
How to Improve the Church Band by next Sunday

Visit Spirited and Singing on Facebook

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