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Christian music

Directors' Toolbox

Set a Festive Mood Before the Concert Begins

December 1, 2010

Christmas MusicOne of the highlights of the holiday season is enjoying one of the many music programs that add so much to the season.  While attending one such holiday concert,  I experienced an added touch that really enhanced the evening’s performance.

As audience members arrived, they were greeted by several small student groups playing carols.   The groups consisted of various instruments and were placed at different locations, both outside the entrance as well as throughout the foyer.  I noted they were spaced far enough apart that they didn’t interfere with each other’s performance — all the while keeping the sounds of the season within earshot of the incoming audience.  The effect was that of instrumental carolers,  creating a festive atmosphere that greatly enhanced the seasonal atmosphere for the evening’s performance.

The “caroling” groups consisted of middle school musicians that had volunteered to perform.  The carols came from several standard holiday collections that can be rehearsed with full band and are easy enough to perform with little rehearsal time.   The director divided the band into the small caroling groups for the concert night.  The caroling groups were so well received that they took the show on the road, and used the instrumental groups at various functions around town — playing before choir concerts and singers caroling before band concerts.

What a festive addition to holiday celebrations!  It not only builds performance opportunities, responsibility and confidence in young musicians, but puts your audience in the mood for a special holiday treat!




Moving toward “Blended” Worship

October 26, 2010
Worship Band Play Along

Worship Band Play Along

If you are a minister of music and have been considering moving your music ministry toward a more blended style of worship, but you aren’t quite sure how to begin with the personnel you have, let me recommend a series to you that is versatile and valuable and will offer you many options as you begin to introduce new and exciting worship ideas to your congregation.

The books are called the Worship Band Play-Along series — there are five different volumes available and a sixth to be released any day now.  One of the wonderful features of the books is that they are adaptable for just about any situation.  If you are just introducing your congregation to worship music, you can have your current pianist and organist accompany you as you teach the choruses to your congregation.  If you already have an overhead or currently utilize PowerPoint, you can use that to show the lyrics.  As your congregation gets more comfortable with the choruses, your instrumentalists (pianist and organists) can begin to play along with the CDs that accompany the books.  This will offer a fuller sound and keep your live musicians from feeling unnecessary.

This set of books is a wonderful tool to implement current praise and worship music into your church’s music program.  The music that is chosen for these volumes is theologically sound and the arrangements are easy to play, sing and learn.  There are separate books available for keyboard, vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, but you only purchase what you need for your particular congregation.  One of the volumes is even dedicated to Christmas music, so that every time of year is covered.

These choruses are familiar and popular and the recordings are of the highest quality.  I have used this series in my own church with great success.  This is a wonderful tool to assist you, as a music director, in taking your church music program to an authentic “blended” worship.

Click here to see more information about the series.


Southern Gospel Music: Part 3

September 28, 2010


By the 1970s there were many traveling groups — some family quartets, some all-male quartets, and even mixed trios were seen traveling to churches and conventions across the country.  The Happy Goodman Family received their first Grammy in 1968, and a second one ten years later in 1978;  Vestal Goodman, the group’s alto singer, won a Dove Award for female vocalist of the year at the very first Dove awards ceremonies in 1969.  Southern Gospel music had hit a mainstream market and was no longer considered “hillbilly” or a lower class of music.

Two of the songwriter/singers who immeasurably helped to pave the way for this to happen are Dottie Rambo and Bill Gaither.  Dottie Rambo, the alto and resident songstress for the Singing Rambos, penned many great songs which were recorded by many artists.  Who hasn’t heard If That Isn’t Love, or He Looked Beyond My Fault ?  Whitney Houston took Dottie’s I Go to the Rock to new heights when she recorded it for the movie The Preacher’s Wife in 1996.  Another of her most recognizable songs is We Shall Behold Him.  When she died in 2008, it was reported that she had personally penned and published more than 2500 songs and was referred to as “the Fanny Crosby of our time.”

Bill Gaither and his Homecoming Friends have probably done more to support and educate people about southern gospel music than any other single individual.  Back in 1990, he decided to invite some of his personal heros to an impromptu videotaping at his studio in Anderson, Indiana.  As they say, the rest is history!  On Saturday evenings, you can always find him on various television stations with a group of his friends.  He penned greats such as He Touched Me, The King Is Coming and There’s Just Something About That Name.

Southern gospel music has become a genre all its own and is now a widely accepted style of music.  The groups that are traveling today perform concerts all over the United States and throughout the world, so the style is not restricted to just the South anymore.  The Southern Gospel Association developed the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame in 1996.  For more information, visit

Click here to see music by Bill Gaither.



Southern Gospel Music: Part 2

September 23, 2010

Many people like to lump various styles of music together in one large category and simply call it “gospel,” but this does a huge disservice to those who are searching specifically for a particular type of gospel music.  The term “gospel” can be divided equally among three specific genres:  Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, and Mountain Music.

Recently, we have seen a surge of appreciation for Mountain Music, due in part to things like the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, and the many CD releases utilizing acoustic mountain instrumentation such as the dulcimer, autoharp, flat top guitar, and dobro.  This mountain music is closely related to “bluegrass,” which originated in Ireland, Scotland, and other areas of Europe.  As people began to settle in the Appalachian Mountains, they brought with them this beautiful acoustic and heartfelt style of music, which has become one of the purest forms of American music.

