The worship leader as storyteller

This is really good:

For the Worship Leader the goal of corporate worship should be to remind the people of God of the story of God’s redemption through Christ, thus leading this redeemed people into the worship of this active, living God. This corporate memory must be rekindled by connecting the local congregation to the acts of God in history, by singing songs and reading Scripture that recall these acts. 

The whole piece is good. Read it.


h/t WorshipLinks


The gospel and approval

You may have read this week about the death of Broadway legend Elaine Stritch (though you might know her better as Jack’s mother on 30 Rock). My Facebook feed has certainly seen a number of tributes, but one quote in particular caught my attention:

“The terrifying thing in my life is that I am just an actress. And I have to keep pushing it and getting approval, approval, approval or I don’t think I’m worth two cents. And I am starting to get over it, thank God. And I’m just sad because I don’t have many years left and I wish I had a longer space of time to think that Elaine Stritch is okay.”

It’s so easy for us to put our identity in what we do, especially in the arts, where what we do is constantly on display, and either applauded or critiqued (or both). Here is someone who was at the top of their game, respected and rewarded, and yet the admission that so much of it is striving for approval, for validation of self-worth. This is not a judgement – I feel it, and if I think that achieving that level of artistic success would change anything, I’m kidding myself. I need to keep reminding myself:

The gospel re-shapes perspective. It puts things back in their proper place because it puts God in His proper place. He sees all we do; He is our most important audience. The opinion of whoever else is listening is just not as important as His. And what is His opinion? The gospel tells us – he approves of us already. – Tim Keller

This isn’t to be confused with a disregard for legitimate critique of our work, or of seeking to do work which impacts an audience, or even of enjoying applause for good work, rather, it is to simply remember that my self-worth, my identity is not tied inextricably to this work. It is to remember that whatever happens, whatever failures I might experience, or whatever judgement I might incur from an audience or critics, it doesn’t change who I fundamentally am, because I’m loved by grace. Before I could do anything to merit applause, He who bore the scorn of crucifixion has given me his worthiness. I’m more than OK; I am in Him, and He is perfect.

Falk von Traubenberg

My 2013/14 season in pictures

The 2013/14 season finishes officially at the end of this week, but I had my last performance on Tuesday, so I’m effectively on summer break now.

I need it. It’s been a really big season (but a great one!). I was in five new productions (and rehearsed a sixth, which I’ll do first in the coming season):

Cristiano in Un ballo in maschera (Verdi) – it’s a bit of a cough and spit part, so I didn’t manage to find a photo, but I did get a mention in one review:

In the small cameo of Cristiano, Andrew Finden took charge of the stage and made every phrase count, with his pleasing baritone and animated presence producing a solid impression.

The next premiere was J. Strauss’s operette Die Fledermaus, in which I played a freudian Dr Falke, a role I had done previously in Nuernberg:

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In February came the annual Handel Festival, and I had the pleasure of taking part in a candle-lit, baroque-gesture production of Riccardo Primo (featuring the insanely talented Franco Fagioli). As you can see, my character Berardo, was the trusty sidekick (#friendzoned) to Costanza (Emily Hindrichs):

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The costumes and set were exquisite, so check out the rest of the photos here and here.

Then came the longest opera ever… Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, where I played one of the Meisters, Konrad Nachtigall. One of my props was a live teacup poodle named Popcorn, who managed to upstage us all.

KS Eddie Gauntt as Beckmesser, Renatus Meszar as Hans Sachs, Guido Jentjens as Pogner Photo: Falk von Traubenberg
Renatus Meszar as Hans Sachs, Guido Jentjens as Pogner
Photo: Falk von Traubenberg
KS Eddie Gauntt as Beckmesser, Renatus Meszar as Hans Sachs, Guido Jentjens as Pogner Photo: Falk von Traubenberg
KS Eddie Gauntt as Beckmesser, Renatus Meszar as Hans Sachs, Guido Jentjens as Pogner
Photo: Falk von Traubenberg

This season’s foray into frech repertoire was a double bill of Ravel’s
L’enfant et les sortilèges and Stravinsky’s La Rossignol, in which I played a handful of parts: the Father, Clock and the Cat in the Ravel, and a courtier and Japanese Ambassador in the the Stravinsky. At least my ‘Stummauftritt’ makes an appearance in the video:

I was also involved in the final Premiere of the season, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunow, although I’ve done a dress rehearsal already, my first performance is the revival at the beginning of next season.

as Schtschelkalow Photo: Falk von Traubenberg
as Schtschelkalow
Photo: Falk von Traubenberg

In addition to new productions, I did performances of five revivals, most of which I’d already done in previous seasons. The only new role to me was Ned Keene in Britten’s masterpiece Peter Grimes in the powerful production by Christopher Alden. I was also glad to have been able to share the stage for a performance with John Treleaven, who is arguably one of the great interpreters of the title role.

