Couple of things I noticed after playing for the Chinese services for about half a year. First, the melodies for the Chinese worship songs tend to be quite active. In other words, they tend to fill up all the main counts of each bar, just like the melody of All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name, for example. Because of that there isn't really much room to add in more musical elements without making it distracting or gimmicky.
That's actually great for the musicians, because we can quickly run through the songs, play a simple bare-bones accompaniment, and that's good enough. Rehearsals for the Chinese songs get done really quickly, in about half the time we take for the English songs. Sometimes the Chinese backup vocalists stay behind and sit in for the English service rehearsals, and watch us struggle through all the stuff we need to put in for the English songs. I wonder if they feel as if we are not putting in as much effort for them as we are for the English service?
(Side Note: my brother – as in blood brother, we-have-the-same-parents kind of brother – has started playing on the worship team also, playing keyboards. Because he is less confident than I am, he is of course happy at having to play a lot less for the Chinese worship songs!)
Another thing I noticed also is that the worship leaders for the Chinese service are more dependent on hand signs rather than vocal cues. That's pretty frustrating for me, because I believe in vocal cues. Hand-signs only direct the musicians; they don't lead the congregation. If you are using mainly hand-signs, you are more a lead singer than a worship leader, since you are singing TO the congregation rather than leading them in THEIR singing. Are you with me?
God knows, I did try to explain that especially to the Chinese worship leader scheduled on the most recent Sunday. I encouraged her on a number of occasions to use vocal cues, and even demonstrated them for her a few times. She'd just tell me it's really difficult, and I'd try my best to explain to her (in my pathetic Chinese) that it's difficult only if you are obsessed with keeping up with a slick vocal performance. If you are more focused on leading the congregation than on your own singing it is very easy!
Anyway, I do understand why she might be struggling with this. Bear in mind that she doesn't see other Chinese worship leaders using vocal cues, whether in church or on the Chinese 'worship' albums. So within her immediate circle and exposure she doesn't see any immediate confirmation of my advice. And showing her how well the musicians respond to my vocal cues during the rehearsal just doesn't seem to impress her for some reason. *sigh*
That's the force of habit for you!
One thing playing for a wide range of worship settings has shown me is that there is an equally wide range of worship ministry cultures. Those who are afraid of offending others will take that to mean that there are no absolutes in worship ministry, no methods that are more effective than others, and claim that I am dogmatic and carnal by insisting that things be done my way.
I choose to see things differently.
I choose to believe that when you've seen a wide range of worship cultures and settings, you can see what works universally and what doesn't. And what works universally is usually based on how people really are, because fundamentally we all struggle with the same issues and problems. Or to express it in Scripture:
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man."- 1 Cor 10:13 (NIV)
And because most of the time people in the congregation are not able to read the minds of worship leaders and will therefore need something more obvious to direct them than hand-signals given to musicians, vocal cues are still going to work no matter what the language, what the culture or whatever the music style used.
Of course, if I ever come across any exceptions I'll definitely keep you posted!
In case you missed my previous blog post, I'm writing an e-book about worship musicians and singers. Do send in your book title suggestions and the questions you'd like me to answer in this e-book. I want to make it as useful as possible to people in worship ministry, so help me by giving me your questions! You can email me here.