May 20, 2008
As I've said before, there are lots of popular and cult (not occult -- I mean artists with a particular and strong but not huge following) artists besides U2 who have written music in rock, blues, punk, country, soul, and other genres that work very well in services of worship.
Courtesy of songs for the journey, here's a perfect example: a Nick CAVEspers -- playlist of songs by Nick Cave (whose work I admire tremendously) for worship. So check it out:
The Nick CAVEspers.
May 15, 2008
offertory hymns for U2charists
The first U2charist was held before the start of the ONE campaign, and therefore the song "One" wasn't used in the service; it wasn't connected in people's minds with social justice nearly so much as with bitter breakups. But since the ONE campaign, and especially since U2's Vertigo tour, in which "One" was the song played with the band's most explicit appeal to audiences to support the Millennium Development Goals, "One" has become a must for U2charists. I use it as the offertory; it seems appropriate to play the song while people are singing ONE campaign pledges in particular.
It takes a long time, though, for a good-sized congregation to fill out those cards, so it's a good idea to have at least one other offertory hymn on hand. My favorite for that purpose is "Yahweh," from How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. And "Yahweh" is a song that ANY congregation with one member who plays acoustic guitar (just playing D - G - Em - A throughout works) can do. U2 themselves do the song with acoustic guitar and minimal accompanying from other instruments when they do it live (leaving drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. standing in front of a little ten-key MIDI keyboard which he plays with one finger to generate synthesized cello tones -- but I digress). And the lyrics of "Yahweh" are explicitly about offering what we have, where we live, and who we are to God.
So those are my two top picks for offertory hymns, and they're such strong favorites of mine that I think I'll hold off on listing others for now. But have I forgotten any of your favorites? Give me a shout to let me know!
May 11, 2008
opening hymns for U2charists
I think it's important to have the opening hymn be a high-energy song. Especially if you're not going to be having the congregation singing preludes first, it's also good for it to be a song with an intro that starts relatively quietly and builds (e.g., "All Because of You" asks people to jump in too quickly, I think). Some songs that I've found work well as opening hymns for U2charists include:
- "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- especially if you're doing it live and extend the chimey harmonic guitar intro
- "Elevation" -- especially if you start it with an extended call and response in which the lead singer sings, "the goal is ..." and everyone sings/shouts "SOUL!" (listen to the mix of "Elevation" playing as the band takes the stage in the Elevation: Live in Boston and U2 Go Home DVDs to get an idea of how the music would sound -- and, by the way, as long as you've got one person who can play a tamborine, you can do this without a band)
- "Where the Streets Have No Name" -- I prefer to use it as a communion hymn, but I've always wanted to do it as an opening hymn in a church with an organ, with the organ playing the opening chords before the guitar comes in for the intro
- "Beautiful Day" -- works well because it gives some time for energy to build before the chorus. Drawback: the verses are too low for a lot of people (especially women) to sing, and the chorus and bridge are too high for many men to sing (this is particularly true if you're going from recordings, and therefore can't change the key).
- "I Will Follow" -- fun because its opening riff is so iconic. I do like to use this one as a dismissal, though; I picture it as sending people forth like the angel at the end of the Gospel According to Mark, with "if you walk away, I walk away" as the congregational response.
May 08, 2008
guitarist hint: Jekyll & Hyde pedal
I've had the opportunity to try out a guitar effects pedal that provides overdrive, distortion, or both: Visual Sound's Jekyll & Hyde. It's fabulous. On fairly gentle overdrive (the "Jecyll" side of the pedal) it's wonderful for that warm tone in "One" or "Pride (In the Name of Love)" after that chimey harmonic intro, and the distortion side (the "Hyde" side) will give you as much as you need for riffs in "The Fly" or the slide work on "Love and Peace (Or Else)."
I admit that this information is useful to guitar geeks only, in all likelihood, but I couldn't resist sharing it. Non-guitarists, don't panic; the vast majority of information here is for those planning U2charist services -- not necessarily just for the musicians. :)
May 04, 2008
was the U2charist plagiarized?
I don't want to seem grumpy when I answer questions about this, but they come up all too often, in one of these forms. It's either:
Did the Rev. Paige Blair plagiarize or steal the U2charist from you?
Did you plagiarize or steal the U2charist from the Rev. Paige Blair?
Folks, the answer -- disappointing as it may be for any hungry for scandal, is "Neither."
Paige is a good friend of mine. Paige did not "steal" or plagiarize the U2charist from me. Take a look at the frequently asked question, "Who is the Rev. Paige Blair?" for further information. Paige was a member of the email list for "Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG), which gathered 'Generation X' members of the Episcopal Church and their friends for conversation. I was also a member of that list, and knew Paige from it. When I was planning the first U2charist -- planning in 2003, first service on April 17, 2004 -- I posted to GTNG about it. The list discussed it. So when Paige decided in June of 2005 to hold a service using U2's music, it was only natural for her to post a query about that to the list, and I sent her (I myself -- nothing sneaky happened there) a sample liturgy.
Every liturgy and liturgical concept that I've done so far in my career has been issued via a Creative Commons license: you are free to use and modify it without charge so long as you don't make money off of it for yourself and you do give full credit to your source material.
Paige has, according to her own testimony, done this. She has NEVER claimed to have originated the U2charist, and she has assured me that she has done her best to give the media the full story on that subject.
Paige and I remain good friends, and she and I are in complete and public agreement on the facts:
- The first U2charist (sometimes spelled as 'eU2charist') took place on April 17, 2004, in Baltimore, Maryland, and Paige had no role in its creation. I posted to the GTNG email list about it, the Diocese of Maryland used it for its clergy conference, and many congregations within and beyond the diocese held U2charists throughout the rest of 2004 and 2005, and beyond.
- Paige felt called in 2005 to hold a worship service using the music of U2, and posted to the GTNG email list saying she remembered someone holding such a service earlier, and asking for advice. I sent her a sample liturgy, and as I recall, further conversation about this took place with her (though I might be mistaken about this -- quite a lot of people were asking about the U2charist at that point, and I never dreamed it would be important to document its spread).
- Paige held her first U2charist (she spelled it "eU2charist" as well) on July 31, 2005. Check out the original announcement
Paige deserves applause for what she DID do, not approbation for thefts she didn't commit or credit for inventing a liturgical concept she adopted a good time into its development and after it had spread to many congregations.
In other words, please lay off Paige, and please stop looking for scandal in something that Paige and I agree is rather a manifestation of the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church and the world.
Thanks, and please don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like any further information or documentation.
March 23, 2008
Stations of the Cross for Global Justice and Reconciliation
The Episcopal Public Policy Network has made available for free online (and also as a printable booklet) these Stations of the Cross for Global Justice and Reconciliation, which includes prayers suitable for U2charists in any liturgical season, although they are particularly appropriate for Lent and Holy Week.
Check out all of their prayers and litanies; I think they're helpful in a wide variety of denominational and non-denominational contexts.
Hancock UCC U2charist: playlist only
Preludes: "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" (acoustic arrangement, with hand drums and bass coming in on the second verse); "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
Opening hymn: "Pride (In the Name of Love"
Song of confession: "When Love Comes To Town"
Song of assurance (absolution): "Mysterious Ways"
Song of intercession (prayers of the people): "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
Prayer of Dedication: "Yahweh" (acoustic arrangement)
Communion hymns: "All I Want Is You"; "Where the Streets Have No Name"
Song of commissioning: "Walk On (the Hallelujah Mix)" (acoustic arrangement)
March 17, 2008
"Walk On" is a fabulous song, and it's one that I particularly love to include in U2charists. It's also a particularly good one to do live.
One of the best reasons to do it live, I think, is that recorded versions tend to be out of the vocal range of most people in most congregations. People who can sing the chorus almost always find the verses too low. And the few of those who don't find the verses too low find the bridge ("Home ... hard to say where it is if you've never had one"), which is even lower, absolutely impossible to sing. People can always drop things down or put things up an octave, but most people find it difficult to do several times in a single song.
However, if you do "Walk On" live, you can change the key to anything you like, and can even tweak the melody, as I often do to make it easier for congregations to sing.
But is it hard?
Nope. "Walk On" can be done with a total of four chords: D, A, G, and Em (the same chords as "Yahweh," incidentally). Capo it where you like to change the key easily.
Do you need fancy guitar effects?
Nope. U2 themselves were doing it acoustic -- just Edge and Bono -- on the Vertigo tour. I've got fancy guitar effects, and I almost never use them for this song; I go back to my acoustic guitar and play it through a nice, clean (simulated -- I use Guitar Rig 3 and keyboard amps) jazz or acoustic amp.
And I particularly love doing "Walk On" live as a closing hymn -- you can end the song with "Hallelujahs" as U2 do in "Walk On (the Hallelujah Mix)" and on the live DVDs from the Elevation tour, then have the guitarist or band keep playing the song softly while a service leader offers a brief spoken dismissal, and then have the band or guitarist go back up to full volume again and resume singing the "Hallelujahs." It ends the service on a distinctly high note, sometimes with people still singing hallelujah as they spill out the door and toward their cars or the bus or subway stop.
"Walk On" works in all kinds of places in the service -- I think the lyrics fit for absolutions as well, for example -- but the very end of the service is still my favorite place to put it for that reason. It's quite a community feeling singing those "hallelujahs" with a couple of hundred people while walking together from the site of the U2charist. It's a feeling I don't get in many other places - except for when crowds spill out of arenas still singing the chorus of "40" after a U2 concert.
March 14, 2008
Hancock UCC debrief: guitar selection
I've mentioned before that the live music U2charist at Hancock UCC earlier this week was recorded on video, both for broadcast on television (local cable, I gather) and DVD. Dana (the totally cool associate minister in the congregation) was kind enough to send me a DVD, and I've just had the courage to take a look at it.
