CCM Drumming. Lord, Help Me

The other day, I played at a worship night event and had lots of fun. I used the house kit: a Ludwig Keystone. I loved this kit. But this isn’t the point.

The worship set was a mixture of some gospel (not hard core, but some), African, and CCM. In all, it was a multi-genre set that was fun.

Afterwords, a few drummers came up and asked about the cymbals and shared some compliments (always a weird thing cuz I want to hear the compliments but I also don’t want the attention). One dude asked me, “Do you play at church”, and my knee jerk response was, “Well, I’m trying not to”. And then I started laughing!

He then asked me, “Cuz it’s too simple?” And honestly, I wanted to say, “Yeah! It’s too simple, dry, boring, and bland”.

But I didn’t. I said, “Well, I do periodically play at churches but I just don’t have much fun doing it right now.” Most churches are playing all the popular worship songs that churches like Bethel, Hillsong, and other mega churches have written. And the genre is this mesh of rock, folk, ballad which we have simply called CCM (contemporary christian music).

I also told him that I grew up playing and attending a church that did musical styles ranging from gospel, r&b, ballads, and latin jazz. That’s what I grew up playing…and still enjoy to this day.

I don’t have anything against CCM music, or the people who have created the songs, or the musicians. In fact, it takes lots of creativity to do what they’ve done. So I have respect for them.

I’ve been in the studio creating some CCM tracks and when I’m doing the creating, it’s MORE fun but it’s not what I prefer to be doing.

In the words of Marie Kondo (Netflix, Tidying Up), the current church music stuff does not bring me any joy. Whatsoever. I don’t blame the creators of CCM or churches that do this style of music.

But I get zero joy out of playing CCM or listening to it.

I’m sharing all of this because I’m frustrated with musical styles at church. Why is it that most churches only do CCM? I mean, really!? There’s some tom stuff at the beginning. Die out at the bridge. Build it back up with toms. And then go into a full blown rhythm at the end.

At this very moment, I wonder if there’s someone from a gospel music church that’s saying, “I wonder why we ONLY do gospel music and not CCM?” Or at a latin american church that only does samba and salsa! LOL!


I’m not saying anything spectacular right now. I’d have to dig a little deeper. There’s the whole convo of being a multi-ethnic church and about being hospitable to others. There’s a lot happening with music, church, worship, with many different layers that includes theology and anthropology.

I think about how a church will have a particular musical genre value and sometimes it just feels imposed on me. Or the idea that I should like it and respond in exuberant praise. “Well, it’s not about the music Roy! It’s about Jesus. Stop being so difficult and superficial”. I’ve heard comments like this before. I wanna say, “Ok. You’re right! I’m sorry.” But I’m not sorry for sharing that I have zero joy in playing CCM stuff. I try my best at it but it’s not what I prefer.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out how I can play more multi-genre sets that capture different ways of experiencing God through music. I also want to be stretched as a musician and learn different genres that give me joy.

Here’s to hoping for different genres to be played at churches so that we can appreciate different cultures and tastes.

And here’s hoping to get more latin jazz, afro, jazz, experimental jazz, neo soul gigs that will help me grow as a musician.

Strategies for Deep Work #2

[This post is part of a book review series on Deep Work, by Cal NewPort. See post 1 for a summary.]


In Newport’s chapter titled “Rule #1: Work Deeply”, he outlines strategies and principles to help us build rituals and rhythms to do deep work that stretches our personal abilities. This first rule is about reducing and removing distractions that prohibit us from doing deep work. I outlined his first strategy (see post 1) about deciding on a Depth Philosophy. Here’s a list of the strategies (I’ll only highlight a few):

  • Decide on your Depth Philosophy
  • Ritualize
  • Make Grand Gestures
  • Don’t Work Alone
  • Execute Like a Business
  • Be Lazy

Ritualize

This strategy is about adopting rituals (actions, gestures, intentions) that help to create and maintain regular patterns of deep work. Here are some of his examples:

  • Identify where you’ll work and for how long
  • Identify how you’ll work once you start to work
  • Identify how you’ll support your work

I found this principle helpful to continue focusing on my work habits and patterns of when and where and how I like to think and create. For me, I like the morning times. It’s when my brain is the sharpest to think critically. I also don’t check emails, social media, or respond to phone calls/text messages. No tech distractions. I also like sitting in my reading chair or my patio. Both are quiet and soothing places.

