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I MUST vent about my Church Gig

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by malthumb, Feb 3, 2002.


  1. malthumb

    malthumb

    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    I'm trying to keep my frustration from progressing to anger, so I need to vent and pray. Here's the venting part.

    I play bass at a different church than the one I attend. I play there on odd week Sundays, sing in my own church choir on even Sundays. On Saturdays we rehearse for 2 hours. We USUALLY rehearse contemporary gospel stuff, like Kurt Karr, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, etc. We probably have about 20 songs under our belts there. We NEVER rehearse any of the old gospel "standards" that the congregation likes to sing as a lead in to Praise and Worship. When we end rehearsal, the script is the same....Band: "What are we going to do tomorrow?" Choir Director: "I'm not sure. It'll be something we're all familiar with, maybe X, Y & Z. Maybe Q or W".

    Now it's Sunday morning. The Choir Director (who is also the Pastor's wife) hands us a handwritten lineup. Seven songs. I recognize the last two. One of those was just introduced to us the day before. Praise and Worship starts. The first two songs are not on the list. They just "came to" the lady leading Praise and Worship. The organist and keyboard player are able to fake it pretty good. They've been with the church a long time and know all the "standards". The drummer (Pastor's son) knows them too. I'm the proverbial deer staring into headlights anticipating the impact of what's about to hit me.

    Somewhere in the middle of Praise and Worship, the Choir Director says to the organist, "we'll probably do [some other song I've never heard before] instead of the last one."

    At this point I'm beginning to wonder why I'm even here. We have a song list of seven songs, five of which I've never heard, we add two at the beginning which I've never heard. We totally fudge up the song we "learned" the night before, and the one song on the list I have down pat, gets scratched for something else I've never heard before. The organist, who doesn't come to rehearsal on Saturdays, thinks that I should be able to pick it up on the fly and just join in. That's what he does when we play the contemprary stuff. He's pretty good at it. Me, personally, I don't see church service as an improv jam session. Okay, I've vented. Time to go pray.

    Peace,

    James
     
  2. Ívar Þórólfsson

    Ívar Þórólfsson Mmmmmm... Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2001
    Kopavogur, Iceland
    Hmmmmm....

    Tough church :)

    Have you tried talking about this with the choir director?
    I would be furious if I were to play something on the spot I´ve never heard before. It´s a matter of respect I think. If I were a choir director, I would make sure that everyone knows the tunes before the service, it´s no fun having the band play some half-arsed version of songs.

    Do it well, or don´t do it at all.

    Hope it get´s better
     
  3. rllefebv

    rllefebv

    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Do you know any piano?? If so, it's helpful if you can stand where you can see the pianists left hand... That seems a little rough that you'd be 'expected' to pick stuff up by ear, but that's often the reality of being a bass player.

    At the very least, you should be able to explain your plight to the choir director... State that you may not be able to continue playing if you're not given more advanced warning of the songs... I know that some worship leaders feel that it's okay to shake things up at the last minute as the spirit moves them, but see if maybe she can center that around songs that everybody already knows... extending choruses or modulating to a different key are okay, but a totally unknown song??? Ouch!

    -robert
     
  4. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    malthumb, I have played in small churches(under 200 attendance) since I was 12. That's the way they are all run. No rehearsals, maybe an occasional jam session on Sunday morning after the service is over, but no formal rehearsals of any kind.

    And we do not have a set list. It's pretty much wing it by the seat of your pants. Fortunately, since I've been playing church music for 23 years, I know about 1/3 of the hymns in existence, and probably 1/2 of the worship choruses.

    But there are many times that whoever is leading the praise service will call off a hymn that I have never heard of(not hard with a hymnal that has 770 pages!), let alone ever played. So, I thumb through to the song, look at the key signature and time signature, and if there are a few seconds left, look over the first couple of bars and see if I can figure out the first change. I'm a very poor reader, so that's as far as I can get in a few seconds.

    Fortunately, the Lord blessed me with a very good ear, so I can usually pick up the entire progression after the first time through. I'm sure that there are people who wonder why the bass player plays simple stuff on the first verse and chorus, and then gradually starts to tear it up after that.:p
     
  5. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    ... think I'll stay out of this one ...
     
  6. malthumb

    malthumb

    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Hey guys, thanks for the therapy. Embellisher, the way you describe your situation, it seems to have been similar. The problem I find here though, is none of this stuff is written down. The keyboard player tries to be helpful and I occasionally stand behind him and look over his shoulder. Most of the contemporary stuff we pick up by ear off of CD, which is just fine for me. It's just that lately the church seems to want to go to more of the traditional stuff.

    Lately what I've started doing is taping the service and working out lines later. Problem there is, it may be a while 'til something's repeated, and even then, I won't know in advance that we'll be doing it.

