Very interesting concept in worship music. Well, now. I totally used to be one of those ‘Shut off the lights, put the band behind the curtain, and see if the congregation can still worship, guerilla style’ worship guys. I remember the first time my church got a ‘media pastor’, and he and I were at immediate odds. (And by the way, he’s a close friend now…the one who introduced me to U2. No, unfortunately, not like, ‘Hey, meet Bono’; more like, ‘Here’s ‘Achtung Baby’. Play this. Not ‘Ride the Lightning’.’ You can check his sweet blog out here.) But I remember the first Sunday he was there. And all of a sudden, I’m playing my metal riffs, and I turn around, and literally jump a few steps back from the huge shot of me (and my BC Rich Warlock) on the screen behind me. So, you’ve got the 19-year-old kid with the mangey Motley Crue hair…and of course, ’19 years old’ is also synonymous with ‘is studying music at the local junior college, and therefore is the new authority on all things music and worship.’ (And if you’re 19 reading this blog, and you don’t have it all figured out, serious congrats. You’re years ahead of me. And if you’re 19, and you do have it all figured out…well…um…) And then you’ve got the ‘media pastor’.
So we didn’t get along for a while. I was like, ‘You don’t need any cameras on us for worship. We’re supposed to be invisible!’ All as I’m turning on 6 distortion pedals and cranking all 60 watts in a little middle school auditorium…in the name of being ‘invisible.’ ‘You don’t need cameras’…but if someone were to say, ‘Hey, I think you only need 5 distortion pedals for worship, not 6’, that would have been, of course, unthinkable. See, because we’re all unfortunately stuck in humanity, we always (and I mean, with very, very few exceptions) just naturally look at the portion of the service or the gig or job or even life in general, that we’re doing, as the most important. We complain that the pastor preaches too long; but then when we throw in an extra song, and extend the already-7-minute-long-Hillsong-United tune for four extra choruses complete with seven builds and stops and ‘oh-they’re-done-wait-here-comes-the-drummer-again’s’ and end up going 15 minutes over with our worship music, it’s because ‘the Spirit was really moving through the music today.’ Or when we practice every part of the song, but never the song in full, and just step all over the lighting guy who actually showed up to practice cues. But then again, most of the lighting guys think it’s more important to get the cues right, than to have a tight-sounding band.
(I thought this was a pretty cool picture. We always tend to look at the huge mega-churches and how they do their stage looks; but most of us don’t attend a church with a budget like that or space like that. Here’s what looks to be a mid-sized church that’s done some really cool stuff with some sheets, and a couple lights.)
We just all tend to think that we’re the most important. And since we’re the most important, the areas that we choose to get involved in, by definition, are of course the most important, too. When in reality, all of this stuff is just different expressions of worship to God through our various talents. Do we need blue light scenes and cameras on the headstocks to worship God? Absolutely not. But do we need electric guitars to worship God? Absolutely not. All of this stuff is up there as different people try to use their different God-given passions and skills to create an environment conducive to losing yourself, and focusing together as a group (for some people, maybe the only time all week they get to do this) on God. And the trap we can fall into is thinking that the areas we’re involved with are more important than the areas someone else is involved with.
Now, can it go overboard? Oh, most definitely. There are two parts to aesthetics. One, using arts, graphics, colors, lighting, and media in general to create a mood. And the second part is eliminating distractions. So, in its most basic form, it would go like this: maybe darken the corners of the stage where you can see behind the curtains into the storage areas, and lighten the middle of the stage, so the congregation can connect with the hopefully worshipful attitude on the faces of the band members. That’s minimizing distractions. But the balance comes in when you have to be careful that those same lights that were a second ago minimizing distractions, don’t become a distraction in and of themselves. And sometimes we can overthink it. And be all, ‘If that light moves more than 48 degress, it’s now a distraction. Keep it on a 47 degree rotation.’ Naw, just to be tasteful, and sensitive.
Which brings me to the main reason all this is on my mind today. This, is neither tasteful nor sensitive:
That’s my amp. I love this amp. It’s sound is quite pleasing to my ears, and I hope to the ears of others as well. And the guy who built it has since disappeared or become a Tunisian monk (do they have monks in Tunisia?…what was that Brad Pitt movie……oh, Tibet!) or something. But it’s bright red! Well, it used to be bright red. Now it’s vomitous orange. And then coupled with that cab, I’ve got this red, white and blue unintentional patriotic thing going on, and it just pains me every time I look at it. See, this is a distraction! At least for me. I hate red. Even more, I hate vomitous orange. But this is the only amp of its kind, and I didn’t have a choice when I bought it. So I’ve just lived with it. And if I were more skilled with my hands, I would have re-tolexed it a long time ago. But I know what happens when I try to make things look better. Bad things.
So this amp has been on stage with me at every church and gig I’ve played at for the last 3 years. Yikes. I know, it’s disgusting. And extremely unprofessional-looking. And I’m sure some people have had their eyes attacked by it. And granted, to some, they’ve probably never noticed. But it’s just one of those little things that I think we overlook in aesthetics sometimes. Colors are like sounds. Ask an artist in your congregation what distracts them more…a wrong chord, or an odd color palette? (And if you’re thinking, ‘We don’t have any artists in our church’, you probably have the same amount of artists as musicians, so it all works out.) Just little colors not to use, certain loud shirts not to wear, certain, uh, BC Rich Warlock guitars not to play. You know, little, common sense stuff. Now, is it the end of the world that I played so many worship sets with a red amp? No. Just like the world didn’t end with all 1,546 wrong chords I’ve probably played in worship sets over the last few years. (Yep. I keep count.) But if you have a choice, or if you happen to think about it, aesthetics can add to the mood just as much as that second guitar line.
And, in keeping with the fact that I don’t usually post this stuff until I’ve done it myself and am living what I’m talking about, a good friend of mine, Andy Lumsden, just brought sheer joy to mine eyes and heart when he walked into church Saturday afternoon with this:
It seriously feels like the 3 year long war ‘Eyes Versus Red’ has finally been won. I have been deemed victorious. Well, Andy has been deemed victorious. And if you want to check out his site, it’s: A Passionate Apathy. He also builds and mods pedals, and is one of the best musicians I know. He’s redone amp tolex and built cabs for 3 other friends I know, and always does a fantastic job. Now I just need some green or clear light jewels. It’s all about led’s.
So, if you don’t have an Andy, find one. 😉 Just the little things, to help with aesthetics. And try to keep a balance, too. I played at a church one time where they told me I couldn’t use brown extension cords…only black. To me, that was a little overboard, but hey. I just told them that the brown was integral to my tone…no, not really. That is the church, though, that is going to be most ecstatic over the change in color of my amp.
And you know, I just kind of wrote today, and didn’t get a chance to make fun of a movie. So here ya go:
This poster has all 3 of my main reasons for not seeing a movie: 1) titles like ‘Bangkok Dangerous’, 2) taglines with the word ‘one’ in them such as ‘one man’, ‘one way’, or ‘one last time’, and 3) ‘Nicolas Cage’.