It was 1977 and I was in Junior high, I wish this wasn’t still such a clear memory, but it is. I’m in the back of the gymnasium in the drum section, barely paying attention to some Christmas program going on. At the other end of the room was a raised stage, with great lights and a set that many people must have spent hours on. Blah Blah Blah, something about Santa, Blah Blah Blah. Pretty soon I notice they keep repeating the same line over and over louder and louder. Things seemed to have stopped. Of course just like looking at an accident on the road I’m morbidly interested. I watch the wave of whispers move slowly and nervously towards the back at the room. Until one of the brass players in front of me turns to me and says….”JINGLE BELLS!” UGH! It hits me, even now the sinking pit in my stomach shows up and I get tingles across the top of my head.
You see a couple week earlier the teacher that was directing the Christmas program had contacted me and asked me to bring the schools jingle bells and shake them vigorously when Santa”s cue was read. I had agreed and assumed I’d remember; or as happens when you are that age, someone would remind me 1,000 times. The day of the show someone had handed me a script that I had almost no interest in, as I had completely forgotten about the jingle bell conversation. The jingle bells were of course safely tucked away on the other side of the school in a percussion storage drawer.
The pit in my stomach was fueled by something tangible. All those people had worked so hard on their parts, costume, sets and dozens of other things I can’t list. Granted it was innocent mistake, but I dropped the ball and stopped the show.
Even then I wanted to be a professional drummer, so this was a great learning experience for me. I made a vow that I had to start paying attention to the entire show, and not just my little world.
As I entered my life as a musician, I soon became proficient at sound, lighting, producing, engineering, teaching and eventually carved out a career around selling gear. More importantly for this article I became someone that folks wanted to hire. I show up early and ready to play, equipment and all my “jingle bells” in hand. I have also spent many hours building a musical vocabulary on my instruments. It’s important for me to be able to play many styles proficiently.
I spent a majority of my career as a hired gun, a sideman. Most of the time with little to no time to prepare. I found it vitally important to show up as ready as possible. Selfishly, yes, I sounded better. I was more confident and was able to enjoy those experiences more; and got more work. However I also honored everyone else’s time, talents dreams and aspirations. Songwriters are very honored when you know the breaks and stops to their songs, and when you sing that harmony on their album…..let’s just say they never forget it.
As a member of a worship team, our purpose is even greater. We get to enter the throne room of His Holiness and help our brothers and sisters in their worship experience. Wow, talk about hitting the big time. This not an easy task! A secular group might work up 12 songs and do showcases. Or as most of my career was, 45-60 tunes you lock down and play for years. Church services are more demanding; almost always having a few songs you don’t know (or in my case have never heard). With less than a week to prepare AND having to work around scripture readings, a sermon, and a spattering of other elements.
Usually we are volunteers too, working with other musicians from all skill levels. Sadly many times people show up unprepared. Yes it’s always fun to spend time in “fellowship”, but many worship rehearsals are unnecessarily long; and largely due to someone not being prepared.
Here are few hints to help you be more prepared for your next opportunity to serve:
- Download or print your sheet music as soon as possible.
- Go through the provided recordings as soon as possible WITH your instrument, sheet music and a PENCIL in hand.
- Make notes where you think you may need them and mark parts you need to work on as a player/singer. Work on those parts!
- Try to listen to those songs during your week, daily if possible.
- Time is a fleeting commodity bit if possible play along a few times with your recordings and music before you meet with the whole team.
- Show up on time, with your instrument ready and your music and notes in hand.
- As an on going practice: take lessons, learn to at least understand reading sheet music, and chord charts. Practice by making some charts for songs you love to play. Expand your vocabulary by slowly working on things that are hard for you. Overtime all these things get easier and faster, like anything else you practice.
I guarantee you will start to enjoy your opportunities more and more as you build these habits. You will sound better, the band will sound better. The people are honored and the Lord is honored as we love our brothers and honor the time of worship together in excellence.
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