Pipe organ reed repair

Got a note that won’t play? Here’s how to potentially save your church a lot of money and time!

Occasionally all organs that employ reed-based pipes (most commonly trumpets) will run into trouble with a note that doesn’t sound. I’m not talking about a note that is out of tune – just one that doesn’t sound at all. When this happens it is worth checking out yourself if you are reasonably confident of your abilities working with slightly more advanced than medieval technology, and if you can physically fit into and work safely within the pipe chamber.

Put some ear-plugs in and have a friend at the console to play notes. Here is what you are generally looking for (follow your ears first):

The reeds in this picture are the silver pipes with resonators. They are tuned with a tuning wire that comes out of the block below.

Once you have located the non-working pipe, lift it out of position and carefully remove the boot that covers the reed assembly. You will now have something that looks like this:


On the right is where the air enters the pipe and causes the reed to vibrate. Because of the tight tolerances of the tongue of the reed and the shallot (the wood backing the reed), any little piece of dust that happens to enter and get lodged can cause the reed to stop vibrating, silencing the pipe. Take a clean piece of paper and gently insert it sideways, flossing out the area from the end of the reed to the point where the tuning wire presses against it. Replace the boot and reseat the pipe – it should be fixed and ready to go!

Sibelius 7 tips – fitting music on the printed page

I use Sibelius for music notation, and love the program. One common task and facet of good stewardship is how the music is presented to your musicians. Clarity of intent with logical page layout will save time and money, promote a more professional atmosphere amongst your worship team, and prevent dumb mistakes from happening due to awkward page turns and ill-placed key changes.

Here’s a quick 10-minute session on ways to handle page layout in Sibelius.

Airtable update – it’s like building a custom app

My first post on this updated blog, “Collaborative care for the choir” was an initial review of Airtable: www.airtable.com. Now that I have used it pretty solidly, here are my take-aways:

  • Collaboration tools are pretty good – we use it mostly to communicate changes and updates to our choir section leaders. The fact that Airtable puts a timestamp on record changes is really helpful.
  • It is fast. Syncing is instant, and works great on mobile or desktop.
  • The ability to create a web form is handy and really useful – and different from what you would do with a Google form. Google forms are great for collecting info, but Airtable forms are good for getting data into your own….
  • CUSTOM APP! Seriously, it’s like building your own app. Linked tables are the secret sauce to making it work.

Online form

Our choir had an awesome opportunity to sing with Michael W. Smith here in Knoxville for an event that Olympic ice skater Scott Hamilton organized. I put the signup form out via Airtable and had a custom app for the event where I could assign the singers their seating row and handle the number of passes and tickets needed.

I made this as a separate project in Airtable, but I should have made it as a table within my choir roster – and then folks could have simply checked their name off the list and I would already have their contact info at hand. Slick!

True database power

The most incredible use of Airtable is how we are now using it as the data backend for the Knoxville Area Handbell Festival. It now serves as registrar, checkbook ledger, financial reporter, music archivist, contact database, and legal document organizer. For the first time ever, I will be able to handle the duties of treasurer without having to lug around my computer and my black zippered binder stuffed with documents.

Using Airtable requires a bit of database understanding to really get going, but nowhere near as much as any other program I have ever messed with. Access? Forget it. Filemaker? Whatever. Fusion Tables? Still kind of intimidating. Airtable? YES.

Hey Airtable – think you could raise the limit on the number of rows allowed in your free version? Or maybe come up with a slightly lower price for the first tier of paid service? I don’t really know how much it would cost because of the whole “per user” charge thing. Just my 2 cents…

Cedar Springs Sanctuary Choir rehearsing with Michael W. Smith at the Knoxville Civic Colosseum

Read this: “Music Through the Eyes of Faith” by Harold Best

Soon after starting work at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, our worship leader West Breedlove suggested that I read Harold Best’s book Music Through the Eyes of Faith. I borrowed it from his office, and after reading the first chapter decided that it is a book I need to own and take notes in.

This is a book for worship leaders and musicians of all styles, and has so much to say about musical pluralism and its connection to the Gospel. Not every chapter was as engaging as others, but there are chapters which are basically solidly highlighted in my copy.