By the 1940s, southern gospel groups like the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, which incidentally included three brothers and one of their sons, had formed and were traveling in cars to sing in various churches, revivals and tent meetings across the United States.  By this time, the Speer Family was doing this as well, with Mom and Dad Speer and their children, Ben, Brock, Mary Tom, and Rosa Nell.  It wasn’t long until groups like the Happy Goodman Family, The Rambos, and The LeFevres came onto the scene, and by the 1960s families watched the Gospel Jubilee on television on Sunday morning as they were getting ready for church.

While these groups relied heavily on the old songs learned at “singing conventions,” it wasn’t long until they began to write music themselves.  Rusty Goodman, the songwriter of the Happy Goodman Family, is best remembered for I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now and Who Am I.

This type of music, because it was unpretentious and appealed to the down-home mentality of most southern families, was on the verge of really breaking out!


Southern Gospel Music: Part 1

September 16, 2010

Do the names Blackwood, Goodman, Gaither, or Speer mean anything to you?  If you grew up in the South, they probably do.  These are some of the most recognizable “southern gospel” family quartets that have ever performed.

Southern gospel music evolved out of the “shape note” or Stamps-Baxter singing schools of the South.  Early in the 20th century, hymnals were rare and treasured like Bibles, with many using a method of music notation called “shape notes.”  While the system had originally only used four tones of a scale, by the turn of the century, three more had been added, corresponding with the seven unique notes of a major scale.  Each one of these notes was given a shape to represent it, and even though the shape note was printed on a staff, most people who learned to sing using shape notes had no idea what pitches they were singing.  They knew only what shapes correspond to the seven tones of a scale:  do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.  While they may not have been musically trained, they were taught to sing with gusto!

Shape note schools were founded all over our country, even as far back as the 1700s, but through the years, many went by the wayside.  It seems that people of the South held on to this tradition and many are still active today.  In 1924, the Stamps-Baxter Music Company was founded in Dallas, Texas.  Familiar songs like If We Never Meet Again, I Will Meet You in the Morning and Just a Little Talk With Jesus were published by Stamps-Baxter.  One of the ways that folks heard these songs was by traveling quartets, usually four men, who sang these songs and others like them in churches throughout the South.  These quartets paved the way for the southern gospel music we know today. 

I’ll share more of the southern gospel music story soon.


New sacred musicals!

July 17, 2010

The new Christmas musicals are in!  If you perform musicals with your church choir, we offer a nice preview area for you on our website at the address   We developed this special place on our site a few months ago to make it easier for music ministers to review musicals and cantatas anywhere there’s computer access.   Many choir directors have told us they really like having all the new musicals in one place, and especially like being able to listen to the full-length recording and see the entire work. 

We think you’ll find this year’s new musicals offer wonderful moments for your congregation for the Christmas season.  The list of composers represents the best in sacred music writing today, including Joseph Martin, Joel Raney, Tom Fettke, Randy Vader,  Jay Rouse, Benjamin Harlan, Pepper Choplin, Anna Laura Page and more.  They are so very good at what they do.  Stop by and check out what they’ve been writing for you.

An important voice in the church

March 8, 2010

A special event takes place each year that demonstrates the unique nature of a calling to music ministry.  Each year scores of Christian music publishers gather together for fellowship and knowledge-sharing as members of the Church Music Publishers Association.  During this time, members reconnect with old friends, welcome new friends, and pause to define and reaffirm the true purpose of their work.  Sure, they are businessmen and women with a job to do, but they are so much more.  They are a warm and gracious group of outstanding musicians, with a sense of the purpose not found in most industries. 

Over the coming months, we here at Pepper will see and hear the fruits of their labor in the musicals, octavos and praise charts they create.  We’ll gladly share all of this with you.  We know our publishing friends are right now working with passion to provide music worthy of bringing the Word to you and your congregation.  Their days are filled with the necessary business of publishing: composing, editing, printing and recording; but as you can imagine, their work is more than a job.  It is their mission and their ministry.  

Look for music from this year’s CMPA attendees: 

Albert E. Brumley & Sons, Alfred Publishing Company, Augsburg Fortress, Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Carl Fischer, Choristers Guild, Daywind Music Publishing, Emack Music, EMI CMG Publishing, Fred Bock Music Company, GIA Publications, Hal Leonard Publishing, Hillsong Publishing, Hinshaw Music, Hope Publishing, Integrity Media, Jeffers Handbell Supply, Kingsway Communications, Lifeway Worship Music Group, Lillenas Publishing Group, Lilly Mach Music, The Lorenz Corporation, Mann Music, Maranatha Music, Nelon Music Group, Praisegathering Music Group, Razor and Tie Music, Rush Hicks, Jr., Shawnee Press, Simpleville Music, Small Stone Media, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Soundforth, Sunmin Music, Troubadour for the Lord, Vineyard Music Global, Word Music, Brier Patch Music, Fred Bock Institute of Music, Getty Music, Weimer Consulting.


In their own words: Third Day

March 6, 2010
Third Day

Third Day

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) offers some wonderful audio portaits from leading songwriters, giving you a chance to hear the artist in their own words.   We particularly enjoyed hearing insights from Mark Lee, guitarist for Third Day, who shares how the Christian rock band carries our their faith through their music.  We hope you enjoy this intimate glimpse into the purpose behind the music.  Thank you ASCAP for making this all possible.

Listen:   Third Day interview

Sheet music from Third Day you can download or have shipped: