From the Archives: Sometimes Bossanova Just Happens – Lessons from Your Worst Nightmare

Today, I thought I’d share one of my favourite posts so far…

I love this clip of Martin Smith leading worship, because it goes to show that no worship leader is immune from the silliest of mistakes:

I remember one time when I was leading worship and we had just transitioned into the song “At the Cross”. As we started singing, it was clear to me that something or someone was clearly out of tune. So I looked down at the keyboardist and gave him a real dirty look. I was sure it was him. As we were singing through the first verse, I was thinking to myself “come on, mate, we’ve rehearsed this. We’re meant to go up to the key of A. When we do the debrief later, we’re going to have some words!”

And then I began to ask: why is the bassist off as well? Am I the only one who is going by what we rehearsed? Why can’t anyone else seem to hear properly? And then, towards the end of the chorus, I looked down and realised, to my horror, that it was me! I had forgotten to capo my acoustic guitar and was playing (and singing) in the key of G whilst else was in A as we had planned. I nearly died…

At that moment, I was humbled.

I take comfort in the fact that something similar happened to Martin Smith! I also take comfort in the fact that Martin Smith also thought it was everyone else before he realised he had turned on the bossanova on his keyboard!

We are never immune from mistakes, no matter how hard we prepare. Making mistakes is part of life, but the important thing is to learn from them.

So, here are some lessons I’ve learnt from episodes like these:

Firstly, humility comes before honour. (Actually I stole this phrase from Faith Community Church’s Statement of Ministry Culture, but I like it, so I’m replicating it here). It’s very easy to look around at others’ mistakes, particularly when you are working in a team. It’s much harder to see your own shortcomings. Sometimes, God graces us with bossanova moments so that it is entirely clear with whom the mistake lies. After you look around to the drummer, or the bassist, or stare evils at the sound guy, you have to conclude that no one else was to blame but your fat finger touching the wrong button.

Secondly, we should put in place protocols to avoid repeats of the mistake. I was talking to my former music director Addie Choon recently and he said that bossanova moments happen way too often to keyboardists. So what he does is that he has his finger ready on the volume slide to bring the sound right down if any hint of bossanova appears. Or some keyboardists start with the volume on zero to gently slide it up. Especially during ministry times.

Thirdly, sometimes it’s good to “bite the bullet” and not take yourself so seriously. In my younger days, if I started singing in the wrong key, or if the song was pitched too high, I would keep pressing on like it was all part of the plan, even though the strain in my voice made it utterly clear that it definitely wasn’t part of the plan. Now, I’m quite happy to say, “oops, sorry guys, let’s just start again”. You’d be surprised how forgiving the congregation is. In fact, that moment usually results in the congregation throwing their support behind you as they cheer and clap to encourage you; their eyes are opened to the fact that the worship isn’t a superstar. Suddenly you don’t have to try so hard to lead them into worship because you are one of them!

Lastly, I wonder whether the Spirit of God is more robust and less prone to offence than we think. Often, we act like the Holy Spirit only works and moves in the quiet times when strings are playing solemnly and thickly in the background. But the Spirit of God also brings joy, even in the midst of our greatest embarrassments.

Have you, as a worship leader, had a bossanova moment? Share it with us below.

If Only All Rehearsals Were Like Today’s

I have just come back from an amazing rehearsal with the Converge Asian Worship band at the Hen House rehearsal studios.

It was an interesting evening. As I was collecting the six pizzas for the band, Darren had gotten to the studio early and sent me a picture of the studio. Apparently, one of the walls was painted with a fairly confronting mural of a topless female angel. I wasn’t really sure how the team would feel about it, so I was stressing out a bit.

To my relief, we all laughed it off and thought it was a pretty funny situation, almost slighty ironic. But for the protection of the wider church, I don’t think I’ll post a picture of the room. Here is a “safer” picture of Darren, Yvonne and Ling on the “clean” side of the room.

And here’s another shot taken at the end of the rehearsal of the whole team, courtesy of Darren Woon (from Lto R: Darren Woon, me, Jun Wee, Gabriel Tan, Addie Choon, Derwin Bong, Yoy Alberastine, Yvonne Mohan, Ling Chua, Clement Ch’ng), and also taken from the “clean” side of the room.

I did come with plenty of faith however, to the extent that I thought that maybe, just maybe, as we were worshipping, the mural might supernaturally melt and all the other bands in the surrounding studios would come and see. They would be amazed and say “what God is this who dissolves unholy murals?” and we would then lead them to Christ.

Okay, so that didn’t eventuate, but every now and then, as we were deep in worship, I would just peek out of the corner of my eyes just to see whether perhaps some of the paint might start to come off.

Anyway, after we had eaten some pizza and introduced ourselves to each other, I told the band that it was great to work with anointed worship musicians whom I have admired and for whom I have the highest esteem. In fact, when I looked at the band, I realised that I had worked with most of the musos and singers before and I had longed to work with them again – so today was the opportunity!

I then wondered what it would be like if Converge wasn’t what we were working towards? What if, like Pentecost, it was the birth of something? What if it was the beginning of more times of worship together across churches, at a grassroots level? What if it sparked a movement of passionate worshippers and psalmists joining together across the city?