I wanted to see what others have had to say about this book, and suggest the following reviews:

Each has a different angle and voice, so I encourage you to check them out and hear their perspective.

If you are involved in music ministry, this is a must-read.

Music Through the Eyes of Faith on Amazon (no affiliate link – this review is solely to spread the word about a genuinely helpful book)

MainStage: Free (and helpful) guides

While attending a Sovereign Grace Worship God conference in 2015 (Triune) I had the opportunity to attend a session on keyboarding that opened up a whole new world for me: MIDI controllers paired with software, specifically, Apple’s $30 MainStage program. Jonny Barahona (@JonBarahona) was the speaker in this session, and did a fantastic job blending teaching some of the basics of the program with real scenarios on how to leverage it in a worship setting.

I got home from the conference, dowloaded the program and hooked it up to my controller and got started very quickly. It’s very simple to setup and get started. However, it’s NOT that simple to get to the more advanced capabilities, so I have turned to the internet to find instruction. Here are some of the sites that have been genuinely helpful:

First off, visit Brian Li at www.BrianLi.com – he has assembled a great guide. Brian’s work is in Broadway and electronic music production, so he speaks to a great variety of styles and use cases. He also breaks down using MainStage into topic areas and explains the hierarchy of assigning and mapping controls.

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The second source I recommend is actually a paid service, Lynda.com – which is excellent for many different topics. If you are already a subscriber to Lynda, then you’re all set. If not, there are two free videos that are helpful. I have linked to their YouTube videos below.

The first one involves mapping controls:

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The second demonstrates playback plugins:

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Enjoy these sources, and feel free to chime in with additional items that have been helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Remind – super simple group texting

Disclaimer: I don’t have any connections to this company. This post is here to hopefully provide a tool for ministry.


Remind is great. Dead-simple to use and it works on iOS, Android, and desktop web browsers. It is designed for schools, but works equally well for other organizations. It’s kind of like a version of Twitter that will actually reach your participants.

I offer three good use cases for this app to justify why you might want to give it a look:

Use Case Number One: You Are The Leader Of An Ongoing Group

Want to send a quick update to everyone about a change in schedule? DONE. Snowy weather causing delays or cancellations and you gotta let your choir or band members know? DONE. Quick word of affirmation or fun picture of upcoming events? DONE.

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Use Case Number Two:  You Are In Charge of A Traveling Group

“Hey everyone – change of plans: meet back at the ice cream shop at 3:30” – or “pack your sunscreen tomorrow” – or – “whoever is with Tyler, make him call his mom right now”. This is sooooo handy on choir tours.

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Use Case Number Three: You Are The Lead Communicator For An Event

As folks register for the event, have them also signup for Remind (and let them know that they can opt-out anytime). Need to let folks know about a change in venue or time? DONE. Reminder to turn in surveys or other forms? DONE.

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You may look at this and see an answer to a communications situation – and if so, please share your idea with the world.

Soli Deo Gloria.


Managing and leveraging multiple libraries


Some of the more recent TV boxes (Apple TV, Amazon, Roku, etc.) offer the ability to search across various networks to find the content you want. That’s a pretty compelling feature because I don’t always know which services carry which shows. Sometimes I just want to watch Top Gear without having to know the licensing deals of broadcast media companies.

How does this relate to music ministry? Well… 

At the end of my post about using ratings in your library, I mentioned integrating libraries… and that sounds kind of fancy and maybe even a bit tech-y. It’s really not. In fact, this simple concept offers tremendous benefits when planning and combing through your music looking for that perfect piece. It’s an obvious solution now in my mind to a problem that had developed slowly over the years of using a music library database.

Here’s the problem, and the reason it prompted such an elegant solution: I was using Excel and had a spreadsheet for my own personal music. I also had a separate spreadsheet for my church’s music. When I wanted to search for a particular thing, I had to open up both files and search them both. What’s worse than that, though, is that the columns in these two files did not match, were different, meant different things according to who had input the data, etc.). If I bought a piece of music for the church and then also bought a personal copy, I had to make sure to enter it in both files.

