Service Through Song
In the the following interview from April 6, 2022, Bro. Levi Myers and Bro. Levi Gelineau speak with Sis. Rachel Hocking of Brisbane, Australia about her role in the creation of the Purple and Orange Worship Books. These are compilations of Christadelphian-authored compositions which have greatly contributed to music in our community.
Read on to hear Rachel and the Levis discuss music as service, the process behind the formation of the Worship Books, and even plans for future volumes (colors yet to be decided!). You can find this interview in its entirety in Episode #4 of the Good Christadelphian Music podcast.
Levi G: Rachel, what’s your musical background?
Rachel: “I play piano” would be the simple answer! I started lessons when I was four, and like a lot of kids, eventually went to university and studied piano. Now I work at university and teach piano and do lots of music projects and some research, but it’s all in the field of music.
Levi G: We’re having this interview because you’re working on pulling together the third volume of the Worship Book, which I’m very excited about. I’m a big fan of the first two Worship Books. Let’s go back to the first Worship Book. What inspired you to make a new songbook of sorts? Or what do you call it?
Rachel: I call it the Worship Book. We have the Purple Worship Book and the Orange Worship Book. What happened was, we were organizing music for the Australian National Christadelphian Conference in 2008. Sis. Nita Lawrie said, “It’d be great to have a whole week of music where it’s just Christadelphian music. Surely, we’ve got enough.” I said, “I’ll take on the project.” So that became my job for the conference. I wanted to turn it into something that had quality, that people enjoyed holding in their hand and playing from, and to make sure it had a massive variety of music that came from the Christadelphian community. What I ended up being given was twelve barely written out songs!
So, we gleaned a lot of songs that had already been published into these little handwritten paperback books, as well as grabbing some new music. We also gave a project for Christadelphian composers to write something to the theme “I will wait for you,” which is in the Purple Worship Book [#8]. That’s a song we absolutely love. I know Sydney absolutely loved it, which was actually written for that particular conference. So, we had the Purple Worship Book done leading up to the conference and we launched it beforehand.
Then we did a similar thing with the Orange Worship Book in 2016, eight years later. Now I’m thinking, another eight years later we should be thinking about doing another one in 2024! We’ve now got a whole different generation of composers, and some of them have seen the Worship Books, and the way they’re used, and they really want to share their music through something like that. They’re the ones who have been asking, “Are you going to do another one?” Although some ecclesias might feel like it’s a bit of new music overload, we’re trying to encourage them to use their talents in service, and we need something like this to be able to put their original works in and share and continue to try and raise the bar of music in Christadelphia.
Levi M: I think it’s really cool to see how much new Christadelphian music is coming out now. I’m curious what your process is for this new book on choosing songs. How do you choose which ones are usable from so many? For the first couple of books, maybe it was hard to find enough songs, but certainly not now.
Rachel: I should say we’ve always had people who help us out massively with these projects. So, I usually have about 20 people helping me out with the project, everything from notators to people who check the lyrics and all sorts of things. I really liked the process behind the Orange Worship Book, which is what I’m using now for this new book. The process requires a set date. You must get your composition in by that date, through our website. With the Orange Worship Book, after that date, it was an entire week of listening because there were 360 songs that were submitted.
Levi G: What was the total you selected?
Rachel: It was 130 songs, and that’s to do with the layout of the book and the way the songs are. We condensed the songs a little bit to get them into the book as well. I think we spent five minutes on each song, and it took days and days. It was serious sitting down listening and asking, “Does it work? Yes, or no?” And we’re thinking of things like, “Where could it be used?” “What’s the range of the song?” “How difficult would it be to learn?” “If it is difficult to learn, is it worth it?” Also, “What are the lyrics doing?” “Do we like the lyrics, or if we ask for a change in the lyrics, will that person be open to it?” Things like that.
We’re also trying to make sure that we’ve got a broad range of subjects within the book. That all comes down to usability for the book as well. I know there’re gaps in the book where we need more types of songs written, like it’d be great to have some more Christadelphian-only songs for the bread and wine. For that moment in the service, we just don’t have enough. More songs are needed that are focused on discipleship, in a positive way.
Levi G: I hadn’t thought about a variance of themes before, until you brought that up. That would be a challenge.
Rachel: I find sometimes we, as Christadelphians, have a certain style, but it’d be nice to open the doors and have a much bigger range in style. So, that’s why I wanted to try something like the Worship Book project to just see what people would think.
Levi G: Amen to that. Our goal is to encourage the production and use of Christadelphian music. I feel like the more people hear it, and get examples of it, they will be inspired and say, “Okay, I can do that too.” I loved the video from the Worship Book YouTube page for the song, “Let the Rain Fall.” We covered that song in one of our earlier episodes, because that really struck a chord with me in early lockdown. I listened to it like 500 times.
Levi M: I think it’s so cool to have the access to equipment that we do nowadays, and have the ability to record with a computer and a microphone. It really opens that opportunity for such a wide range of new music, both from a style perspective and also from different parts of the world. Being able to work with Christadelphians who you haven’t even met and having access to all this recording equipment, we can do some really good collaborating, and I think the more that can happen, the more content we’re going to have. A lot of really good praise, obviously praise to God, is the key.