“Surrounding such efforts with a complicated (and perhaps, to the outside world, quite strange) ritual accepts this reality—providing your mind with the structure and commitment it needs to slip into the state of focus where you can begin to create things that matter.”

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 121). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Execute Like a Business

For this principle, Newport is now interested in HOW to execute strategy. What and how are two different set of questions. We may know that (what) we need to do, but not know HOW to execute it. For this, Newport refers to the book, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” and then summarizes each discipline.

  • Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
    • identify a small number of ambitious goals (or outcomes) during deep work hours…with a tangible reward attached to it.
  • Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
    • measure your success by focusing on activities that will improve behaviors that will impact your long term goals
  • Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
    • have a way to publicly record and track your lead measures
  • Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
    • review your weekly work and scoreboard to celebrate and make adjustments

Here’s one my favorite quotes from the above principle:

David Brooks endorsed this approach of letting ambitious goals drive focused behavior, explaining: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 137). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Bringing it Home for Me

So how does this apply to me? I have a few areas that require some deep work:

  • church planting
  • corporate chaplaincy
  • music

Using the church planting area, my work is to focus on discovering what the wildy, ambitious goals are for a new church. For me, my goal isn’t to get a lot of people to a church service. It’s not even to tell people what to do. Part of my work is to discover what the wildy important goals are. They seem to be connected to justice, healthy relationships, and caring for leaders who have big ideas on how to transform our city to reflect God’s love.

Urbana 18 Recap

URBANA18 Recap

What does it mean to be a faithful witness in a culture that is experiencing so much disruption?  In a church era that is seeing decline and losing influence? In some ways, these were the questions that Urbana aimed to address.  Using the book of Revelation, speakers used its message of Jesus Christ as the Faithful One to convey how God is seated on the throne, ruling and reigning.  

Having an image of God as the model for Faithful Witness gives us a way to give our lives over to Christ Jesus in all circumstances because we know that in the end, all things are made new by his power, authority, and redemptive love.  

It’s in this context that we’re compelled to be a faithful witness in our own settings and purposes so that we might know Christ and make him known.  

WORSHIP

Worshipping and attending the conference with close to 11000 attendee’s was a gift.  While I’ve played drums on big stages, it was the hospitality offered by all the InterVarsity volunteers and team members that most touched me.  Their encouragement, support, and volunteering truly blessed the worship team. The stage managers, production directors, and traffic control volunteers were the real heroes.  It’s the volunteer crew of about 1000+ people that make the conference so special.

The student and attendee’s showered the worship team with love and support.  After the first full day, we fell in love with them and it turned into a mutual partnership of worshipping and communing together.  

We received the following feedback (paraphrased):

  • Worshipping in multiple languages was a powerful expression of all tribes and tongues praising Jesus.
  • Many shared how the worship team seemed like a family on stage and was unpretentious off-stage.  I think that’s because we spent so much time with each other off stage learning to “remain in Jesus” and be as competent as possible on the stage.  We grew in love for each other and that spilled onto the stage.
  • Many long time InterVarsity staffers and directors said it was the best worship experience they’ve seen at Urbana!  I had text messages after the first day with feedback that it was the best start they’d seen. They also said it was some of the most competent musicianship they’d ever had.  
  • The team was praised for how leadership was shared on the stage.  While Eric Lige was our worship director, he had a vocal director, two music directors, a production engineer, sound engineer, and chaplain.  Each singer lead a song or two from the main stage. It was never one single person who dominated the stage.
  • From a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural perspective, we did at least 6 different languages.  We had people asking us how we could go from contemporary Christian music to jamaican music at the turn of a song.  We really did a wide array of styles and languages to capture God’s work around the world.

BAND CHAPLAIN

I’ve been playing the drums since I was a kid and got really serious in my 20’s.  I’ve played at large church and conference gatherings, on TBN, and have done a few albums.  This experience at Urbana was definitely a highlight. What made it deeper was serving as the band chaplain.  Throughout the year, I built a relationship with the members and listened to their hopes, struggles, and fears.  We talked about their roles and their personal lives. We had people who lost loved ones, hospitalization, and new babies!  People had family issues, ministry challenges, and personal struggles that we prayed through.

Getting to be a drummer and chaplain was the perfect job for me!  I was able to express myself musically and also be a shepherding presence.  

I tried to focus the band on Jesus as the prize–that in January, we were still going to get up, go to our regular jobs, and our hearts were to be turned towards Him as the Faithful One.  Mountain top experiences are very periodic and fun in nature. But most of our lives are lived in the valleys of life. That’s where we learn how Jesus will never leave or forsake us

COMMUNION

When I was asked to lead communion, I didn’t realize who had been leading it in past conferences.  My friend Cory Willson quipped that I’d be sharing the same stage and role as John Stott! I was really nervous after that.  

It come about that the person who was going to lead communion didn’t feel comfortable because she was not fully ordained yet.  Out of respect, she bowed out. The program director knew that I was a chaplain and commissioned to do so. They had conversations about who should be the celebrant and my name kept coming up for reasons I’m still not sure about.  They heard the work I was doing with the worship team and felt that the attendee’s would know me based on the coverage I was getting on the stage.

I submitted my communion homily and it was approved.  I rehearsed it on the big stage the day of and then waited.  It seemed like eternity. I was more nervous about ten minutes of speaking than hours of playing.

When I got up to the podium, the attendee’s cheered and were supportive.  I proceeded and when I got off the stage, my phone blew up with messages from friends watching online or in person.  I was so overwhelmed by their love and encouragement. People asked me how I felt. I told them, “I feel like myself”.

THE STATS

Here are a few telling stats:

  • We rehearsed as a band for at least 24 days.  
  • We rehearsed each song at least 20 times each.
  • 24 hours of studio time
  • 6 straight days of dress rehearsal
  • One original song written that will be a hit (Faithful unto death-Weep no more)
  • Traveled to Orlando twice, Wisconsin, St. Louis, and Pasadena for rehearsals or conferences.  
  • Urbana was streamed online and about 5000+ were watching
  • We played about 7 different genres (latin, black gospel, contemporary, r&b, etc)
  • I facilitated about 20 devotionals for the team.
  • Close to 11000 people attended Urbana

Here are some links to the conference:

https://urbana.org/urbana-18/general-sessions (video sessions)

https://urbana.org/urbana-18/photos

https://vimeo.com/309327755 (original song we wrote for the conference)

Search instagram #urbana18

THANK YOU

I’m deeply grateful to Bill Hoehn, Bob Hoehn, and the people at Hoehn Motors for their support and giving me the flexibility to be a part of this conference.  They made it possible for me to do this.

I’m grateful for the worship team and all the work everyone put it.  It was gift to see them all shine! It was a great learning experience for me and learned a lot about music, multi-ethnicity, team dynamics, and about own self.  

I want to thank Una Lucey Lee for trusting me to celebrate communion and for all her encouragement throughout the year.  She is a force to be reckoned with. 🙂

I also want to thank Ruth Hubbard for her constant support.

Lastly, I’m grateful for Christina and my boys.  We made a family decision to do this and they supported me 100%.  Oh, and I’m grateful for Ernie and Lindsey LeDuc. He’s my basstie!

I imagine that this team will be lifelong friends and that we’ll conspire together in the future!

Studio work

A few things I learned about tracking drums in the studio:

Take your time planning out the song: Groove. Dynamics.

What do the different parts of the song call for?

Sometimes less is more, meaning that if the melody is busy, drums may need to hold down the roots.

A nice fill to setup the next part can create great movement. It’s like you’re making an introduction to the next part.

Work with good people that will challenge you.

Track slowly when possible.

Mad respect “creative process”. You’re not easily tamed.

You made me get vulnerable. Seems that’s what you like, as Bruno says.

After three long days of tracking, I’m crispy. It was a team effort.

Tracking for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, caused me to be crispy.

I appreciated how tough the creative process. You hear drummers do certain things and it’s not so much how complicated it is. It’s more about “how did they come up with that beat or that fill for this particular part?!” That’s the money part.

Coming up with parts that specifically work for this particular song. That’s what we’re trying to find out. So we ask questions about the point of the lyrics or how to contrast or compliment sounds.

Having a range of toms, cymbals, and snares completely changes the texture of a song. Sounds makes a difference to the feel.

Sometimes a part is best played with 8th notes but the hi hats opened just a bit to make it sound chunky.

Studio spaces DO inspire. They have their own ethos.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the process and hope to more of it next year.

equipment:

Yamaha maple custom kit

Sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16

Snares: Ludwig supraphonic, dark horse maple

Cymbals: Zildjian dark K customs (ride, 16 crash, 18 crash, 16 hats), meinl medium thin crash 22, t-cymbals 16 FX crash, sabían Splash