Selecting Music For Worship

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I was asked to fill in as the band leader for our group this week which means I’m charged with selecting music, arranging the Psalm of the week, helping set up, preparing our lyrics in Media Shout, and rehearsing the group.  I thought it might be helpful to read about my thought process behind the songs that I chose this week.


The first thing I do is go to the readings.  In our church we can go to to find the readings of the week.  If you are in an evangelical church where the pastor has a theme, then it would be a good idea to find out what verses he or she might be quoting.  Many times there will be a line from a song that you’ll hear.  This was the case for me this week.  The first reading was Abraham and Isaac from Genesis and twice Abraham answers God “Here I Am”.  Here I Am Lord is old school, but everybody knows it and we bring in some of these traditional standards once in awhile.  Our second reading is Rom 8:31b-34 and has a verse that says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  That made me think of Chris Tomlin’s “Our God”.  The Gospel reading is the transfiguration from Mark 9:2-10.  I usually try to come up with some general themes.  I was thinking about the transfiguration and the beauty of seeing Christ.  It reminded me of a couple of songs: My Glorious and Better is One Day.  It also made me consider praise songs like None But Jesus or I Will Exalt You.  Last week we introduced Sarah Kroger’s In the Silence.  When we introduce a new song, we generally try to repeat it the next week to keep it familiar with the congregation.  Finally, another theme from Abraham and Isaac was about God’s love in how he spared Isaac’s life from the hands of his obedient father.  I thought How He Loves might fit in there.

So, I’ve got a pretty good list going, now I start plugging them in and thinking about who might lead each song and where they would fit in.  I liked the idea of doing Our God as an opening during Lent by taking the tempo down just a bit.  Usually that’s a closer for us.  In the Silence was our communion meditation last week, so I will probably move it up to our first communion song.  We do How He Loves in C and so is In the Silence, so that would work out really well during communion.  It’s great when you can go from one song into the next without changing keys much.  I’d love to go from How He Loves into My Glorious as an option if we had time, but the key’s don’t work out very well for that.  I ended up scratching My Glorious.  I elected to do I Will Exalt You during offertory because it’s a little shorter than None But Jesus.  Offertory can vary in time for us depending on the priest, so it’s good to have something flexible.  None But Jesus seems to work better as a communion meditation where it can build up more and go a little longer.  I couldn’t settle on a good closer, so I went with Better is One Day as the opening and Our God to close.

Great!  I have the lineup done.  All set?  Nope.  Now I need to figure out what keys and who might lead each song.  We are fortunate to have four strong vocalists who trade lead.  Since our regular worship leader is gone, we will have myself and then our two female singers.  Both are very talented, but have different styles and qualities of their voices.  One is light, airy, and breathy.  She makes me tear up during communion.   Her voice is perfect for In the S ilence.  Our other female singer has more of a focused tone that could summons an army of angels when she gets going!  Revelation Song is a great tune for her.  I’m going to have her try I Will Exalt You.  I often lead How He Loves.  It’s important to know who you will have leading each song because our ranges vary.  One of the ladies can lead I Will Exalt You in the key of the recording which is B, but if our regular band leader sings it, he does it in E to fit his range better.  Sometimes we’ll transpose a half step or so on the fly during rehearsal, but in general we need an idea for the lead sheets.

Another factor that I didn’t talk about is the season.  We’re in our second week of Lent and our instrumentation will be lighter.  That’s definitely a variable.  While you can make more of an acoustic version of many songs, some just aren’t the same, so maybe it’s better to hold off on some of the big (loud) songs until after Easter.

I mention the keys a lot because I’ve seen some pretty poor choices when a praise and worship band was doing a song in what was probably a key from a recording and not only did it sound bad because the lead singer was reaching, but the congregation generally won’t sing very high.  I try to avoid going about a D or E near the top of the treble clef.  That seems to be about the top of a general congregations range.  Recordings have the benefit of retakes and many professional recording artists have high voices.  The point of leading worship is to promote congregational singing.  If you chose to do songs out of their range it defeats the purpose.  It’s also important not to have too many songs in your regular repertoire.  Repetition yields familiarity and comfort which increases participation.  Of course some songs get a little over done too and you have to keep that in mind.

That’s how I go about it.  What do you do?  Are there any other factors that I should be considering?