The above beautiful piece was created by Nicki Morgan. She drew it for me today, just now, just for this post. Just because I asked her. Thank you, Nicki!
As a musician and songwriter, I tend to be critical of songs that I consider to be written poorly. Most people don't realize that, like all crafts, there are rules to songwriting. Different styles of music have different rules. The rules that I'm most familiar with, and to which I subscribe, are the rules of pop songwriting. This covers most popular styles that we hear on the radio, including Top 40, Country, Rock, and Contemporary Christian, too. CCM is pop music. That's why it all sounds exactly the same. Did I say that out loud?
In most areas of life, I am a free spirit with very little use for rules. But when it comes to songwriting theory, I am very strict. The reason for that is simple. If you follow the rules, you stand a much better chance of writing a good song. That's true in any field. If you use good technique, you're more likely to be successful. Sure, sometimes inspiration strikes and rules are made to be broken. But most of the great songwriters you know and great songs you love follow the rules.
As a worship leader, I got to pick the songs that we did at church. So when I was picking the songs, I did my best to only use songs that I considered to be well written. People who loved this or that song, and wanted to do it in church often found that their requests fell on deaf ears. If I didn't think it was a good song, I wasn't gonna do it. My attitude was, there are plenty of well written songs that are just as worshipful as the one you want to do.
That wasn't always the case. I often used songs that didn't meet my standards because they fit a service or sermon topic. But I avoided it whenever I could. I had an attitude about it. You see, I had to sing so many songs that I didn't like when someone else was picking them that, once I was picking the songs, I was only gonna pick songs that I liked. Or at least songs that I thought were well written.
One of the songs that didn't meet my standards was Revelation Song by Kari Jobe, one of the most popular worship songs to come out in the last several years. I hear audible gasps from some of my readers. It's a song everyone loves, but I refused to do it. I could give you chapter and verse as to why, and if you and I have talked about it, I probably have. Nobody cares.
I've expressed this opinion to anyone who will listen, but every church still knows, loves, and sings that song. What was I missing? Here's the lesson I learned about the value of songs through my friend Paul Kelley, and my friends in the Reunion band.
Revelation Song was a favorite of the band when we were together in our previous incarnation, but the band only did it once or twice, and that was with no rehearsal. Kristen Miller sang lead on it, and totally crushed it, of course. But I still was not sold.
In my last post, I told the story of my friend Paul Kelley, and how he heard of his father's passing. Here's the part of the story that I left out. Paul also loves Revelation Song. We've agreed to disagree about it. After Paul and I returned to the restaurant when he got that call, Paul drove his truck while his wife Denise drove her car to Paul's dad's facility. Paul listened to Revelation Song all the way there, crying and worshiping. It was the song he needed to hear at that moment.
A few weeks later, Paul came to the Reunion concert, which I talked about in two posts, "Jazzed" and "The Wall." He came to support me, but said afterward that it was one of his all time favorite concerts. I've been to a lot of concerts with Paul, so I found this hard to believe. He talked about how diverse the music was, but what he really loved was the closing song. It was Revelation Song, of course, with Kristen singing lead. Paul was transported.
I had forgotten our conversation about Revelation Song by this time. It never occurred to me what kind of impact closing with that song would have on Paul. I knew we were closing with that, and I knew Paul was coming, but I didn't put 2 + 2 together until that moment. I also had not heard about Paul listening to Revelation Song on his way to take care of his father's affairs. I found out about that afterward.
I still believe in the rules of songwriting, but I believe in the meaning of music more. If Kari Jobe had rewritten Revelation Song to my specifications, would it have reached more people? Would it have meant any more to Paul? No, only songwriting geeks like me would appreciate the difference.
The value of Revelation Song, or any song, is not in how well it's written, but in how much it means to people. The right song at the right time can make all the difference. We've all been there. I'm there right now. I can't go into the reasons why, but I've been on the verge of tears since yesterday afternoon. But a familiar Sting song has been going through my head today, and it's been helping me feel better. If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.
That's why it's such a privilege to do what I've done. The opportunity to move people is a great honor and responsibility. Which is why I've always wanted to write well written songs, but also songs that move people. Songs that help people get through hard times. Songs that make people laugh. Songs that make you feel something. Songs like Revelation Song.
When someone tells me that a song I wrote helped them get through hard times, I feel very humbled. And I have been told that by people, on many occasions. But I guarantee you that none of those people were moved by my great technique as a songwriter. If anything I've written has helped anyone, it's because God was in it. Inspiration means breath of God.
News flash to musicians. Music does not exist for us to analyze. It's literally the breath of God. Preachers, there will be no preaching in Heaven, but there will be music. I don't think they'll sing any of my well-constructed songs, but at some point in the proceedings, I expect Kristen to lead us in Revelation Song.