This is the third time in my life that I've listened to a recording of me singing, and the first time I've watched a video of me doing so. Oh, there have been lots of recordings -- soundboard recordings of solo and band gigs and of U2charists, and some U2charists (including that first one in April of 2004) was recorded to video. I just haven't had the guts to listen to or view those recordings. I've preferred to judge how it went by how the crowd reacts, as music is just about the only arena in which I have a perfectionist side.
I'm watching the Hancock U2charist DVD now, and we've only just gotten through the preludes [which were "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"] so I'll wait to say more about the music and how it worked -- I'll wait at least until I've seen the whole thing for that.
So far, I'll say this: Nadine (my guitar) performed admirably. Nadine is a Reverend brand guitar -- a "Charger HB-FM," to be precise. This is a great guitar to cover a breadth of U2 material. The Edge (U2's guitarist) typically plays fifteen or more different guitars over the course of a concert -- acoustics, Fender Strats (Stratocasters) and Telecasters (Teles), Gibson Explorers, and Les Pauls, and even occasionally a Fender Mustang. Each of these guitars has a different sound:
Fender guitars have a neck that's bolted on to the guitar, which gives the guitar more "attack" and sometimes a bit less "sustain." Most Fenders also have a longer neck, which makes for more tension in the strings -- resulting, among other things, in a twangier sound. Edge plays Fenders for much of U2's material from The Joshua Tree and before. It was hard for me to imagine "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" on anything other than a Strat, for example. Fenders that haven't been modified uses a "single-coil pickup" -- again, for a twangier and more cutting sound, but which can produce a hum or buzz.
Gibson guitars have a neck that's set into the body and glued on, which makes for more sustain (i.e., notes can be held longer). The Gibson Explorer, which Edge plays for "I Will Follow" and a lot of U2's very early material, is great at chimey tones and that almost bagpipe-like sound that a lot of that early material has. A Gibson Les Paul guitar has a deeper body made of mahogany, and has deep, rich tones -- "muddy," for people who don't like it. And Gibsons either have what's called "P-90" pickups (which Edge doesn't use at all, as I recall) or what's called "humbucker" pickups (each one of which has two single-coil pickups wired together so they don't hum or buzz).
Nadine -- my Reverend Charger -- has a bolt-on and longer neck like a Fender, but a mahogany body, like a Gibson -- but the mahogany has chambers dug out of it, so the guitar is lighter, more resonant, and without the "mud" of a Les Paul. And Nadine has humbucker pickups, like a Gibson Les Paul, but Reverend brand humbuckers are, I think, better in many ways than most Gibsons -- they're a bit warmer. Nadine is also topped with "flame maple" wood on top of the mahogany, which adds to the guitars brightness and "attack."
But the biggest advantage Reverend guitars have for musicians who need a guitar or two to stand in for the sixty or more that The Edge tours with is a "bass contour" knob. With that knob rolled up, The bass tones are fuller, and Nadine does a convincing impression of a Les Paul -- only warmer and cutting through the mix better, in my opinion. With that knob rolled down, the guitar gets twangier and janglier, like a Fender Strat or even a Tele. Between that versatility and that of Guitar Rig software, Nadine stood in admirably for a variety of the The Edge's guitars -- and even for an acoustic guitar (as she did for "40" at the Hancock UCC U2charist).
For the most part, I don't expect that musicians will be buying guitars especially for U2charists, but if you're an acoustic guitarist contemplating getting an electric, I highly recommend Reverend guitars -- not only for their versatility with that bass contour knob, but for their quality and remarkably low price (you can get a new Reverend for as little as $500, and a used one for as little as $350 -- sometimes even less).
The Charger model with humbuckers has been discontinued, but you can still find them used on Craigslist and eBay from time to time. If you see one, pounce on it! Otherwise, I think if you wanted a guitar to cover as much as possible of the range of Edge's guitars, I think I would go with a Double Agent FM, a Gil Parris signature model, or a Warhawk II HB (a Warhawk I HB might be even better; the Warhawk II is a bolt-on neck like a Fender, while the Warhawk II is a set-neck, like a Gibson, but you'll have to find the Warhawk I on eBay or Craigslist, as it's been discontinued).
And no, you can't have Nadine. :) I love that guitar!
March 12, 2008
"Please," from the Pop album, is the song that gave us the title to the book Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. It's a plea to people so convinced that they're in the right that they'll support or engage in violence for the cause they believe to be righteous.
It's not a big singalong song, but especially if you're doing a U2charist with live music and you're strongest in resources for acoustic (or solo acoustic) music, "Please" could work well as a confession of brokenness, though it does require, I think, the congregation to imagine themselves as the "you" in the song.
If you're curious as to how "Please" could be done acoustically, check out this version from Elvis Costello (on a classical guitar, no less -- be patient through the narration, which is in German, at the beginning) or this version from U2 on the Elevation tour in Miami.