For a mother’s day present I bought mum a ticket to TWIST. We have both been heavily involved in music ministry for a number of years. She is still carrying the can at St Martin’s, and I had to have a long break when I moved to Wild Street as I was quite burned out. I thought TWIST would be a good thing to go to, as when we’ve been in the past it has really energised us and re-motivated us, and refocused our vision on why we do music at church. It’s a pretty good thing to do with our long weekend too (although just blobbing out would have been pleasant too, but I can do that on a regular weekend).
We get up early and head off to Parramatta and the Kings School. I decide to take all the toll roads because it’s less hassle and also I don’t have to think too much about how to get where we’re going. It’s quick and there’s hardly any traffic.
We hang around in the quad at the Kings School after we register, soaking up the delicious sun that has been hiding behind sopping rainclouds for the last week. Everyone blinks sleepily into the morning light; I don’t think musos on the whole are made to be awake before midday.
After a while, we shuffle into the chilly auditorium, and grab a seat in the third row centre. With about four minutes to go, a giant projection of a clock starts counting down on the screen while the band wanders onstage and starts getting ready to play. The countdown is oddly mesmerising. And the exact moment it hits zero, the band launches into Hallelujah to the King of Kings.
Any sleepiness is gone, a huge grin breaks out on my face, which is reflected back in the faces of the singers as we just exult in singing praises to our great God. I’ve always loved this song sung congregationally, since the first time I sang it at TWIST a number of years ago. It has such a great sense of momentum and when you sing it with hundreds of people you really do get a sense of that heavenly praise. I’m excited to sing again in a room full of musicians and music-minded people who are full-voiced and joyous.
The irrepressible Jodie McNeill is the MC as always, and his energy and enthusiasm is infectious. He introduces Dominic Steele, this year’s speaker, with a game of ‘Twist and Specks’, asking Dominic to sing tunes to some well-known Emu songs using the words from this year’s conference booklet (Dominic gratefully hands the duty over to one of the band members instead, who makes a good job of it!).
We sing more songs, some good new ones that I imagine will be popping up in churches all over the place fairly soon. That’s the thing I like about TWIST – there is so much singing! Normally at conferences you get a couple of songs at the beginning, a couple in the middle and one at the end, but at TWIST you sing two or three songs in a row after each segment from the front.
Dominic preaches on 1 Corinthians 12-13. He reminds us that there is no particular gift that marks you out as a ‘spirit person’, but the marker is whether or not Jesus is Lord of your life. We need to remember that being a musician in church is no more important than being a dish washer – it isn’t the task that is the gift so much as the faithfulness that means you turn up week after week to serve others. Each member of the church has different gifts and each one is called to use those gifts to build up the body (that is, the church) so that it can proclaim Christ. Every gift is needed, valued and wanted.
The key comes in chapter 13, when Paul talks about love. It’s a passage that’s famously used at weddings, but Dominic pleaded with us not to use it: “In context, it’s actually a stinging rebuke from Paul, saying ‘this is what you aren’t‘! Not really something you want to say at your wedding!” But the idea that comes out of it is that our service should be an act of love for others, not an act of self-promotion or false humility. Love is other-person centred, and this must be shown in the way we do everything in church, including music, because ultimately it is all for the glorification of God.
More singing, then morning tea, then we split into two large groups for a ‘thinktank’ session. I go to the one on creativity in music ministry, and mum goes to one on ‘why people don’t sing in church’. We meet up for lunch in the quad and chat about what we’d learned in our sessions.
After lunch is the first of our workshop sessions for the weekend. I had chosen ‘Song Leading Advanced – Harmony’. Perhaps I misinterpreted the title; I assumed that it would be a reasonably advanced group. But when Janelle, the leader says at the beginning “If you’re like me and can hear harmony almost as soon as you’ve learned a song, you might want to leave now and find another group because this is going to be pretty basic”, my heart sinks and I realise that ‘advanced’ means the next stage up from singing the melody as a songleader, not ‘advanced harmony’. But I’m sitting in the front row, she is one of our AFES Staffworker wives, and we had been told we weren’t allowed to swap workshops, so I don’t feel like I can leave.
I’m fairly bored for most of the session, especially the musicianship stuff. But if anything it makes me realise how much of my musicality is intuitive and innate. When did I learn this stuff? I mean, yes, I did AMEB piano and flute throughout high school, and learned jazz piano at uni, but I don’t remember ever actively learning how to sing or create harmonies. I could just hear them. I just knew them. Maybe it was because my mum had always sung to me, and we sang together from when I was a little kid. I think I definitely have a good ear for it, much more than looking at a chord chart and being able to see patterns and possibilities there. In fact, my piano and flute improvisation was always a bit lacklustre because I could never make the sounds in my head translate into the instruments. But with singing, it just came out how I wanted it to sound, usually.
I realise I am very blessed with that!
We head home and are both exhausted and starving by the time we walk in the door. We have pizza for dinner, I sew a little bit, the cat is happy to sit in front of the heater with us, and all is well with the world. Now to bed, so I have the energy for TWIST Day Two!