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.


Sunday review: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

Image courtesy of the blog, “Good Fruit”

We began our congregational singing yesterday at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church with “All Creatures of Our God and King” – an updated version of the hymn that uses drop-D DADGAD tuning in the guitar. Here’s what the forces involved were:

  • Worship leader: vocals and acoustic guitar
  • 2 female vocalists
  • choir
  • electric lead guitar
  • piano
  • bass
  • drums
  • pipe organ
  • congregation

Some notes – our congregation and choir members who are long-time church folks learned this first with the original rhythmic and metrical design of the hymntune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN ( link). Our updated chart is in 4/4 all the way through. Folks in the congregation had an initial adjustment to make if they already knew the hymn, but it was an easy adjustment because they could see the worship leader and the vocalists. The choir, on the other hand, had a harder time because they could NOT see the faces of the leaders. They did figure it out after a verse, but in hindsight I should have gone over it with them ahead of time, even if it had just been that morning before the service. I just didn’t think it would be a problem. Whoops!

All that said, it ended up being a fun chart to play, GREAT words to sing, and enough familiarity and newness to bridge the generations in our congregation. I was pretty happy about the way it turned out. (NOTE – if you play the chart, know that we extended the BbM7 chord another 2 beats at the end, 6 beats in total. Just felt better.)

Download the chart: PDFSibelius 7MusicXML


  • Note: The text in our hymnal is under copyright, so the chart offered here has no lyrics.
  • You are free to use at your church – I just ask that you shoot me a note to let me know you are using it.

Soli Deo gloria!

Best music library program – and, what’s an incipit?


Sure – use Excel if you want to. No shame in that. But AT LEAST turn on the Auto-Filters. You’ll thank me later.

OR…. use an actual database. Right now I am really happy with Google Fusion tables. I basically took my Excel list, exported it as a .csv file, imported it into Fusion Tables and went from there. It’s amazingly powerful and customizable, and much easier to deal with than a raw MySQL database (which is what I was using for a while).

Whatever program you go with, make it more than a list of stuff.

Too often we think of the library file as a way to store stuff and find it later. While that is true it is MUCH more helpful to think of the library as a ministry and planning resource! Come up with the questions you are often trying to answer when planning, and figure out the best way to represent the answers to those questions in your music library data file.

For example – I often can remember the melody line of a hymn before I can think of the name of the text or the tune. So, it is helpful for me to quantify the melody into a searchable term. “Holy, Holy, Holy” (NICAEA) opens with the following incipit: 113355 (do, do, mi, mi, sol, sol), so I entered that numeric code into an “Incipit” column and can now search for that melody. And, a neat side benefit is that as the database grows and you search it for incipits, you will discover similar melodic contours in hymns that you never ever thought of as being related.

This link will take you to the public version of my Google Fusion Tables database – the subset that contains only hymns. Play with that and search by incipit in your browser. It’s pretty cool.