This post isn’t just written for the worship leader. It’s for every member of the church’s worship band and community.
I vividly remember the night. I was driving home from work in the summer of 2000. I had just graduated from High School and my car only had an FM radio. Then it happened, a song I’d never heard before came over the airwaves with sound that was both ground breaking and familiar all at the same time. This being the dark ages of technology, I had to sit in my parked car for three more songs to find out who this band was. The song was Yellow and the band was called Coldplay. On my lunch break the next day I walked over to Sonic Boom records in Seattle and purchased the album Parachutes. Within two weeks, everyone I knew seemed to have a copy. That was 13 years ago.
Since then, Coldplay has grown and established itself in the mainstream musical consciousness of the Western World and beyond. Even if you’re the type of Christian who has a personal conviction not to listen to secular music, you have heard Coldplay. You often hear about Christian bands ripping off U2 (I’ve written about it HERE) but the truth is that they’ve been influenced by Coldplay just as much. Yet, again and again, I’ve been in a worship band practice and said “it’s kinda like Coldplay” and received nothing but a blank expression back. It’s been 13 years.
WHATS EXPECTED OF YOU
Even if you’re the type of Christian who has a personal conviction not to listen to secular music, you have heard Coldplay
This post isn’t just written for the “worship leader.” It’s for every member of the church’s worship band and community.
What is expected of you as a worship band member? You show up when it’s your turn to play? You know the songs? You stay in tune? Those are all really important things. But I sum up what I expect from my worship community with this maxim: Play well, and play well with others.
I went to bible college with a guy named John. He knew every major riff off of Ride The Lightning, The Black Album, etc. He could shred. John wanted to help with the college’s worship band. The problem was that while John could play Kill ‘Em All like it was nobody’s business, he didn’t know what a G Chord was. In the years since, I’ve met a lot of guys like John.
Maybe you can solo like it’s going out of style. Maybe you’re the 2nd coming of Duane Allman. So what? Maybe you can rock the piano like you like you’re “going west (young man) to Rocket Town”. Big deal. How are you “playing well” if you’re playing the wrong thing? Musical Skill isn’t just knowing which notes to play. It’s also knowing which notes not to play. Which key, time, and tempo to play those notes in. How is it “playing well” if your worship leader is looking for a sound like Viva La Vida and you’re giving them Joe Satriani?
PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS
Church bands are tough. The piano player came up in an old school Baptist church. The drummer played in 80’s power rock bands. The guitarist is all solo, all the time. The bass player love jazz fusion. The vocalists are either Hillsong or Maranatha clones, and the worship leader wants to be David Crowder meets some band you’ve never heard of. How do you wrangle that all together to a cohesive sound on a Sunday Morning? You need a unified sound. For a lot of churches this ends up being somewhere between Chris Tomlin and Hillsong, but how do you go from endless guitar solos to Nigel Hendroff? Coldplay. Their music can act as a gateway for an older musician to understand modern music.
Think about Coldplay’s basic set up: Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Piano. Sound a lot like a Sunday morning at my church, how about yours? I feel like Coldplay is very reasonable and accessible frame work for a church band to work with. It’s a mainstream sound, so it’s not as obscure as Radiohead or some indie rock band that you’ve never heard of. It’s a modern sound so it will drag certain players into this century. It’s an accessible sound so it’s not difficult for band members to understand. It’s a common so it shouldn’t be hard for your church to connect with the music so they can express their music.
WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOU
I’m not saying that you’re church band should sound like a Coldplay cover band.
There are some churches where this isn’t going to do much for you. Church’s with a more traditional liturgy, or church’s that have a “band approach” like Mars Hill wouldn’t get a lot of this.
This is written to the average, North American “community church.” The type with a wide cross section of ages, and backstories. Like I wrote above, this church is the one who’s band has a huge and diverse background of musical experiences that don’t always mesh well together.
This is also written to the older band member who’s trying to find a way to fit in with a younger worship leader or more modern worship sound.
This is written to the younger musician who are into more obscure music or who started playing because of guitar hero and now only have classic rock as a musical starting point.
If you look over the whole of Coldplay’s Discography you’ll see glimpses of indie rock, ambient music, pop, rock, even a little country, EDM and hip hop. So what Coldplay will do is give you a frame work for the band to come together with, but also a point of access. A classic rock player will get the solo’s on the song Violet Hill, while an older piano player will hear a more modern sound in songs like Trouble or Paradise. A younger player who’s into Sigur Ros or Radiohead would find a more mainstream way to express the same idea.
WHAT I’M NOT SUGGESTING
If we don’t speak the same music language then how can we play as a unified band?
I’m not saying that you’re church band should sound like a Coldplay cover band. Actually, I’m begging you not to do that. There’s enough bad music in the world, and churches don’t need to add to that with Coldplay cover tunes.
I’m also not suggesting we use a bad version, or even a good version of the ‘world’s music’ to be relevant. Forced relevance is one of the most unattractive things I we could ever produce.
What I’m suggesting is that as a worship community, we find some sort of common, shared frame work. Many churches have this unintentionally, but it’s the framework of a previous generation. I’m not knocking a faithful generation that has gone before us, but often we find that this older framework begins to block a natural, organic transition to a new one. On the other hand, you often see a very inorganic attempt to merge the old frame work with a “modern sound” that rarely ends well.
WHY IT MATTERS
What I’m suggesting is that as a worship community, we find some sort of common, shared frame work
Psalm 133:1 says “how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity.” This applies to the music of the church. There needs to be unity in how we approach our musical service. My point isn’t to get you to sound like Coldplay, but if your band leader mentions Coldplay or an equivalent band and you don’t know what they are talking about, then you don’t speak a musical language that is common to our culture. If we don’t speak the same music language then how can we play as a unified band?
Coldplay has been the musical norm for over a decade. Imagine if you were in a worship band in 1973 that said “It’s kind of like the Beatles” or a worship band in 1993 that said “It’s kind of like Michael W. Smith” and people looked back at the worship leader and said “who?” It’s been 13 years, do yourself a favor and give Coldplay a listen and find some common ground.