Category Archives: Living Music

Why don’t people sing in Church? (And how to fix it!)

On every side, Music in this culture is reduced to a consumer product. It takes coaching to get people to sing together, we can’t just get on stage and play music anymore expecting people to sing along. It’s unthinkable to me, but singing is no longer an automatic reaction to hearing other people sing.

6 Things that might make this better:
1. Good musicians and singers who can perform without seeming too full of themselves. If you have pro musicians, encourage them to joyfully perform alongside amateur musicians. If they can’t do that, they aren’t good worship musicians.

2. Teach, right in the middle of worship – don’t presume that people even know how to sing together. Do some call-and-response to break the ice. I did this with a bunch of stuffy old Masons last night, and it worked like a charm.

3. Foster an atmosphere of acceptance of all skill levels, and do whatever you can to minimise Congregational performance anxiety. Singing in your seat is still singing in front of people. Talk about how beautiful the sound of an old warbling woman’s voice is to the ear of God, and stop trying to make everything so friggin perfect.

4. Try to see to it that the music style is agreeable to most people in the congregation. It may be worship, but it’s still performance, and good performers must know their audience. Sure, a mature Christian can worship with any music style, but we don’t really reach maturity until about age 280. (i.e. nobody is ever so mature that they don’t occasionally get turned of by a song they don’t like).

5. Encourage participation in more than just music. Telling people, “You get to be a part of service ‘here’, but not ‘here’, ” is emotionally confusing. Meet-and-greet is important, be inviting of prayer requests and praises. Get the people out of the pew and up in front.

6. Stop pretending children don’t exist and get the kids involved. Let them jump dance and sing, and others might see how much fun worship should be and follow the wise example of the children.

Don’t forget to breathe!

Breathing is important.
There are a few approaches to breathing with non-breath instruments such as guitar. The primary two that I use are: 1- Faux Circular breathing which involves a conscious slow in-out breathing synchronised by phrase, and 2- Breathing like a singer and write breath marks in the score, even singing parts of the score and marking where natural breaths happen.

I was taught to write vocal breath marks on the score and sing the phrases. Sometimes a faux circular breathing works better – I use that technique in Asturias. I even found that giving a little focus over to intentional breathing fixed some memory problems by: 1 – obviously delivering more oxygen to the brain, and 2- resulting in a more fluid focus which enables the mnemonic benefits of lateral thinking.

I call this: “The Mnemonics of Pneumonics!”

Build a musical foundation for your community

It seems that Western society as a whole is going through a period of devaluation of everything that does not feed directly into the economic machine. It’s happening in many areas. For example, I’m a member of a Masonic Lodge in Indianapolis as well as the Scottish Rite. My lodge is meant to be an example of Masonic restoration and progressive values. However, aside from a single hymn that is sung for one particular ritual, there is no music in this lodge. The dearth of music in blue-lodge Masonry is apparently common. Where one Masonic temples were filled with the sounds of instruments and singing, now music is a side bar or special event. I’ve heard from a friend in Scotland that his lodge does sing a processional. There is music in the Scottish Rite, but it is in decline. I joined the chorus because I asked around some of the head 33rd-degree officers for information about the music programme, and they didn’t even know who the chorus director was!
I use this example for perspective: music is not perceived to be as vital to community life as it once was. If a community were to re-discover the social value of every day music — not factory music as is heard on the radio, but community-made music — we may see a resurgence in education as well as core humanitarian values. What might be the modern version of going down the pub for a sing, to hear a local musician, to relish the sounds WITH music makers and sing along. Is it too late to change people’s understanding away from consuming art to being art — away from being spoon-fed a pre-fab industry to digging into the feast with their own knife and fork and being part of it, no-matter how amateurish they are?
A small town might actually be a good place to start. Win the backing of a mayor or town council and start some community activities in which amateur music making is heralded as a thing that helps build a healthy neighbourhood. A stronger music community will create more opportunities to teach and perform for all.
What are your thoughts on strategies for building a stronger amateur music community?


On connecting with fans, I’ve noticed, through my own mistakes, that the Twitter/Facebook effect can work against an artist. Here’s what I mean by that:
My favourite local band posts an event/show on their page, maybe I even get an invitation. I’m not sure if I’m available, so I click ‘Maybe’… THE END.

Why? Because it wasn’t a real interaction, it was entertainment. That’s what the TwitBooks do – turn your friends into your personal entertainers. In a typical real-space ad campaign, you hope for a 15:1 or maybe 10:1 turnover ratio of impressions-turned-customers. On Facebook/Twitter, I think it’s closer to 50:1.

