Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tap the Rockies

About a year ago I was flying home on a plane from Denver, exhausted and still reeling from all I had just taken in. I was coming back from a conference in Colorado put on by the Gospel Music Association called “Music in the Rockies”. I had heard about it from Aaron Rice, a writer who judged at a local songwriting event, during a Q & A session. The question was something like, “What can amateurs like us do? How do we get heard?” His answer was Music in the Rockies. I resolved at that moment that my next step as an aspiring songwriter was to be at that event. As it turns out, it was not the next step, but a giant leap.

It was basically 6 days of drinking out of a fire hose. There were more classes that I wanted to attend then I had slots in the day. There were more people that I wanted to meet than I had the time or opportunity. Then there was the overwhelming feeling of sitting down in a class with “industry professionals”- people who were living my dream- and listening to them share their wisdom and experience with plebs like us. I took in volumes of information. I met scads of great people from all across the country. I even had one of my songs critiqued by the author of “Crucified With Christ”, and he liked it. It was quite literally a mountain top experience for me as a songwriter, and well worth the cost.

But there was a dark side to Music in the Rockies. It’s a kind of disease- one that spreads like gangrene among the registrants. It can be seen in the dejected faces of those who were not chosen, wallowing in self-pity. It manifests itself in people huddled together over critique sheets, angrily arguing each negative point as ridiculous and unfounded. The worst case I saw was in my roommate, who simply went home early after discovering she was not a finalist. The disease has many names and many symptoms, but pure and simple it is none other than Pride. I came unprepared for its assault on my heart and became infected on Monday evening, along with all of my roommates and the majority of other registrants. But I quickly found the cure to be the same as it is at home- spending time with Jesus. An hour or so with the Savior renewed my heart and spirit, returned to me the perspective I had lost, and reminded me Who I was serving and Who I was writing for.

I went home without winning anything, but I did come away with pages of furiously scribbled notes, a new understanding of the industry, and, most significantly, another conference to sign up for. All week we had been wearing orange lanyards with emblazoned on them to hold our nametag and meal ticket, but nobody seemed to know what it was. It turned out that Sue Smith, one of the clinicians, ran a conference of her own out in St. Louis called Write About Jesus. I was in several sessions with Sue and got to hear a bit more about the conference and her heart with it, and before I left the Rockies I had decided to register for the October event.

Write About Jesus was even better than Music in the Rockies. Not only was it shorter and much more affordable, but it stayed true to its name. It was about Jesus. It wasn’t about winning competitions and impressing judges. No one showed up with six garment bags and a steam cleaner. It was about writing and being with other writers. The people were amazing. Some of my greatest memories from being there were not classes or competitions, but sitting around a table at Dairy Queen with like-minded people, sharing our hearts and laughing our heads off. The clinicians were much more accessible and approachable and there was simply a different atmosphere then in Colorado. I guess it all boils down to this: Music in the Rockies is something you go to. Write About Jesus is something you belong to.

In a few days I will be on a plane back to Denver to do Music in the Rockies all over again. While I am really looking forward to it, it now serves as more of the advent of “Songwriting Season” for me. Being in the Rockies means that Write About Jesus is just around the corner. It’s kind of like the appetizer, and Write About Jesus is the anticipated main course. Music in the Rockies will whet my appetite for writing and hopefully re-ignite my dreams, and Write About Jesus and the people there will satisfy my soul. I look forward with great anticipation to both events, eager to discover what great things God has planned, and what He will accomplish when my heart is all about Him.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Two Kinds of Drummers

I'm sitting back here at the sound booth and the band is practicing for the upcoming Sunday morning. This is always a good time for blogging as I sit by a computer for an hour with only minimal interruptions to turn up someone's monitor or ask the drummer to bring it down a notch on the snare. Ah, the delicate relationship between the drummer and the sound man. Each can make or break the other. It's a love/hate thing, really.

I have a long-held theory about drummers. There are only two kinds, two categories to divide them into, and these categories are distinguished solely by which personality disorder a particular drummer is afflicted with: ADD or OCD (Attention Deficit Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Some of you other musicians are already nodding your heads in acknowledgement. Non-musicians have clicked on the "next blog" button in the upper right hand corner. For those of you still with me, I will continue. The ADD drummer drums the way he lives: Scattered, constantly moving, and loud. I've played with and run sound for many such drummers. The best thing about them is their visible passion for the music and their Spirit-led musicianship. I just wish the Spirit would tell them it isn't necessary to beat the drums within an inch of their lives to passionately worship. We have one drummer at our church who needs a Dirt Devil just to suck up all the stick fragments that litter the floor after he plays a service. This sort of ADD drummer often poses a problem for the sound man. You don't want to squash his creativity or take all the passion away, but on the flip side a worship set is much less effective when words are indistinguishable. "...CRASH! ..Indescribable, CRASH!... Uncontainable, ...SNARE! placed the CRASH! in the SNARE! and You CRASH! them by TOM FILL!..." That just doesn't fly with the over-forty crowd, and they're the ones who are always filling out those comment cards. We've resorted to encasing our ADD drummers in Plexiglas, and this has worked well for the most part. The biggest drawback to this is that now the sound of the drums reverberating around their little cubicle only serves to deafen them further, thus causing them to play even louder. At least when they're forty they won't be able to hear anything and they won't write me any comment cards.

The OCD drummer is a good drummer because he is steady, sure, and always on. He rarely overplays and sometimes even shows up armed with his metronome just to make sure. Problems don't usually arise until you need to change something. If you need to repeat a chorus or cut a verse on the fly, you can't just notify an OCD drummer of the change. You have to completely reprogram him. This can get hairy 15 minutes before doors open. But you've got to love the OCD drummer because he always shows up to practice on time, he's always prepared, and, best of all, he stops playing when the worship leader is talking. His music is in order and he's always writing stuff down. The OCD drummer is the safe drummer. They're just not as fun to watch as their counterparts. I watch some of the particularly militant ones play and I think to myself that if they're missing a stick, I have a pretty good idea where it might be.

I don't think any of my drumming friends read my blog, but I think some of their friends do. So if you are one such friend, there's no need to pass this blog along to them. Just sit smugly with your new-found insight into their psychological issues, and silently sift them into their appropriate categories.