Rachel: I really do think this is a community thing. It is completely anchored in praise for God in an outward way, but it is a way of bringing a community together as well. One of my dream projects is that I would love is to have a book that has original music from the Christadelphian community that’s representative of the different countries that we have ecclesias in. Having it in the original language would be really good. I would love a book that has some artwork and some poetry, and that’s a project that celebrates the community. This is one that I’m really keen to do. I sent out some emails about it, got some replies and then ended up getting busy with some other things, but that’s the dream.
Levi G: I like that idea! Do you have any hopes or goals for the third Worship Book, being different from the first two?
Rachel: I’m hoping we’d reach even more countries from where people would submit songs. I’d really like for it to be even more representative. Like I said, I’d love people to look at the subjects where we need more songs and write according to those subjects. I think some more introspective lyrics would be really good as well. That, and also reaching composers that we haven’t gotten to yet.
Levi G: You mentioned the website and the online submission. If you go to your website, theworshipbook.com, you have the rules for submission, which is great. You’ve done a good job of guiding people. Definitely one of my goals for this interview is to get some people to submit some music for you and to hopefully get it in the book. I think what I’m seeing here on the website would be very helpful to read if you are a songwriter who’s considering submission.
Rachel: It’s got what we’re looking for on this particular project. You might be trained in music, or you might not be, but still be inspired to write something. So, it’s just some help there because we don’t look at people’s training or anything like that, we’re looking at the song itself.
Levi M: Do you ever get a song that you think is great, but then the recording that you’re sent is just very basic chords and you feel like you need to add something?
Rachel: We’ve done some of those. That’s not too hard. The tricky ones for us are putting a guitar piece onto a piano, where the strumming is a certain way. It’s not always going to work, so the guitar songs still very much sound like guitar songs. But what we found from the Purple Worship Book was the people who tended to teach new music in the ecclesia were also the piano players.
So, for the Orange Worship Book we then moved everything to making sure they had a piano accompaniment, because there’s a lot of piano players, and they’re unconfident with lead sheets. I should say we do keep some things tricky on purpose, as well, because we’re trying to educate at the same time. You know what it’s like as a musician, when you’re dying to play something and it’s just at that level ahead of where you actually are, but because you’re dying to play it, you’ll work at it and improve your skills. So, that is something that we do.
Levi G: Something I enjoyed the one time I’ve been to Australia is the idea of the meditational or devotional hymn, and including a performance or a small group performance in your Memorial Service, instead of it always needing to be congregational, which is pretty universal in the US and Canada. I really do think that’s an easy shift an ecclesia could take, especially if they have musical talent. If you have a beautiful soloist in your ecclesia, it makes sense to use them.
Rachel: Absolutely. In Australia, some of our states have an amazing instrumental system where kids learn orchestral instruments at school. You want to be able to have a place for them to use that capability, that skill, in the ecclesia. We want to point them in the direction of using their music for service to God, and to help the community with praise. So, yeah, I’m all for bands, ensembles, all that sort of thing. The piano is the easy way out, and I’m a classical piano player. It is the easy way out because it’s one person. The more difficult way is to try and get an ensemble together and rehearse and have something to present. But collaboration is really special because it involves a lot more people.
Levi M: I want to know what color the next one’s going to be!
Rachel: Ah, I don’t know! We’re thinking maybe an aqua blue or maybe sunshine yellow, something like that, something happy. Or like a pink, like a cerise, would look really cool as well. We use that Buckram stuff, which is used on university theses, so it’s a standard selection of colors that you can look up on any printer. I’m thinking we might turn that into a little bit of a lead up to the book, campaigning, what color should it be?
Levi G: My last question is, how has working on the Worship Books affected your faith personally?
Rachel: Ah, that’s a really interesting question because I’m not sure if I see music affecting my faith. I use my faith to do the music thing, but I don’t think my faith grows because I’m doing the music. I see faith and growth coming from other things in life, like health challenges like we’ve had in our family. I don’t know… for me, this is service. This is a service thing. It’s an expression of my faith, I guess, is what I would say. Doing the Worship Book is an expression of my faith.
Also, music for me is spiritual. It goes beyond anything on a written page. For me, God breathes His spirit into each person, and you can breathe out in service to God through song. You know, we’re using spirit breath every time we sing. It’s a sacred thing that’s happening there.
Levi G: Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for your time, Rachel, this has been a real treat to have this catch up with you. Again, I really hope this interview and this information inspires people to submit songs for the new book. The submission deadline is November 30th, 2022.
Rachel: Yes, please let everyone know! And thank you for having me, I appreciate it.
Sis. Rachel Hocking can be contacted at email@example.com. We thank her again for taking the time to share her thoughts and experiences. If you have written an original spiritual song that you would like to see included in the newest Worship Book, please visit theworshipbook.com/submit-your-song to review guidelines and complete your submission!
For anyone wanting to learn more about how to utilize the existing Worship Books, I recommend checking out the helpful May 2021 Tidings article by Sis. Kristin Atwood: https://tidings.org/articles/christadelphian-worship-books/
(Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA)