In the fall of 2000, Cindy and I packed up for a weekend and flew to Toledo for an interview with a church regarding their worship position. There were various interviews and interactions with church members — a well put-together weekend by their executive pastor. Some of these Cindy were involved in, though because we had Jacque (at nine months) with us, she was quite busy herself.
One of these interviews was with their amazingly large search committee. I’m not sure everyone there served on the committee or if they were summoned for the interview. Every demographic was well represented among my interviewers. I don’t remember much except a question by someone I got to know once we moved there. She asked if I was familiar with Vineyard worship music. She’d expressed concern that the list of songs I’d been using, which they’d asked for, didn’t include many (if any) Vineyard songs.
I’m not sure how I answered the question, but either I answered it well or the question didn’t figure highly into their decision. No, I hadn’t been familiar with Vineyard songs, a few here and there. And I write today still not a big fan of most Vineyard stuff. I suppose I include them in my Worship Influences series because we did use quite a few of their songs in my early years at the church in Toledo. Most of them I fazed out.
I have several Vineyard CDs but there are really only two, in my opinion, that impacted the worship landscape: Hungry and Surrender.
Hungry had a couple huge hits, songs that churches still use over a decade later: the title track (subtitled “Falling on My Knees”) and “Breathe.” There were a few others we used at my church, including “Your Name Is Holy,” “Refuge in You,” and “Be the Centre” — that’s Cen-tree, because, for some reason, we were compelled to keep the British spelling.
Surrender wasn’t a bad follow-up with “Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing),” “You Are My King” (aka “Amazing Love”), and “All Who Are Thirsty” (aka “Come, Lord Jesus, Come”). My favorite was the title track, a rootsy ballad with a great chorus, ideal for repeating over and over, as we were wont to do.
King of the Mountain
I suppose Vineyard music, or at least these two projects, did impact me, because there were two distinctions between these CDs and other worship albums I owned. The first, and I think this is a typical Vineyard feature, is that a few different worship leaders lead a handful of songs each. There isn’t a primary leader for the entire CD, though the band stays pretty much the same, which lends to continuity.
There may be a third influence for me that I hadn’t considered until I mentioned the band. Indeed, the worship band had already begun to shift away from piano-driven music to guitar-driven, specifically acoustic guitar. (Which Chris Tomlin would bring home — I’ll write abut him a little next week.) My “ideal” band is similar to the one Vineyard used: drums, bass, two electric guitars, one acoustic guitar, and two keyboards — maybe a little extra percussion from time to time.
All Harmony All the Time?
The other distinction, which I interrupted with the band influence, is how the vocal team shrunk from the ’90s going into the new millennium. Many churches would use something like a worship choir, more of an ensemble of a dozen vocalists to back the band and mic’d primary vocalists, including the leader and two that sang harmony, usually an alto and a tenor or just two altos. There would be no more doubling the melody, meaning only the leader sang the melody, while the other vocalists added harmony.
This approach to vocals eventually became my standard after I left that first church in Toledo. All my vocalists have been required to sing (or learn to sing) harmony. And if you’re a male vocalist, you’ll be expected to sing tenor, regardless of whether you’re actually a tenor. The ladies’ parts got lower, since they wouldn’t have to reach for the melody an octave above the leader, but the tenor’s parts would soar.
Along with this change in vocals, those who sang harmony wouldn’t sing all the time, and definitely not harmony all the time. They might back away during the verses or in a quiet reprise of a chorus. Or if they do sing during these spots, I usually want them doubling the melody. Vineyard, and others at the time, ushered in a new sound a lot different than the all-harmony-all-the-time Gaitherish ensembles.
I suppose Vineyard did impact me, even if I’ve only liked a half dozen or so of their songs. The two discs I mentioned are still worth listening to, and a few of those songs I imagine we’ll be using for many years to come.
Join me as I look next week at a shift in worship — for good or bad — to a more youth-centered sound, music that sprung out of something like a tent revival for 20-somethings.