Church file: Documents/Music Library.xls
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(Putting one of these in my own personal list involved re-typing it, because the columns didn’t exactly match)

I got tired of inputting the piece TWICE and decided to make the columns match so I could at least copy/paste the row from one file to another.  And then… an AH-HA moment. What if the libraries weren’t separate files at all? I could just have a “Library” column that told me which library contained the piece:

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(And I can autofilter by Library to see just the titles that belong to that library. Yes!)

This simple step makes searching across multiple libraries a snap, and leverages the Ratings system in the process. Trust me, it’s really handy. My current database contains the records of my own music, three church music libraries that I have working familiarity with, a few records from friends who have presented music from their own collection to be used for the church, and even a library that consists of titles I don’t own, but heard somewhere and wanted to remember them for possible future use.

My options (specific for me) for column: LIBRARY:

  • Andrew Duncan
  • Fountain City UMC
  • First UMC Oak Ridge
  • Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church
  • Hymnals
  • Noted (Not on hand)

Here’s a result of a real-life search using my database. I want to find a Youth Choir piece for the Christmas/Advent season – Advent being preferable because I want it to use it in early December. I would like to see what I have for SAB choir and piano, and would like to see the results sorted by their Rating:

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Looks like Mark Patterson’s “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or Mark Miller’s “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” might be worth investigating. And, you’ll notice that “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is in the library of First UMC Oak Ridge, so it is a title that has seen some use and might possibly be more familiar. I also know where to go to look at these pieces for the next step of planning.

If you like this idea and want to give it a try, here’s the step-by-step plan:

  1. Make a backup of your existing files just in case something goes wrong. Then…
  2. Create a new, “master” spreadsheet.
  3. Decide what columns you want in your new master spreadsheet, and what those column headers mean as well as their order from left to right
  4. Now go to your existing spreadsheet(s) and add/move/rename columns until they match the layout of the master spreadsheet.
  5. Once everything matches, you can simply copy/paste from your existing spreadsheet(s) into the master spreadsheet. (OR use the Save As function to skip this step and step 2). Repeat as necessary for each spreadsheet.
  6. Enjoy your newly integrated view of your already researched musical options.

This is a small investment of time that pays large dividends – and allows me to be a good steward of my church’s resources.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Ratings – unleashing the power of your music library


I mentioned earlier that your music library program can and should be more than just a list of music – it can be an invaluable planning tool as well! One of the best ways to start using your library data in this way is to create a Ratings data point for each of the titles in your library. This allows you to “rank” the music in your library by whatever arbitrary criteria you want to use.

Here’s how I am currently using this concept (sample record from my database):

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(Composer and Arranger are omitted for the purposes of this article)

My rating of this title is 33… so what does that mean?

In my library system, the Rating is a two-digit number, with each number ranging from 1-5. The first number is simply how much I like the piece on a 1-5 scale:

  1. music I would rather toss in the trash than ever hear again
  2. music that I don’t really like but has some other redeeming qualities making it worth saving
  3. perfectly fine but doesn’t particularly stand out
  4. really cool or interesting music
  5. absolutely amazing music

The second number corresponds to how difficult I think the piece is for the target ensemble:

  1. Super easy, sight-readable
  2. Easy, minimal challenges
  3. Average
  4. Moderately challenging
  5. Really challenging

Using this system I can quickly see from my example that this title is something I liked just fine and seems about average in difficulty. Depending on my needs, I could make a quick initial judgment about whether to pull it from my files and play through it, or if I need to find something easier or more engaging.

  • Crunch time! We need a beautiful, powerful anthem with very little rehearsal: I’m looking for titles rated 41, 42, or 51, 52
  • Longer planning – we have an upcoming concert or tour and can spend some time on some great music: probably looking for titles rated 44-45, or even 53-55

I don’t purposefully go looking for titles rated in the 30’s or lower – but it is still helpful to have that rating in place when you are looking at entire libraries of music and you need to address a specific seasonal or scriptural topic or theme. And besides, just because I don’t personally love a composition doesn’t mean there are plenty others who do.

I’ll spend some more time on integrating library databases and ratings in a future post, but I hope that this inspires you to create a ratings system of your own and use that library for ministry.

Soli Deo Gloria.