fermin-r1Haven’t done one of these posts in forever, but when I realized I posted last week about the resource of looking at setlists online, figured I better follow my own advice!

Sunday was the first day in our “percussion experiment,” so expect this post to be a bit more percussion-specific than normal. I plan on going into more detail regarding this new percussion focus in a few weeks once we’ve had a chance to see how it work over a few Sundays in a row, but for now, it’ll be more basic.

The Setting
We’ve always used percussion at Bethel (in various forms) but this was the first time we actually pulled drums off stage and setup a full kit of percussion equipment for the whole set. From the start of mid-week rehearsal, this proved to be a challenge for our other musicians who are accustomed to a large, live drum kit on stage providing power and dynamics. We have good drummers and percussionists, but this set proved to be a real change in perspective for our team. They did a great job, but it was hard work.

On stage we had acoustic guitar and vocals (me), backing vocals (1 person), bass, percussion kit, mandolin, piano and a “sideman” who played organ, bells and banjo throughout the set.

I just can’t help myself. Blame it all those Integrity and Vineyard records I listened to as a kid, but I love opening worship with a prayer or scripture reading over a keyboard pad. In fact, I much prefer that over a big giant rock intro starting cold. I had our piano player lay down a very simple keyboard pad while I read Psalm 148:7-13. As I read, the percussionist turned out the click track in our ears. I played the intro of the song when I finished reading.

Song 1 – The Father’s Love (link)
Our percussionist isn’t nuts about click, but we found it actually helped tremendously in this type of set. Because he was had to approach the songs so differently, having a click in the ears allowed him to focus on what was most important and not get distracted by doing a lot of fills or trying to keep everybody on.

Mandolin carried the riff and our sideman played B3 for the song. For the tune we used a surdo drum and a djembe. We muted the surdo to give it a flatter, thicker sound. It wasn’t exactly like a kick drum sound, but it had a nice thump in the system. The perc guy played surdo on his right side with a stick and djembe on his left with a brush, giving it a snare vibe. We also have a really great tambourine pedal made by Farmer Foot Drums. We used the tambourine pedal for all of the bigger sections of the song. In our first service, folks immediately sang out loud and strong. Second service took a little longer to get into it.

Song 2 – Lord Almighty (link)
This is a favorite at our church, so we felt like it was gonna’ be well received regardless. I welcomed everybody and encouraged them to sing along. Didn’t do any sort of hey-look-at-percussion-isn’t-that-crazy kinda’ thing. For this one, I had our guy play slap-top cajon, one of my new favorite percussion instruments. He didn’t do as much of a kick/snare pattern as I originally hoped, but I realized his more-shuffled groove gave it just enough distinction from the previous song which had a very straight tempo.

Banjo really stepped up on this song. Our guy’s picking patter really set the verses up nicely. Having a fairly busy picking pattern from a metallic-sounding instrument helped to subdivide the beats a bit and let the percussion player focus on simple beat keeping. (Lesson learned – banjos are also cool for keeping tempo!)

I went right into prayer after the second song. When praying before songs, I try to do it sincerely and not simply to “foreshadow” what’s coming, which is sadly, a common worship leader trick. I even try to stay away from praying any phrases or words from the song, but it’s hard because the lyrics are so good!

Song 3 – Be Thou My Vision (link)
I love the interplay between banjo and piano on this one. Piano starts with a really cool chord progression built on some nice passing chords. I try not to play at the beginning of this one because it doesn’t need me yet! Percussion and bass were very nice on this, never getting too big or trying to turn it into a power ballad, which seems to happen to a lot of church bands toward the end of their sets. Our perc guy did shaker and djembe, but not a lot of low end djembe stuff.

Song 4 – Take My Life/I Am Yours (link)
You might remember that I’m trying to be more evangelistic in my leading this year. I talked briefly about realizing that our hunger and desire for success or happiness or worth is really a longing for a Savior. I mentioned that those who were lost might find a “moment of surrender” during the song and encouraged them to find church staff to talk about it after the service.

This one normally starts with piano, but I got us into it. Our sideman played a neat three note pattern on bells that ended up fitting perfectly with the mandolin player’s part. Percussion guy used a brushed on the cajon and surdo. It was nice, very “woody” tone and again, not getting too big.

From a band perspective, the set felt relatively healthy. The team had to work very hard and they did a good job, but I could tell we’ve got a way to go before we’re comfortable in the less-is-more drum style. From a congregational perspective, the service was fantastic. Either they were singing louder (which is my theory) or maybe I could just hear them better with the drums, but the service definitely felt reverent and pretty joyous throughout.


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