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Getting Started With A Small Worship Team

From Chris Antill serving in Houma, LA
QUESTION:Brass and winds?

“I am running 2 contemporary and 1 blended services. We have a praise band and team in place, but we have some instrumentalists (brass and winds) that I would really like to get involved. Most of what the band plays are from lead sheets with guitar friendly keys. How do I begin with just a few players in a contemporary setting?”


I’ve been told more than once that a reason I was hired at Saddleback Church was my philosophy of involving the gifts of the church body in the worship teams, in particular my openness to using instrumentalists and augmenting the basic rhythm section. The second staff person I hired was a part-time arranger. (The first person was a part-time sound engineer.)

One of the first musical teams I started was the Saddleback Orchestra. I had some background in college with orchestration and conducting, but I had never started an orchestra before. My music ministry slogan carried us through the first year: “More than music, we’re a family.”

With the orchestra, the most important reason for our gathering was relationship building. Our music wasn’t really good at first, but our fellowship was. We met every Tuesday night and rehearsed as much music as I could write in a week until we hired the arranger. As for my writing, I used a very simple software program called Professional Composer. Today, the software programs available to help you are affordable, intuitive and accessible. See the end of this article for a list of a few software options.

At that time, technically our orchestra was an instrumental ensemble, however the dream was there. Our emphasis on fellowship and spiritual growth at rehearsals opened the door to rapid growth as musicians were attracted to our tight knit group that had big dreams. I would talk to them at length about the purpose of the church and where we were headed as a music team.

At first our orchestra didn’t play on all of the songs, primarily because of my writing skills, but secondarily we were still using tracks for the “specials.” I wrote mostly pads, some horn licks and introduction lines. I orchestrated for the instruments that were available to me because we didn’t have a complete orchestral complement and had a wide range of skill competency.

To begin in a contemporary setting, we augmented our library by buying orchestrations that were playable for the average player. We put the orchestra on a playing rotation: first and third weeks of the month, however we practiced every week. For example, if you have 4 instrumentalists, put them in rotation together as an ensemble. The players understand it’s not an exclusive group and that it will grow. Interestingly, after the orchestra was up and running, we started a new group called the B Band which was primarily horns with the Rhythm section. The B Band instrumentalists also served in the orchestra… We were one big family.

The orchestra fits in well with a blended service style and depending on what your orchestra sounds like, instrumental music with brass, strings, and/or woodwinds can have a very cool feel in a contemporary service depending on how they are arranged.

A key principle in arranging for an orchestra is to remember that less is more. Not all songs need all instruments all of the time. It’s very common in symphony settings for some instruments not to play for an extended period of time. Instrumentalists understand this as part of their training so don’t feel that you have to over orchestrate. I try to write for every instrument in a way that they will contribute to the power of the song, not the volume of the song. Sometimes playing a rest is the most appropriate musical contribution.

It has always been and continues to be very important for us to emphasize that our orchestra is more than music, we’re a family.

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