With that thought, we started running through the 15 songs on our songlist.

One of the songs which Derwin had chosen was “One Thirst” by Jeremy Riddle (good choice, Derwin!). When I first heard that song earlier last week, something had clicked and I somehow knew that that song would capture the heart of what we were trying to do.

Most of the band were pretty unfamiliar with that song, however. As we listened to it on my iPhone, Pastor Yoy said that we should approach it more pensively and prayerfully, almost in an “IHOP” style. What he said rightly set the tone for that song.

As Derwin began to lead that song, the music started to take on a life of its own and the various worship leaders began to sing over the top of the song. We must have gone for about half an hour of the most amazing worship I’ve experienced for a long time. It was like we were soaking up the presence of God and God’s weighty glory somehow descended. Alas though, no melting mural. Instead, we just experienced wave after wave of God’s presence as intercession and prophetic singing flowed.

In times like these, you are just too scared to do anything because you don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining the move of God. That was how real the presence of God felt. I understand more why the “fear of God” is associated with His presence.

And Yoy began to pray that there would be a convergence of psalmists, priests and prophets in this city.

And I prayed that as the church stood in visible unity, there would be a breakthrough atmosphere in our city that would affect our society and transform its values. That all our churches would experience the intensity of God’s presence that we experienced just then.

I don’t think we really wanted to stop.

And I wondered if it would be like this on the actual day itself. I wondered whether our worship would keep flowing like a mighty torrent that can’t be stopped. Whether God would break free from our programs. Whether the whole day would just be seamless. Whether the other bands that came on the day would simply fold into this one. Whether worship would just start and never end. Whether Pentecost would really come like it did at Azusa Street and change the face of the church and the city all at once.

If only all rehearsals were like this one. If only all worship services were like this one! I can feel the mountains tremble, the singers roar. I can sense the time of jubilee coming, when all the streams flow as one river, when the brokenness and fragmentation of the church are washed away, and young and old will turn to Jesus. Tonight didn’t feel like just another rehearsal. It was a prayerful prying open of the windows of heaven over our city.

Sometimes Bossanova Just Happens: Lessons from Your Worst Nightmare

I love this clip of Martin Smith leading worship, because it goes to show that no worship leader is immune from the silliest of mistakes:

I remember one time when I was leading worship and we had just transitioned into the song “At the Cross”. As we started singing, it was clear to me that something or someone was clearly out of tune. So I looked down at the keyboardist and gave him a real dirty look. I was sure it was him. As we were singing through the first verse, I was thinking to myself “come on, mate, we’ve rehearsed this. We’re meant to go up to the key of A. When we do the debrief later, we’re going to have some words!”

And then I began to ask: why is the bassist off as well? Am I the only one who is going by what we rehearsed? Why can’t anyone else seem to hear properly? And then, towards the end of the chorus, I looked down and realised, to my horror, that it was me! I had forgotten to capo my acoustic guitar and was playing (and singing) in the key of G whilst else was in A as we had planned. I nearly died…

At that moment, I was humbled.

I take comfort in the fact that something similar happened to Martin Smith! I also take comfort in the fact that Martin Smith also thought it was everyone else before he realised he had turned on the bossanova on his keyboard!

We are never immune from mistakes, no matter how hard we prepare. Making mistakes is part of life, but the important thing is to learn from them.

So, here are some lessons I’ve learnt from episodes like these:

Firstly, humility comes before honour. (Actually I stole this phrase from Faith Community Church’s Statement of Ministry Culture, but I like it, so I’m replicating it here). It’s very easy to look around at others’ mistakes, particularly when you are working in a team. It’s much harder to see your own shortcomings. Sometimes, God graces us with bossanova moments so that it is entirely clear with whom the mistake lies. After you look around to the drummer, or the bassist, or stare evils at the sound guy, you have to conclude that no one else was to blame but your fat finger touching the wrong button.

Secondly, we should put in place protocols to avoid repeats of the mistake. I was talking to my former music director Addie Choon recently and he said that bossanova moments happen way too often to keyboardists. So what he does is that he has his finger ready on the volume slide to bring the sound right down if any hint of bossanova appears. Or some keyboardists start with the volume on zero to gently slide it up. Especially during ministry times.

Thirdly, sometimes it’s good to “bite the bullet” and not take yourself so seriously. In my younger days, if I started singing in the wrong key, or if the song was pitched too high, I would keep pressing on like it was all part of the plan, even though the strain in my voice made it utterly clear that it definitely wasn’t part of the plan. Now, I’m quite happy to say, “oops, sorry guys, let’s just start again”. You’d be surprised how forgiving the congregation is. In fact, that moment usually results in the congregation throwing their support behind you as they cheer and clap to encourage you; their eyes are opened to the fact that the worship isn’t a superstar. Suddenly you don’t have to try so hard to lead them into worship because you are one of them!

Lastly, I wonder whether the Spirit of God is more robust and less prone to offence than we think. Often, we act like the Holy Spirit only works and moves in the quiet times when strings are playing solemnly and thickly in the background. But the Spirit of God also brings joy, even in the midst of our greatest embarrassments.

Have you, as a worship leader, had a bossanova moment? Share it with us below.