Sunday, June 04, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.3 - Speaking Through Music

I have been leading worship at The Vineyard Church in Kenner for about 3 and a half years now. When I first came on staff there they were doing 5 services a weekend and by the next year had begun doing 8 services a weekend. It got to the point where I had to start writing down the frequency that we played songs because I would be ready after 2 weekends to drop a song from our repertoire. This was because in 2 weekends worth of playing a song I would have played a new song some twenty times for the 2 times folks in the audience had heard it.

All that to say I've led a lot of worship services in 3 and a half years. I am glad that for the moment our church is only doing 3 services because I am able to keep things a bit fresher than when we did 8 services. But still I get to the point where I get burned out on leading worship. I believe part of this is due to the fact that worship music simply isn't very challenging musically. Much of that is intentional because simple songs are easier for congregations to join in with. In worship music you don't want people in awe of the musicians but in awe of God. Anyway that's a bit of a rabbit trail. Well for the last three weeks I have been able to be a musician in our worship band as we have had others leading the worship. I feel like I am beginning to experience worship in a renewed way as I worship through my instrument. I've actually been playing bass quite a bit lately.

One thing I like about worshiping through an instrument is trying to communicate without using words. I want my bass playing or guitar playing to help communicate what the lyrics are saying. I want to lock in with the other musicians so that we collectively say something musically that helps folks in their worship experience.

I have been a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan since I was in high school. There was one song that I really loved when it came out but the older I get I have a much more acute appreciation of. The song is "The Sky Is Crying". In that song Stevie Ray plays this guitar solo that is just dripping with soul. The main riff of the thing is not too difficult. As a matter of fact it was one of the first riffs I learned to play in blues. But what it took me a while to get is that Stevie Ray was talking through that note. He was singing a song about being torn up over lost love. He's so tore up in this song that even the rain falling from the sky seems to echo his sentiment. It's as if the world around him is as torn up as he is. And then when the solo comes along he makes his guitar cry. His guitar is wailing. That one simple riff is the sobbing of the sky, of his soul, through the guitar. When I first heard the song I liked it but I just took it to be some kind of simplistic blues tunes. On the contrary there was some real heavy stuff in there. That's speaking with music.

Another musician who can really speak through his guitar is Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Jeff Tweedy isn’t a pretty sounding guitar player but you can bet his guitar will communicate whatever the song is saying. There is a song on their "A Ghost Is Born" CD called spiders. As the band drones along keeping time he plays a rather a-tonal solo that sounds just like spiders spinning webs - real cool.

Some musicians are very talented but there playing says nothing. 2 years ago I saw the bass player Victor Wooten at the House of Blues. Though his playing was top-notch for the most part, it didn't have much soul to me. The whole concert was just a show off session. Well a few weeks later I got to see Robert Randolph who is the Jimi Hendrix of pedal steel. He made this pedal steel sound like a black woman singing in church - beautiful. Though the dude was extremely talented he wasn't showing off. He was saying something with his music.

I think that's one aspect of what really works about Nora Jones. She could have come out trying to be big on the R & B charts and probably had some success. Instead she just keeps at it with her smoky understated voice that perfectly conveys the words of the songs she sings.

This is something that we musicians must remind ourselves is important. It's not so much what you play but how you play it.

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