Jaco Venter (Balstrode), Kammersänger Klaus Schneider (Peter Grimes), Andrew Finden (Ned Keene) Foto: Jochen Klenk
Jaco Venter (Balstrode), Kammersänger Klaus Schneider (Peter Grimes), Andrew Finden (Ned Keene)
Foto: Jochen Klenk

There were two Mozart roles which I love: the count in Le nozze di Figaro


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and the everyman Papageno in Die Zauberflöte

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Marullo in Verdi’s Rigoletto is another little cough and spit number, but it’s probably one of the things I’ve performed the most, and in fact, the first new production I did in Karlsruhe.

I’m very glad that we revived the incredibly powerful production of Weinberg’s The Passenger. I wrote at the time about meeting the author Sofia Pozmysz, and it remains one of the most powerful pieces of theater I’ve had the privilege to be a part of.

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I also took part in he Christmas concerts, and a New Year’s concert of Bernstein:


I’ll be reprising a number of these parts again in revivals next season, along with Schaunard in new productions of Puccini’s La Boheme and Oreste in Gluck’s Iphegenie en Tauride.

But first, a few weeks in Australia!!


Dan Wilt on the spiritual discipline of hiddenness

Dan Wilt recently posted something which, frankly, I needed to read.

Numbers only mean what God wants them to mean. For someone, their one Alzheimer patient they care for is worth the 1000 that someone else is called to care for. And so it goes. When we cross the line, love and faithfulness is the only measure we’ll see in God’s eyes if we can stare long enough. No Google Analytics will come with us.

What do we really want? We really want to have that elusive weight of spiritual authority in what we do.

Authority is not just having a message, with a burning desire to speak it (or sing it). Authority is having the weight of character, experience, insight, input, and humility to bear that message to others. If we don’t have authority rising from character within, it’s like (as my friend Rich Nathan puts it) shooting a cannon out of a canoe.

We’ll sink ourselves with the next platform God knows we weren’t ready for. But we pushed for it, and couldn’t learn from the long season of hiddenness. So a lesson is waiting to happen – unless some faithful leaders and friends see it coming and check us before we hit that wall.

That is why Christian leaders – especially worship and creative leaders – must master, must practice, the spiritual art of hiddenness. Obscurity is your friend. It is time to build, to hone, and to practice true greatness when no one sees you or seems to care. But the next time you show up to the little thing, there will be a bit more heat on your life, that’s for sure. That’s how it works.

Read the whole thing.


#Worship album review: ‘Yours Alone’ by City Alight

Yours Alone by City Alight
July 2014

album-artworkHot on the heels of their Hills District neighbour’s new album (yep, that’s the ‘Hill’ in Hillsong) is the debut album from City Alight, St Paul’s Castle Hill. And it’s really, really good.

Musically, it sits squarely in the current contemporary worship “sound”, with some nice ambient post-rock pop and a helping of upbeat nu-grass; there’s clear influence from groups Hillsong, Rend Collective, the Gettys and even a few nods to old-school revivalesque hymnody (check out the folky-acoustic track Praise the Saviour).  The songs are all melodically driven – these are songs to be sung by congregations, and I love that the congregation can be heard in the recording. The arrangements support the vocal lines, with some often simple, but effective guitar and piano parts. There are mandolins and banjos, and lots of drums, and it all hangs together to create an enjoyable group of songs. A particular moment of musical fun was the nu-grass-meets-80′s-synths arrangement of Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

While the album is musically strong, lyrically it hits it for six. The lyrics are biblical, fresh and well crafted. The songs are focused on the work of Christ, and many of the songs have a helpful eschatological trajectory (i.e. they look towards to the new heavens and new earth). The album as whole is also helpfully structured so that the listener \ singer-along is taken into the story of redemption; the climax is the atonement, and the result is a secure future.

There are a couple of really stand-out songs for me (get the chord charts & lyrics here):

Once for all:
Very singable,  great lyrics, melody and harmonic structure.

“Now we live forever free
Because of Christ, the offering
No fear in life, no sting in death
For our God has come for us and our God has paid the debt”

A wonderful Easter hymn which contrasts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with his triumph in the New Jerusalem.

