I went to hear one of my favorite bands in concert last night--Cake, in concert with four other bands traveling together on something called the Unlimited Sunshine tour. Cake was in concert even more bitter than they are in their recordings, and while I enjoyed them in a kind of schadenfreude sort of way, the band I loved most was one I had never heard of before--King City from San Francisco.
King City came on twice, serving almost as a filler in between the other bands. Their music was all-instrumental and at one point they introduced it as "cartoon music". The band consisted of an upright bass, an acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, a trumpeter and two guys playing percussion of all sorts--drums and spoons and lots of other stuff. They were having so much fun playing together that I wanted to run up on stage and join the band. At the very end of their second set, the drummer stood up on his chair to hit his cymbals with a final flourish and fell over backwards off the side of the stage. The audience just stood and cheered.
I realized as I was looking for King City's music on the web today why it hit such a chord with me. I think it could be the soundtrack to my life. I can imagine a documentary about my day today with some of their music running in the background, and suddenly my life has a kind of crazy momentum, a quirky but sweet flow.
One of the things I've learned this year at KC is that even worship can benefit from having a musical soundtrack, a "signature". We started to realize this by about the third or fourth time Rick LaRocca played for our Candlelight Evening Prayer service which we began last Fall. We put together the service and then looked for a musician who would accompany the songs we had picked, but Rick brought so much more to the service that musical accompaniment. He brought his own distinctive voice, his own guitar style, and even his own music, some of it composed specifically for the service. It's his music, more than anything else, that gives that service its "sense of self".
When we began another evening service this fall ("Evensong: Worship in Words and Silence" on the fourth Sunday of each month) the design team decided that we did not want people to have to sing during the service. At first, we thought we'd just use recorded music to soften our entrance and exit, but then decided to experiment on using live music as a introduction to the silent meditation period at the heart of the service. When Jason Reed played the Japanese koto at our last service, we knew we had found our musical "signature" for that service. I have a feeling that the koto will become as integral to that service as Rick's music is to Candlelight Evening Prayers.
In some ways, the idea of letting music "brand" a service is a shift for me. For years, I've led churches and religious groups where the variety of musical taste is broad, and so we vary music constantly to give everyone at least a little of what they like over time. So, at any given worship service, we might have 3 or four different kinds of music.
In contrast to this, the new churches that I've enjoyed most over the past years definitely have a musical signature. One church I love plays all old Americana music, another plays all jazz. They've chosen this music not because its everyone's favorite, but because it facilitates the kind of worship they want to lead, sets a mood, a tone. And, perhaps just as importantly, it gives the service a soundtrack, a sense of itself that is consistent from one Sunday to the next. As a result, the church feels like something in particular instead of like something in general.
This is something to think about as we move forward musically at KC. What, for you, is the soundtrack of your life? What's the soundtrack of your worship life? Are they similar--or very distinct?