I’m a guitar player in a piano player’s world. In the context of Black gospel music, the guitar is not considered a lead instrument. Most choirs rely on keys, organ, or synths to lead the band and the guitar plays a support role by playing rhythm parts or maybe lead fills. To make matters worse, I’m a white dude and most white dudes show up to a cross-cultural worship setting with their beautiful Taylor or Martin acoustic and when the set-list strays from Houghton-esque “rockspel” then then they find that their guitar becomes less relevant. Then things get really ugly when the set-list includes a more traditional black gospel song. The guitar becomes downright offensive as the acoustic strum-er starts to make the urban, Chicago-style Black gospel sound more and more like rural Nashville-style SOUTHERN gospel. There’s a BIG difference.
A good place to start is the 16 bar gospel form. My church sings a number of songs that use variations of this form: “Glory Glory Hallelujah”, “Jesus is on the Mainline”, ”I Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell”, “Now Let Us Sing”, and even more moderate tempo “God is A Good God”.
Our children’s choir is working on an old southern gospel tune called “Glory Glory Glory Somebody Touched Me” which is all over youtube being performed by everyone from bluegrass legends to tiny little southern baptist churches. I had to make a demo for the kids to sing along with and I made my best effort to give it a little more “blues” and a little less “bluegrass”. This represents how I would play a 16 bar gospel song especially in a setting where I was the only instrument. There’s a driving quarters bass sound that implies what a bass player would do and I’m hitting the muted strings on 2 & 4 to simulate a snare drum. The chromatic lead-in to the dominant at the end of each chorus is a cliche that helps define the style. The results also make a play-along demo for bass or drums to practice their gospel chops or for lead instruments to practice improvising.
I’ll admit that it would still fit into a song by Vince Gill or into the honky-tonk groove of a lot of country tunes. It’s certainly “down-home”. For an even more advanced bluesy take on the 16 bar gospel form check out this video of Pops Staples:
Wow, I haven’t written in my blog in a long time. (By the way, that sentence is one of my “pet peeves” of bloggers).
I’ve been too busy to check in for a while. I had a whole slew of work thrown my way in August and September and now that I’m getting my last few details worked out for this weekend’s church retreat, I have gotten a moment to breathe. I few items from my work recently have been participating in the New City Music Conference in Chattanooga. Then a few weeks later, I was involved in the music for the African American Leadership and Develop and Recruitment Conference (longest conference name ever!) Then we got to host the incomparable ethnodoxologist Paul Neely and his linguistic buddy J. Paul Thomas in our home for a few nights on the same weekend that we had another African Cultural Emphasis Sunday at NCF. Then after getting sick for a few days, we accepted a 4 month old boy as a foster placement in our home just as my parents came for a visit. We had some fun times and now it’s almost time to head into the Missouri woods for some good ol’ church retreat fun. S’mores! Soft-serve ice cream! Canoes! Loud and raucous worship music!
Please pray for my music ministry in the following areas:
- We need a new choir director. We have a ready and willing choir, but no one to lead it.
- Both of those problems are part of a deeper problem: I need more staff to address the needs of the music ministry at NCF. We can’t hire people without money to pay them.
- Please pray for me and Michelle Higgins and Joel Littlepage as we consider creating a new Community Gospel Choir together. (Still no choir director)
- Please pray for the music ministry at our other worship site in South City as Jules Gikundiro takes over the role of Director of Music (ch,ch,changes!)
Mourning and dancing
Weeping and joy
Death and life
Weakness and strength
Fear and confidence
The question hangs in the air unanswered, “What profit is there in my death?” I’ve seen mourning and dancing this year. I’ve seen dreams fulfilled and dreams broken. This weekend, a friend came very close to death, and yet he was spared. This weekend, we’ll be singing a song that always reminds me of a friend who is no long with us. Death and mourning looms over all that we do on this earth and yet our lives can be filled with such joy and dancing.
David’s psalm was written for the dedication of the temple, the same temple that David was told that he would not be allowed to build in his lifetime. He was faced with his mortality and his losses as well as his glory days and successes. The transition from mourning to dancing is not just positive thinking it’s actually a process that only comes through doing the hard work of grieving and crying out to the Father. It’s taking the death that lurks in the shadows of our daily lives and offering it up to God in faith that his anger last a moment but his favor is for a lifetime.
A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!