Christmas Music at North Point Community Church – December 21, 2008
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The Christmastravaganza is over.
Take a deep, deep breath. Now let it out slowly.
Repeat for the next two days. (OK, at least that’s been my prescription…)
The Sunday before Christmas is, without a doubt, one of the two most significant Sundays of the year. But we all know that, don’t we? Nevertheless, it’s the day us church music department folk work on for a long, long time. We say goodbye to our spouse and children after the Thanksgiving meal, until we return to their lives sometime around Christmas Day.
So first, let me offer a big horrah to all of you who work or volunteer with your church music and/or production teams. YOU make it possible. Thank you for everything you do for your church and the people you serve!
I’m pretty sure there’s a section of Heaven reserved for us – with top-of-the-line modern gear and rare, vintage instruments. And sound proof walls 😉
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So what’d we do? Lots. So let’s start from the top.
As the entire Service Programming Division, we tossed around a handful of ideas for the theme of the service, from skits and special numbers, dramas, characters, etc. over the last couple months.
However, an idea that we – the Music Department – pitched for the first week of December was so well received, that the decision was made to save it and use the concept for the Christmas Service.
The concept, that is… The actual Opener would then take the next 3 weeks to be moulded, tweaked, and, well, slaved over…
(NOTE: For those just tuning in, we have two 2,800 +/- mirror Auditoriums – the East and the West. It’s the exact same service happening at the exact same time. The welcome and announcements are usually from one side and fed via video to the other side, then live worship on BOTH stages – yep, 2 live bands doing the same arrangements of the same songs, and then the message is live on the other side and fed via video to the other. Confused yet? Yeah, us too…)
The bottom line was that we wanted to celebrate the one thing that drives us crazy most of the year – the fact that we’ve got two stages (East and West Auditoriums) doing the same service at the same time. The synchronization and programming issues that plague us most of the year were going to – for once – be to our benefit.
The genesis of the idea came when we were searching ideas for “Do You Hear What I Hear” for the conclusion of the Listen and Learn series which happen to fall on the first Sunday of December – a natural tie-in to both the series and the season…
While the tune was still fresh in our heads, Eddie happen to hear The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and realized that the carol’s melody fit nicely over the Bittersweet chord changes.
THAT’s where it all started.
Then our music staff – Eddie Kirkland, Todd Fields, Karyn List, Jared Hamilton and I – brainstormed for a couple days, and had tallied a list of popular songs over which traditional Christmas carols could be sung.
We whittled down the list, and discussed how one could flow into the other – all the while envisioning how the eventual medley could not only flow from song to song, but also from stage to stage, and even eventually come together and play the final song as one giant band. We’re talking 2 drummers, 4 electrics, 2 acoustics, 2 keys 2 bassists, a handful of soloists and a 10 piece choir. Oh, and a couple of concert bass drums.
And Pro Tools tracks out the whazoo…. 48 to be exact, all mixed down to the Digi 002R’s 8 outputs, with all the loops, samples, sequences, orchestral programming, background vocal and choir overdubbing, clicks and count-offs.
(Yeah, so BIG props to Dave Stagl and Luke Roetman – our audio heros!)
Alright – now you’ve got a better understanding of the back-story, so here we go:
TUNE #1 – “Do You Hear What I Hear – Part 1”
Starts in WEST with Chris Coleman finger picking acoustic guitar and singing using a great minor chord progression that Todd came up with. Chris is joined by a 10 piece choir of some of our most incredible vocalists doing “ooh’s” on some great, rich stacked chords. Really thick and nice.
At the end of a verse and chorus, the chords become the progression of “Bittersweet Symphony”. Then the actual Bittersweet intro sample creeps under Chris’ vocal tags, and just when the strings reach the climax of the intro…
TUNE #2 – “Do You Hear What I Hear – Part 2”
… the EAST band hits the downbeat where the loop and groove start. Then Ryan Stuart, live in East, sings the second verse and chorus over the live East band. The band then drops out as Ryan finishes the vocal tags. It then leads into a short string transition I programmed while, out of nowhere, a concert bass drum on each side starts beating out a new, faster quarter-note tempo. The strings then lead into…
TUNE #3 – “Angels We Have Heard On High”
… the Intro of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, complete with a mammoth orchestral track, and band, live from the WEST.
(CONFESSION: The track ended up being 3 different karaoke tracks I bought on iTunes that were simply stacked on top of one another in Pro Tools. Each track was great in its own right, but stacking them created an absolutely gargantuan, lush, rich and powerful track. One had a great attack and bite on the strings, while another was dark and rich, and the third added just that much more power.)