I’ve tried the route of just using digital promotion for my albums & shows. It’s really tempting, easy, oh sooo cheap. But why won’t people buy my recordings and come to shows? I’ve got tonnes of FB likes & “impressions”, Twitter favs, re-shares, and 100 people clicked the ‘Join’ button on the FB event… what happened? Why won’t virtual people cross-over into the real world?


I’m Kevin Flynn trying to get virtual people from Tron CIty to a real show in meat-space.

“The Grateful Dead toured constantly throughout their career, playing more than 2,300 concerts. They promoted a sense of community among their fans, who became known as Deadheads, many of whom followed their tours for months or years on end. In their early career, the band also dedicated their time and talents to their community, the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, making available free food, lodging, music and health care to all comers; they were the “first among equals in giving unselfishly of themselves to hippie culture, performing ‘more free concerts than any band in the history of music’.”

(from Wikipedia;

What the artist formerly AND currently known as Samuel J Lawson needs is more Grateful Dead real-world social marketing and community building strategies. This is where my local groups to which I belong, the Indianapolis Society of the Classical Guitar, Scottish Society of Indianapolis, the Indiana Freemasons, and my local churches beat Facebook and Twitter with real-world interaction. Spotify and iTunes do not do that. I don’t think that one can use a virtual tool to make a real community like the Dead did, though the new tools can’t be ignored either. I’m hopeful for CDBaby and Amazon’s CreateSpace. They have something that iTunes and Spotify don’t have: conversion to a physical product… and not only that, but the highest per-album compensation for sales in the current industry.

I wonder if every successful career that isn’t churned out of the Sony/BMG/TW/Disney music mill depends more on finding one’s particular version of Haight-Ashbury than maintaining Twitter, Facebook, and iTunes.

On aesthetic experience in worship

There are pros and cons to involving arts in the worship experience. My uncle once told me that he thought people tend to confuse an aesthetic experience with a religious or spiritual one. I think, however, that it’s inaccurate to think of them in such a compartmentalised way. I think this compartmentalisation is responsible for the imbalance people may feel when one thing is given too much precedence in a worship service. One doesn’t want any particular part of a gathering to take excessive importance and over-shadow the reason for getting together. Our ancestors quarrelled over whether to have pipe-organs and pianos, and now drums and guitars for fear people would worship the music, yet they often ended up following fallible men who used other self-aggrandising means into folly anyway. Music wasn’t the problem, rather it was putting all of the worship experience into one action or one person. This is likely where the popular practice of tearing down musicians originates: we perceive one person receiving more recognition than we like, and so we denigrate their offering by accusing them of ‘Performing’ with a capital ‘P’ instead of worshipping. I’ve been on both sides of this. My musician pride brought me to call out others on their self-aggrandizement because I would rather have been the one doing the performing. The sin was mine in that case, and it took me being the accused to realise that performing is performing whether it is in church, in the practice room, or on a public stage. Worship may be many things, but performing can always worship. It’s the responsibility of those involved in making it or receiving it to make it so. You can’t rely on a guitarist to “Enter the gates.” You have to open them, yourself.

Ultimately, I go to kirk  to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. This takes the form of lots of things: Listening to a message, reading/studying scripture, experiencing worshipful music through singing or listening or playing, hearing stories and testimony, solitary and communal prayer and meditation, and simply being with other people who are seeking God. For myself, the musical experience is one which God makes use of to soften my heart and break down the imaginary barriers I have placed around myself. I think one utility of music is to mark off a time and place, establishing a sacred space in which people lower their guard a little. It’s like the “thin places” experience people report from visiting sacred sites like Jerusalem, Iona, or any other place thought of as an area in which the veil between the words seems somehow thinner. It may simply be a state of mind in which a person is more focussed on the eternal. Regardless of what it is, it is something that I think Christians try to create through song, prayer, meditation. Sometimes it’s called “entering the gates”. We need something that says, This time and this place is a space where we are reminded that God is immanent – not because He won’t be here if we don’t do it, but because we might miss out on an opportunity to experience Him if our attention and our intentions are unfocussed. Music, more than anything helps me (admittedly a musician) to accomplish an arrival at that state-of-mind-and-spirit wherein I’m more conscious of my spiritual senses and the gentle whisper and nudging of God (1 Kings 19:11-13 — One place wherein I find God is the whispered, dying vibrations of the last note or chord of a piece of music. That, to me, is a sacred place that is no-place and a time that is no-time in which I’m most aware of the closeness of the Teller of My Story.