Airtable and public views

imagesOne of the cool recent discoveries that I have made with Airtable is that you can publish and share selected information easily through sharing a view and embedding it or linking it on other sites. What this means for me is that finally I have an easy way to create a list of upcoming choir anthems with recording samples, YouTube links, and publisher links and share that with my choir members so that they can review the music during the week or see what anthems are coming up next. Very cool!

I am also using the ability to password protect pages on our church website in order to share a basic choir directory (with information from Airtable) with just our choir members. And with AirTable’s recent gallery view, this could become a very easy way for folks to learn names and faces when they are new.

The ongoing weakness with Airtable is its printing – still very basic and honestly, only barely useful. Maybe this will be fixed in the future… but for now I am still having to rely on CSV exports to be able to do fancy printing when needed. Thankfully, that’s not very often.

Quick playback options in Sibelius

When I write and arrange using software, one of the advantages (and indeed, a constraint sometimes) is that the computer is able to play back via midi/plugins the music I have written. Just like in a rehearsal, though, I like to be able to isolate parts to identify problems or voicing issues. Here’s how I do that in Sibelius.

Thanks for watching, and I hope you found this helpful.

Youth Choir worship

No, this post is not about worshiping your Youth Choir. Instead, this is what role worship has within a youth choir program.

For many years, my youth choir programs consisted of committed young men and women who generally liked to sing. They also generally believed in the messages of the songs that we were learning – which were mostly musical settings of Psalms – as well as hymn arrangements, spirituals, and generic-Christian gospel songs. Rehearsals opened or closed with prayer, and often I would touch on the text during rehearsal in order to have a teaching/devotional moment with the choir. The rest of the spiritual development I left in God’s hands.

On tours, we would have devotionals every evening, announcements, and usually recognize a senior or offer a goofy prize for something that had happened during the day. The students and chaperones were always so tired though that sometimes it felt like a final hurdle to overcome before bedtime. On retreats (when we had them), I offered more intentional worship opportunities – and was always a little disappointed when they felt sterile or foreign, which was just about every time. I think that because of this, I backed away from incorporating worship into the regular life of the youth choir.

At some level I must have decided that developing a spirit of worship within the choir was not worth the time. Besides, we had too much music to learn to spend time on it. Our tour days were too full to add worship to the itinerary. I didn’t always feel like worship myself.

I now kneel, humbled and ashamed, and ask for God’s forgiveness for the years of missed opportunities. Lord, have mercy upon me, a proud, busy, self-confident sinner.

I realize now that I was asking the choir to run before it could even crawl. I was offering a rich banquet of food to a choir of people who had only experienced graham crackers and apple juice.

We who lead choirs are leading worship, and that doesn’t mean music. The first priority of the choral ensemble is to be united in worship, lifting up hearts and voices to God. We must practice it. We must develop it and make it a regular part of our time together. I must embrace worship with the choir, knowing now that rather than a burden, it is such an opportunity to allow God to speak to our very soul.

There are always notes to learn. Time is always limited. It will never be perfect. But the time spent in worship with my choir is a treasure that surprises and leads me into the very presence of God.

When you experience the transformational power of worshiping with your choir, you will be amazed at the way God leads His people. Don’t let the years and opportunities go by, and don’t get your priorities backwards. Lead, develop, and model worship and pray with your choir – knowing that our Heavenly Father uses all of our gifts for far more than we can ever hope or even imagine.

(One resource I recommend is the Passion-Driven Youth Choir)

Choral anthem: Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name

I am a fan of (among other things) early American hymn tunes, Sacred Harp singing, and the music of William Billings, who lived from 1746-1800. Learn more about Billings at Wikipedia.

Our choir will be singing one of Billings’ tunes, MEDWAY (not the MEDWAY you may know), and I have typeset it to fit on one page front and back. The text comes from Isaac Watt’s paraphrase of Psalm 95:

Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name,
And in His strength rejoice,
When His salvation is our theme,
Exalted be our voice.

Download the PDF: Billings – Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name – MEDWAY.
Need it transposed? Just ask in the comments below.

CPDL has two other versions of this piece by Billings: Standard Notation, G; Shape Note, G


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: 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 – 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, – 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.