Bennett News: Music Soars at General Assembly

2015_08_www_ga_01e2bIn addition to my role as Composer / Music Director at Bennett Innovations, I serve as Music Director at my church (I call it “my other full time job”). In 2011 I was asked by the denomination, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to be co-Music Director for their bi-annual General Assembly. It’s a prestigious position, and not knowing how to say no, I jumped at the opportunity.

2015’s General Assembly was held this past July at the Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. It was a 5 day event, with a worship service each night. As expected, there were 4000+ in attendance each night, so the planning/preparations and ultimately production needs were immense.

General Assembly planning takes approximately a year and a half… a year of monthly committee meetings (some local, some via Skype) to put together the theme for the event and sub themes for each night, and 6 months to do all of the pre-production. On the music side of that, it meant selecting 70 pieces of music, arranging, writing charts and recording demos. It also meant selecting a 16 piece Praise Team of singers and instrumentalists and assembling a 100 piece choir.

In our planning meetings, we identified the overarching theme as “Soar!” with Isaiah 40 as the scripture reference. The original idea was to have the congregation collectively read through the entire chapter together in the opening service. However, Isaiah 40 is not a short chapter, so that type of approach might not work well, especially if read by 4000 people. I suggested that we draw on our diverse congregation to find individuals that can read aloud well: pastors, people with theater experience, poets, and teachers. There are people from all walks that can bring written word to life. I also suggested that I could write music to accompany the readers, and the music would change throughout the reading to reflect the tone of each reader’s style and content. We discussed having some foreign language readers to highlight our diversity. Everyone loved the idea and said “run with it.” My immediate reaction was… “gulp,” what did I just get myself into?

I put a call out through the denomination’s newsletter, soliciting auditions. I had people send demos recorded with their smartphone. While awaiting demos, I got busy writing the music. I deliberately took several “left turns” in the music to reflect the mood of the scripture- from delicate, to tense, to pensive to powerful. I used a vocal soloist to bridge long scripture sections and to setup mood changes. I used a variety of instruments to reflect the styles of different readers- from ethereal synth pads with hand percussion, to flute with classical guitar, to pipe organ, to full on rock band. Because it’s very difficult to count on live reading being timed perfectly to music, I notated sections that could be looped as needed. The complexity of the piece required that I conduct the live performance to keep everyone on the same page.

I have to admit I was pretty nervous going into the full production rehearsal with the musicians, choir and readers on the day of the opening service… merely 2 hours before doors opened. Fortunately, everyone involved acted like a pro, prepared well and came focused and willing to adapt as needed. It came off beautifully and made a powerful impact, setting the tone for the week ahead. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career.

Check out the demo HERE.

Greg McGuirk
Music Director
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