Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. (Psalm 57:8)
In recent years I have heard a very real cry. A cry for more Apostolic songwriting. The cry sometimes morphs into criticism. “Why do we hold so tightly to songs written by people who don’t hold to OUR precious theology?” Although I could draft a hundred retorts to the critical spirit, I want to instead address the cry. Why aren’t WE crafting God-Songs that everyone wants to sing?
I invite you to put on your seat belt. Because my words will be candid and pointed at times. But I think the cry to write is becoming loud enough that we MUST take an honest look at ourselves as a movement and take ownership for the challenge that GOD is placing into our spirits. How will we awaken our song?
Awakening the God-Song of this hour requires dedication to the craft of songwriting.
Jotting down inspired thoughts on a piece of paper, in a vague poetic outline does NOT make you a songwriter! Song is NOT poetry. I don’t have enough time to articulate all the reasons why. But go find out the difference, and then study what makes a song. Study hooks. Study song form. Study rhyme schemes. Study figurative language. Go to a songwriting workshop. Buy a book. Do something to grow!
Pardon, for a moment, my self-reflection. Because at first it will seem self-aggrandizing: I’ve taught multiple semesters of songwriting during my 12 years of teaching at UPCI colleges. I have formed songwriting groups. I’ve had over 30 songs I’ve written or co-written recorded. BUT let me be VERY REAL with you. I still feel I have much to learn in my journey to craft a “perfect” song. I work very hard to listen, study, and receive honest feedback. I hate some of the songs I wrote in my early years. (grin!) I still get writers block when writing. I get frustrated if I sound predictable or trite. I want to be so much better than I am!
Honest feedback. That’s a really important part of this journey. I often hear songs written by Apostolics and think, “… this song is a few edits away from greatness! But I wish the writer had gotten some input…” If we really are serious about writing great songs, we’ve got to be willing to expose ourselves to the precious criticism of other good writers. Precious criticism. Yes. I mean that exactly as it sounds.
Songwriting is so much more than the flash of inspiration and the spiritual high that comes from a great idea or powerful line of lyric. It’s hard work! And the hard work must exist on this solid foundation: do I understand what makes a great song that every church wants to sing? Sadly, very few Apostolic people are immersing themselves in this learning process to become good writers.
Awakening the God-Song of this hour calls us to be creative and musical, not just mimickers.
Ouch. This is a tough one. We have to expose a terrible reality that exists. So many people do not possess the musical skill or the creative imagination to know how to take a great, but rough and un-produced song and turn it into a usable choice for their weekly congregation. We do not know how to listen beyond the production. Or lack-there-of.
This void of musical training is the reason hundreds of good songs sit unfinished. It is vitally important to know how to play chords by ear, to hear harmonies, and to share the vision for how a song could be arranged with the band. Songwriters must develop a vision for how a song with potential could be arranged to come across more like the highly-produced songs we fall in love with at a large conference. Instead, many of us must have a chart for everything! We literally play by numbers. Or letters. Like a kid who never learns to draw but only connects dot-to-dot pictures or paints by numbers.
I’m not at all against technology. But can I say, we are suffering a terrible by-product of this media-driven generation. We watch powerful church happen! We watch musician’s fingers. We mimic thoughtlessly. So many leaders simply wait to see what song ignites worship at another church, conference or big event. Then they race home to bring that song to their church, hoping to duplicate the same results. Who is spending time hearing harmonies for themselves? Discovering new voicings on their instrument? Who is spending time in prayer to hear the unique Word God is speaking over their local congregation?
The God-Song CANNOT rise out of a generation that simply will not do the personal practice, work and prayer to become musical, creative and spiritual conduits.
Awakening the God-Song of this hour takes financial investment and an outlet.
It’s not easy to be a writer. I’ve never seen a job posting: “full-time Apostolic writer required!” Most writers are cramming their creative pursuits into hard-to-find spare hours of the week. Furthermore, it’s not financially easy to take a rough song and create a demo that represents it well to others.
And once you do write a great song and have a quality demo, what then? Who is looking for new songs? How do we share great songs with one another? How do we “prove” our song has what it takes if it’s never been recorded or sung at an event?
These are honest, real questions that have to be addressed. But there is something you can do. Determine in your mind you will support the creative process. Don’t pirate music, or always take the “freebie” route. Purchase music from Apostolic artists. Buy charts FROM THEIR SITES. Invest in each other. Do it as a discipline whether you love their music or not! Because how can we cry that there is a need, but not support the people trying to fill the need??
Awakening the God-Song in this hour requires YOU.
Together we can break the cycle. Instead of questioning others, let’s hold ourselves accountable. I can do something about this. I can write more. I can become a disciplined, trained songwriter. I can strengthen my musical ear. I can learn to discern a great song without needing it to be highly produced on a recording or presented in the emotional environment of a conference. I can celebrate and support Apostolic singer/songwriters. If I’m a pastor, I can encourage my music team to begin a songwriting group to write for our local church. I can invest in my music leader and send him/her to a writer’s conference. I can pay an Apostolic songwriter to do coaching sessions with me for a time, so I can learn. I will grow. I will learn. I will give voice to the power of the Spirit that is dwelling IN ME! I will declare HIS name as one who is covered by it in baptism.
Laura Payne is the founder of Heart of Worship ministries. She served as Dean of Music at CLC for 9 years and currently serves as Music Program Director and Choral Director at Urshan College. She is a prolific writer and arranger, and currently mentors young writers at Urshan College. On the past 2 albums produced at Urshan, there were 8 original compositions. The new Urshan project coming out in 2018 will have 5 more originals. Heart of Worship Ministries is proud to offer a songwriters track each year at its HOW Conference. Laura is committed, in every aspect of her ministry, to raising up the Apostolic God-Song.