As someone with a Christian faith, I firmly believe that God has created every man, woman and child in this world. And that he has given to each one of us the gift of life. He also gives us each individual day, and every time we wake up in the morning is confirmation of this new gift. But in addition to this, I believe that God gives us all different individual gifts in order to be able to express fully who we are. Some people are good at understanding technical things, like programming computers or designing new gadgets. Others are good at practical things like DIY, carpentry or building. Some are good with others and caring for people. And still others have been given artistic and creative gifts. As someone who, for whatever reason, has been a gift in music (not especially in terms of reading music, but in terms of playing by ear!), I have always felt that I wanted to offer this gift back to God through singing and playing to him in church, and through my worship to him.
I started off at the age of about 8 or so in the choir of the church where my father was the vicar. I think I must have embarrassed my dad at times through messing about in the choir stalls with some of the other choir boys whilst he was trying to take services! But despite finding church very boring at times, and hating the dressing up, I always used to enjoy the singing itself! Then as I grew up and became a guitarist rather than a pianist, there seemed no place in church music for me - as it seemed to be completely dominated by the organ and piano at the time. Finally though, when I was in my late teens, the church I was attending - and indeed, a lot of the more "traditional" churches - began welcoming guitarists, bassists, keyboard players and drummers too. I was asked to play guitar in church, and even asked to do a solo introduction to a song on my church music debut! Unfortunately however, the organist had for some reason asked me to play a guitar intro to "Amazing Grace", which at the time seemed more of a hymn than a guitar type song to me! Nevertheless, I went away and worked out a beautiful introduction to the song and practiced it hard. But when the moment of truth came to play my intro, when I was standing up at the front, with the eyes of the whole church upon me - I had the classic mental block that nervous or over concentrating performers often tend to get - and totally forget the whole intro and song!! But once you've started something like that, then you have to finish - and somehow I blustered my way through a few chords which sounded nothing like "Amazing Grace" and finally I was only saved by the organist coming in over the top to cover my mistakes!
After that baptism of fire, I began to really enjoy playing music in church. To anyone who has ever gone inside a church - whether you believe in God or not - have you ever felt that "special, peaceful, holy" atmosphere inside the building? It's an atmosphere that you don't get anywhere else. Well, Christians would call that atmosphere "the presence of God", or "the presence of God's Holy Spirit". When I was a child I thought that the "Holy Spirit" was some kind of scary ghost, and I pictured him as being like this white sheet floating around the church - especially at night! But the Holy Spirit is the presence and the person of God with us today in the world. He can be especially strongly felt wherever believers meet together, or in buildings where people pray, and where God is worshipped there. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings that peace and presence and power and sense of holiness to a place. Well, to play music to God inside a church where the Spirit is, and can be felt or sensed, is a wonderful thing. And usually, the music itself, when offered to God, helps to increase the sense of the presence of God and of his Holy Spirit. It's a wonderful feeling of peace, stillness, calmness, refreshment and love. At times, you can feel as if a river, or a waterfall, or like warm rain is washing over you. It feels like you're being bathed in God's love. It is a feeling which, in my humble opinion, every man, woman and child in the world should experience. But that's obviously just my opinion. You might think, in reading this, that I'm just some kind of strange hippie type (and yes, I was born in the '60s too!!!)
But I have found over the years that giving to God through church
music, has meant that I've received far more back from him in return
than I've ever given! There have been times when I have started
playing modern gospel songs when I've just wanted
to carry on for hours - singing and playing. And there have been
other times where I've just sung and played to God in an empty church.
To anyone who believes that there is no God, this must seem utterly
absurd, and a complete waste of time - like you're just singing
to the ceiling! But my experience has showed me enough to convince
me that there really is someone out there!
Anyway, what kind of music do I play in church, I hear you ask? Well, its not like you see in the "Blues Brothers" films, with James Brown as the pastor. Although I often wish our church was like that. Indeed, the only time I have ever worked with a coloured Pentecostal style gospel choir, was on the song "You Bring the Rain" from my first solo album Heart of David. Every church's musical style is different. But the kind of modern Christian music I have been playing I would describe as "acoustic rock" for want of a better term. Three of my favourite songwriters from this genre of Christian music are Frank Gallian, Matt Redman, and a Canadian called Brian Doerksen. A lot of churches would now have a group of musicians which would comprise of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and vocals - plus the occasional sax or other woodwind instruments. Some groups write their own songs, but mainly they play songs written by the top worship songwriters in the world today.
I have written some gospel songs over the years. My first attempt was a song called "Holy, Your Name" which I wrote when I was 16. It is still one of the songs I am most proud of writing out of everything that I have written over the years. That song appeared on a cassette album I released by mail order in 1993, called Calvary. I still have the master tape, but it is not very good quality, as the whole album was recorded on an old 4 track Teac Portastudio. Also, I am singing on the album, and the singing is not very good (that's being polite too!!). But nevertheless, there are still some good moments on that album.
I am currently halfway through recording a gospel album, which I think will eventually be called "Your Love". I have so far recorded the keyboards, drums, bass and most of the guitars. But I haven't found a vocalist yet to sing the songs for me. I don't know yet how the album will be released. I have tried in the past to get some kind of Christian record deal - but as yet, without any success. Perhaps 2004 will see this gospel album finally completed and released perhaps by mail order only??
If you wanted to come along and see me play some gospel music in church, then I'm afraid that you are out of luck at the moment. I was helping to lead music in a church called St. Peter's in Maidenhead, Berkshire for the last 15 years, but I have just moved out of the area and so am currently looking to join a new church and to get involved there. I hope though that this tells you a bit more about church music and that it stirs up your curiosity to perhaps go and have a look at one of the modern music groups in a church near to you? A lot of them are actually very good!