“See Him in Jerusalem
Walking where the crowds are
Once these streets had sung to Him
Now they cry for murder
Such a frail and lonely Man
Holding up the heavy cross
See Him walking in Jerusalem
On the road to save us”
The love of the Father:
I like this catchy, up-beat nu-grass (Trinitarian!) call to worship. It’s harmonically simple, but just try an not sing along.
In summary: an album of rich, biblical, singable, memorable, melodic songs. This is already in the running to be my favourite congregational worship album from this year, and I think these songs will greatly bless many congregations.  Go get it.

#TwentyFourteenProject: The Half-Way mark

This project was a pretty crazy idea, but I’m glad I’ve pushed through, as I’ve learnt a lot, and feel that the results have been good. It’s half-way through, and so here’s a little look back with a playlist of the 6 songs I wrote this year (as part of the project.. I actually have done two others outside of it.. but more on those another time!)


And for those who’d prefer not to see the changing seasons of my ginger beard / attempts at cinematography, here’s the same thing via soundcloud:



Review: No Other Name, Hillsong Worship

No other nameHillsong Worship (June 2014)

I readily confess that I often judge albums by their cover, or at least, a good cover will often make me want to listen, and the cover of the new Hillsong album is pretty intriguing: Time Square lit up with the title of the new album (and it’s not photoshopped!)

I was keen to hear the new album, and have really been enjoying it, particularly the lyrical direction. (Zac Hicks goes into much more intelligent detail about this, so go read his post)

Who would have thought, back when we lived around the corner from one of the Hillsong campuses, that they would be putting out an album so gospel-centric, with retuned hymns and settings of creeds and prayers? It’s perhaps indicative that millenial Christians are  indeed interested in re-connecting with the historical practices of faith (in a reaction to the rather individualistic Gen-X trend). I love that they took John Dickson’s challenge on board to write a really catchy, singable setting of the creed:

Musically, the album doesn’t break new ground, but is solidly chock full of Hillsong’s classic layered, synthy, guitarsy, melody-driven arrangements. It’s a good sound, and doesn’t get in the way, but really helps support the lyrics to be sung. They’re the kind of songs which could be easily stripped down and sung with simple (average church) arrangements.

Lyrically, it’s really strong, with a focus on the person and work of Christ. I’d happily use pretty much all of the songs in my own context(again, who would have thought..), but my favourites (so far) are:



Some reflections on my songwriting

I’m in the process of setting up a new file system and backup, and as part of that I’m moving my songwriting files and archives across to a new drive. Over the last couple of hours I’ve been enjoying looking and listening back to old stuff and some more recent stuff.

My first really productive time of songwriting was back in the first half of the naughties when I lived in Toowoomba. It was productive in the sense that I wrote a number of songs.  We even sang a couple of them in our church occasionally, which upon reflection, was very gracious of them, and arguably more exposure than most them deserved! It was from this period that Jesus Precious Blood came, a song which I wrote with my mate Tim Burstow, and which was later recorded on the IBC Many Faces Many Places CD:

Realistically, this was the only ‘good’ song from that period, though there were a couple of OK ones amongst a long list of shockers.

I was still writing a bit in Sydney and attempted one or two during my London time, but somehow it faded into the background, and by the time I got to Nürnberg, I wasn’t really writing anymore.

It was, in fact, the acceptance of two songs for the aforementioned IBC CD project which reignited the songwriting itch, and once we moved to Karlsruhe, being again in a position to build up a basic home studio I started writing again.

While it’s a little bit embarrassing to see just how many stinkers I’ve written, even in the last couple of years, it’s also exciting to see just how much (I think) I’ve improved.  Of course, I will probably look back at these songs in ten years and marvel at the patience of those who I made singalong!

Upon reflection, there are a couple of things which I think have been central to this growth:

1. Re-writing

This has been one of the big things I’ve been working on over the last two years in particular. It’s pretty obvious that in my older stuff I was satisfied just to fill up the right number of syllables with the idea in question. I had to learn to not just go with the first idea. I’m learning that if a line feels even just a little less that comfortable,  then it’s not right. The ‘aha’ moment was when I showed someone a song I’d written and they replied with ‘Great first draft, there’s some good ideas in there’. What was initially a deflating moment really helped me see just how much re-working songs need, and I think this discipline can be heard in my most recent songs.

2. Practice

Particularly this year I’m already seeing the fruit of regular, disciplined writing. Just taking a little time each day to ‘write’, even if most days are uninspired and don’t result in anything, helps develop the writing muscles, and makes room for re-writing.