    I do plan to talk to the choir director about it, but first I think I have to get some more support from my band mates. They are also put out about not knowing what we'll be doing and some of the impromptu arrangements. The choir director is not a musician. She's a singer with a really nice voice who knows in her head what she wants to hear. She's also the pastor's wife, and in small Black churches, that in itself is a position of power. People tend to shy away from suggesting that what she's doing isn't working. She is genuinely a nice person, so I don't think that it's a personality thing. She just doesn't understand how much turmoil her last minute changes cause. The fact the her son is the drummer makes it less likely that the others will voice their complaints to anyone but me. Especially since they know most of the songs well enough to fake 'em pretty well.

    I'm also trying to get the others to just come to my house on an off day and walk through some of the standards with me or at the least, let's work on our signals, so they can help out when I'm floundering.

    In the meantime, I'll just keep pluggin'. It's not ALL bad, and when we click, we're awesome. We just need to click more.

    Peace,

    James
     
  7. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    "In the meantime, I'll just keep pluggin'. It's not ALL bad, and when we click, we're awesome. We just need to click more."

    I think I'd explain it that way to the pastor's wife.
     
  8. lump

    lump

    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    AAAHH! I would go insane. You're right - standing up in front of the church in front several hundred people ain't the place to be winging it. "I really don't suck! I swear! I just don't know these tunes!" :eek: The good news is that it's good ear training, but personally, I don't like "practicing" in front of an audience.

    Fortunately, my denomination tends to be a little less impromptu in general, and there's notation available for just about everything. And if someone introduces something new, they bring music. Our current piano player can't improvise over changes (she's a product of the Korean, learn-everything-by-rote education system), so she pretty much has to have notation. We've tried things in rehearsal, and then dropped 'em because not everyone could pull 'em off. We don't have anyone (right now) who wants to shine at the expense of everyone else. We kinda HAVE to rehearse though, since we'll cover a couple hundred tunes over the course of a year, easy. It must be working though, because we just got a fairly high-profile ecumenical gig, and we're rehearsing our tails off this week for it.

    You might want to take the whole thing as a compliment though. She may be so confident in your ability she's taking it for granted that you can play whatever she calls. My wife and I have been in the same exact situation - "Oh, you guys don't need to practice, you can play it." Yeah, we CAN, but we could play it BETTER if we had a chance to work a few things out. Arrgh. My approach has been, "I appreciate your faith in my ability, but would you mind if we work some things out?" Usually they just don't have a clue.

    But I guess that's why every choir director I've ever worked with calls the singers, "The singers" and the instrumentalists, "The musicians." ;)
     
  9. malthumb,
    is there any way she can get you some chord charts? if not, maybe try making some cheat sheets. that's what I did. went home and listened to a bunch of stuff I know our leader likes to play, and made cheat sheats for them. that way when he changes up on the fly I can flip through my binder and see the chords.

    but yeah, I hate trying to improvise in front of a crowd. that's something I need to improve.

    here's one. the leader pulls out a song that wasn't on the list, and didn't even tell anyone. he just starts playing it. the guy upstairs is scrambling to get the words on the big screen, I'm thinking "okay I think I can figure this chord progression out". they get the words going, everyone else joins in, and I'm left trying to figure out the chords. so, I'm playing real light like, trying to hear what I'm playing, but to not be loud enough so the people can hear me. the soundguy's thinking "I cant hear the bass" so he turns me WAY UP. here I am CRANKED trying to be indiscreet so I don't distract from worship. I think by the last refrain I finaly had the parts down. what a disaster, I felt like a heel.
     
  10. I would be wary of any "spirit" that would lead a band into total chaos! I would also question if God is pleased with mediocrity (and bad notes!). ;)

    I am fortunate to be a part of a great church gig. We play once on Saturday and 3 times on Sunday. We practice on Saturday morning for 2 1/2 hours. Everything is planned very well. This includes the jazz tune that we play as folks are coming in. The charts are well-written and both the leaders and musicians are skilled. There is a common passion to make the music excellent. This wasn't always the case. We got to this place by the director having a vision of what he wanted the team to be and setting the standard. We then decided as a team what we needed and how we were going to hold ourselves and each other accountable to get there. Everyone played a role, from deciding how the charts would be layed out to taking lessons to improve certain skills. Bottom line, we created a common goal and everyone worked to achieve it. We then continually raise the bar.

    I think if you talked to the director and discussed your frustrations - that you want to music to be excellent - and offered to play a role, they may be open to change. If they're not, you have a responsibility to either adapt, find another gig or figure out a different way to influence change. At one time, I got all the musicians to meet 15 minutes early to mentally go over every song - reinforce hits, changes, etc. I also repositioned myself so I could watch the director's hands (he plays keys).

    There is certainly no advantage in being frustrated or stressed that you won't be able to play your best. You can make a difference.

    Good luck!
    Jeff
     
  11. lump

    lump

    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    LMAO! And so did my wife when I read it to her. Things are groovy right now, but we've definitely seen the other side (and probably will again when some folks rotate out of here). Too funny, man.
     