Eddie sings the melody of Angels over top the Viva track, and the kicker for this piece was after a verse and a chorus, the 16 piece choir has split to 8 per side, all singing “Gloria” to the descant line of the original Viva tune. So live band and lead singer in West, and live choir and concert bass drum in BOTH auditoriums. Throw in some pre-recorded stacked choir parts, and you’ve got a four coupon orchestral ride, my friends!
Two words: Goose Bumps. Big time!
Eddie then joins the choir for a few more passes at the the soaring descant line, and then, on the downbeat of the next phrase…
TUNE #4 – “Go Tell It On The Mountain – Part 1”
… the EAST band hits a big ol’ windmill chord overtop a big, nasty half-time groove (half of Viva’s 138 bpm). Although we didn’t use the sample, think of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – you’ll get the idea. Ashley Appling on WEST is playing drums along with the East band at this point. Add to that the concert bass drums on both sides, and it’s a drumfest. Todd then sings two choruses of Go Tell It, and at the end of the second phrase…
TUNE #5 – “Go Tell It On The Mountain – Part 2”
… BOTH EAST and WEST bands simultaneously launch into a full on 138 bpm Black Gospel assault. That’s movin’! Think of the church scene with James Brown from The Blues Brothers movie. Again, you’ll get the idea…
Now keep in mind, BOTH bands are also simultaneously being heard on BOTH auditoriums! So needless to say, we had to divi up some parts. John Carrozza in East on piano, Chris Arias in West on B3. Don’t even get me started with the 4 electric guitars and two bass players each doing a walking bass line. Good times!!
And so, accompanied by both bands, Jen Carrozza and her incredible, powerful voice sang a verse from West, then Ryan turned on the soul and sang a verse from East.
And then – yep, you guessed it – the drummers traded solos. Scott Meeder in East for two bars, then Ashley in West for two. Then East one, West one, East half, West half, East quarter, West quarter, then a free for all leading into…
… the end shout choruses, complete with stacked choir, and Jen and Ryan blowing (improvising) over the top. All leading into a big, old, nasty trash can ending. One for the ages….
And, by special request, we even included an over-the-top reprise of the shout choruses and ending. But a little bigger the second time… 😉
And here’s a point of interest: The original demo we pitched was 4 minutes longer and had two more songs – one additional song for each auditorium. The Opener had been chopped, tweaked and edited more than a dozen times before it was all finished, including a few major edits after Wednesday’s rehearsal and even a couple on the Sunday morning…
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The rest of the morning was, obviously, a little more subdued, and far more along the lines of our normal musical styles.
We did a couple corporate carols, including Fee’s All Creation Sing (Joy To The World) using a bunch of the North Point Music Multitracks, and a peppy version of O Come All Ye Faithful that we kinda, well, just came up with!
In place of a message, we did something pretty cool this year. Our media guys made a short film called “Footnote”. It’s essentially a history of Caesar Augustus with Andy as the host/narrator. Eddie and I were asked to score the film, and we were all really pleased with how it ended up. I’m sure there’ll be more on the film elsewhere soon, and I’ll elaborate more later…
However, coming out of the film we did a tune called “Here With Us” – an incredible and powerful song done by Joy Williams. We had Trammell Starks program the incredible orchestral track, but the piano and band were still live. Karyn List sang it in West and Mandy Miller was in East, and both ladies were terrific.
Let me talk about Trammell’s track for a minute, though. It was spot on the original, but recreated with virtual instruments – not live ones. And he did it in a day. His incredible use of samples and capturing and interpreting them to emulate real instruments is truly second to none. Really incredible stuff. Eddie, Jared and I just want to go over to his studio and watch him in action.
Andy then set up the candle lighting, and we moved into some great worship – something that sometimes gets left behind at Christmas as so many of us turn to the traditional carols when programming services. And with the candle lighting we sang:
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Son Of God
and then celebrated on an up note with the really up version of Angels We Have Heard on High that the Fee boys had worked up the week before.
WALK OUT MUSIC:
Yeah, we went back to the Black Gospel “Go Tell It…” vamp from the Opener, complete with the guitars trading solos. (Can you blame us?)
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East Band – Todd Fields, Danny Howes, Danny Grady, Scott Meeder, Earl South, John Carrozza, Ryan Stuart, Mandy Miller
West Band – Eddie Kirkland, Mike Hines, Jeremy Moyers, Ashley Appling, Richard Meeder, Chris Arias, Jordan Watts, Jen Carrozza, Karyn List
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Man, I’m exhausted just reliving it. I need to go play with my kids….