3. Share them live

It’s one thing to upload a demo and quite another to actually get your music team to play through a song, and even more so to ask your congregation or small group to sing it! In some ways this really just an extension of developing good editing. Some songs might well be decent songs, and internally cohesive and pleasing etc. but I’ve found it’s been helpful to ask ‘Is this song good enough to be sung alongside our other repertoire?’. For me, this is the difference between an ok song and a good song. By this measure I’d count my good songs on one hand, out of the dozens and dozens I’ve written. Of course, this needs a healthy dose of reality and humility, and is best done with the input of some trusted friends. The other side of this is that writing for a local congregation can be a really fruitful attitude.

One last thing… I remember someone tweeting a warning, a while back, about not sharing scratch demos online, because songs only get one first impression. At the time I thought ‘yeah, fair point, but I want to get feedback on my ideas!’. But really, I think I really just wanted people to say how great my ideas were, and btw, here’s a publishing contract! The thing is, not only has my songwriting improved, but also my arranging and recording, but I fear that I put so many half-baked, badly-written songs ‘out there’ that now when I want to put a rather more polished demo ‘out there’ (it would be poor form to stop putting up #TewntyFourteenProject demos half-way through!), the bad impression will cause people to ignore it. I tell myself it’s just the new Facebook algorithms…

Speaking of which, I recently put up a recording of a song we’ve done at church a couple of times, so don’t let past experience put you off (and feel free to offer that publishing contract):

No doubt, in ten years time I’ll wonder what I was thinking putting this ‘out there’!

Seriously though, I would love it if you downloaded the track and shared it on your social networks.

Really the last thing now..
Over the last 18 months I’ve been working on a little collection of songs based on the five solas of the reformation, which I think are good (so I haven’t shared them online!) and which will result in a (professionally mixed!) EP sometime in 2015.  So stay tuned (i.e. subscribe via email on the top-right of the page, or follow along on twitter or facebook).



Writing songs from scripture

Ross Hutto has written a really helpful post on worship song writing which is worth checking out.

Most, if not all of my worship songs come directly from scripture. There’s a plethora of ideas and in my opinion the best source for writing songs for worship. So, I try and read scripture. A lot of it. I don’t mean legalistically, but it’s a great idea to soak in it, to meditate on it. You want to write from a place of experience and familiarity with Scripture. Don’t just throw a dart at a random Psalm and make a song out of it.

He looks in particular at approaching a scripture passage for lyrics, and gives the advice to boil the passage down to one theme.

It might take a while to actually boil it down because sometimes you’ll see more than one theme jump out at you. Which is actually a good thing. Use a songwriting notebook and catalog those ideas for later use. You can actually write multiple songs from even the shortest passages.

A further point to remember is to try rewriting and paraphrasing things; this is the art of finding fresh ways to express ageless truths.

The point is that you can say basically the same thing many different ways. I believe, that depending on the translation you start from, it might actually benefit you and those that hear your songs to actually hear different versions of the same concept. Why? Well, for one thing if you’re writing for an environment that hopes to include those who are far from God, you don’t want to be “churchy” sounding with all of your songs.

Do check out the rest of the post.

H/T WorshipLinks.

Music downloading poll

I just posted this straw poll on my BookFace page, and would appreciate your answers:

1) Do you regularly download free music (legally – e.g. noisetrade, bandcamp)?

2) Do you regularly buy music downloads?

3a) If not, why not?

3b) If yes, do you regularly download (free or paid) albums, singles or both?

4) If you also stream music (legally – e.g. Spotify) would you still be inclined to download music you like?

5) Are you more or less likely to download free music from indie or unknown artists?

Any other comments on what might you more likely to download and share (legally) free music?

(none of the above refers to illegally downloading or sharing music, because you shouldn’t be doing that).



The heart of worship planning

A few weeks ago Jamie Brown stirred up the evangelical worship leader blogsphere with this post. While there was quite a lot of pushback from some, there was also a lot of helpful dialogue about why we do what we do in our services. I think it was a good conversation to have, and Jamie raises some really important points.

In the week following, another thoughtful worship music blogger, David Santisteven mentioned the issues in his regular e-mail newsletter. He kindly gave me permission to post an excerpt, and what I think is the heart of the matter:

While we know worship isn’t about lights, music, and videos, we still need to strategically think about how and why we use these mediums in corporate worship.

When deciding which tools to use in corporate worship, we need to think like this: How will {insert worship form} help my people remember what God has done, trust God in their present circumstances, and look forward to the coming reign of Jesus?

That is basically the job description for those who are planning and leading worship services, isn’t it? But how easily we forget that in favour of doing things we think are trendy or will make us look good!