  12. malthumb

    malthumb

    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Too funny!!!!! I'm SO glad that I'm playing right through my amp instead of a PA. I do the light touch thing too, and I would be mortified if someone cranked my feed while I was huntin' & peckin'.

    Thanks for the story. Misery loves company.

    Peace,

    James
     
  13. malthumb

    malthumb

    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Yeah, actually I'm trying to get the keyboard player and the organist to sit down with me so that we can construct charts. I don't think the choir director reads well enough to construct charts. She sings very well and knows what she wants things to sound like, but I don't think she's a musician.

    When I first started with this church, there was another guy who was leading the Praise Team. He was trying to modernize the church's music and asked me to play with them. She and he apparently have some long standing animosity (guess who's gonna win that one 10 out of 10 times). They had a blow up and she replaced him. He was more organized and more thorough in how we approached each service. On the other hand, he gave the vocalists fits, 'cause he's a super-perfectionist. But the band always knew what we were going to play, how the changes would be signaled, and for the most part, how we'd end and/or transition to the next piece. Ah, yes...the good ol' days. ***sigh***

    Peace,

    James
     
  14. JimM

    JimM

    Jan 13, 2000
    Northern California
    I've been there.

    I've stared at the pianist's left hand and at the guitarist's too.

    One thing you could try is taking a small cassette recorder and tape the music,or see if you can get a tape if it if they tape the whole service,not just the message.Most churches tape their services.
    I've never done this,but I've come close.

    Ultimately,you have to tuff it out with whatever you can find to work with,hopefully some good charts.But it will pay off in the long run.
     
  15. Ty McNeely

    Ty McNeely

    Mar 27, 2000
    TX
    I mentioned in another thread that I play in a church band with a guitarist, keyboard (both of whom sing), and another vocalist. These guys have played together for about 5 years, and both have been playing their instruments or singing for 20+ years, so playing with them is a MAJOR challenge. The only formal rehearsal we have is we all get there at about 10:00 on Sundays (service starts at 10:30), then about 5:15 on Sunday night (service starts at 6:00), then about 6:30 on Wednesday nights (service starts at 7:00). Even the first day I played with them I got there about 9:45 on a Sunday morning and played from there.

    Anyways, we do the faster, more upbeat, simple songs at the first part of the service most of the time. They usually stick to the list, but the last 3 services they have sprung an unrehearsed song on me. It is very rare that they ever completely deviate from the list however, so I am lucky there. I think that the occassional surprise is a GOOD thing because it makes you listen. However, having to muddle (hunt 'n peck...I like that:D) through ALL of the songs is NOT a good thing. I would venture to say that your choir director will probably be understanding enough to at least give you advance warning or maybe get a practice together that will accomplish something.
     
  16. Dude...you should just learn the songs.

    Even if you've never heard of them, learn them after you get embarrassed on stage. If the choir leader is being directed by the Holy Spirit, and you don't know the bass part to the song, then tell the piano player to play louder bass notes, lol.

    knowing the key to the song is a big help.

    Christian chord progressions are very predictable.
     
  17. JimM

    JimM

    Jan 13, 2000
    Northern California
    Church music has a lot of inversions,like D/A,or Cm/Eb etc.that's one drawback to watching the guitarist,he wont nessesarily be playing the lowest note on the bottom.
     
  18. not always, call me dumb, but I always need to look at the music when playing "shout to the Lord". maybe someday I'll memorize it. but, as long as I have the music, I will use it as a crutch.
     
  19. Thank God the praise and worship band I'm in doesn't do things that way :D
     
  20. Sink, Swim or Paddle You Must Get Across
    Sink, Swim or Paddle You Must Get Across


    This just sounds normal to me, but I tell you one thing, it will help you in the long run to learn songs quickly.

    When I started playing in the 80's (I come from London, England), the churches I associated with most of the people couldn't sing, so during a rendition it was quite common for them to go up semi-tones and in the worse cases a tone or two (especially when finishing choruses) - anyway it made me the bass player I am today (have played with Helen Baylor, Graham Kendricks, Donnie McClurkin, amongst others and I have just returned from Dallas, Texas playing with the Morris Cerrullo ministries).

    THIS IS WHY CHURCH MUSICIANS TEND TO BE SOME OF THE BEST AND MOST SOUGHT AFTER MUSICIANS IN THE WORLD - BECAUSE WE CAN PICK UP AND LEARN SONGS QUICKLY, WE ARE VERSATILE AND EASILY ADAPT TO ANY SITUATION.

    Take it as a learning curve and please whatever you do - DO NOT TELL OFF THE PASTOR'S WIFE (IT WILL GET YOU NO WHERE). Besides you will go to another church and the same thing will happen.

    Again I say, welcome to church (and I am speaking from an English perspective - it's nice to know that people are the same wherever you come from).

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