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By Kurt Schroeder

Silence is not what you’d expect to be met with when entering a room being used for music. “Hello? Anyone here?” No blaring horns or pounding drums or blasting guitar solos answered. Strange. I peered around, wondering where everyone was, and when I turned the corner, everything made sense…

Recently, I joined over 100 people from churches across the West Coast for an AV and music training weekend. Subjects taught included choir, photography, vocal recording, lighting, digital music mixing, live sound mixing, video camera operation, and the course I attended, orchestra. The goal of this training weekend was to open the door for young people to support their local churches with their media and musical talents.

We want to inspire the next generation and spark an interest and desire in them to use their skills...

Felicity S.

Felicity has a background in singing and playing several instruments. She attended the training to assist the music groups, and when asked about the goal for such a training weekend, she replied; “We really want to inspire the next generation and spark an interest and desire in them to use their skills to elevate the music here.”

On the morning of the main event, I took a seat with my plate of food and studied the participants surrounding me. They were varied. American and Canadian, familiar and new, bright-eyed and gray-haired, analytical types and artistic counterparts. Some had years of experience while others were complete beginners, excited to learn. But despite our differences, we were all there for the same reason: we came to develop a technical or artistic skill to further God’s Word and Christianity. 

I took a seat in the packed hall for a brief kickoff, the light hum of conversation around me. A short service was given before a thought-provoking demonstration showing the importance of media, audio-visual devices, and music in helping to convey the message of the Gospel both on a local level and out on the mission field.

Frank, an energetic Dutch expatriate who has more than a decade of experience in AV, started the demonstration by reading some words from a song out of the songbook, “Ways of the Lord.” The words were good, but as he pointed out, they didn’t necessarily touch the heart of the listener just by reading. The lines were written to be put to a melody, so he then asked a vocalist, Liz, to sing a verse a cappella. The melody added emphasis in the right places and she sang well, but there was still a puzzle piece missing. 

“No goosebumps yet?” Frank said. “Okay. Let’s continue adding layers.”

Liz continued, this time with a backing track; the instrumentation lended backbone and power. She sang another verse and I caught auditory effects like reverb over her voice which added depth and silk.

Then the AV experts unleashed years of honed craft; what was once a well-illuminated hall became a concert stage with Liz in the spotlight. Vibrant back lights shimmered with flavor. Two large screens accentuated the lyrics. Along with everybody else, I was struck like a boxer in the knockout round when it was over.

Someone in the audience raised their hand and exclaimed, “Goosebumps!”

Frank resumed his place behind the podium. “Liz sang well, but she’s just the person we saw performing,” he pointed to the back of the hall where the AV crew operated. “It took several people to run the sound, the lighting, and the screens to bring out the depth in this song. It takes an entire team, and if we were missing any of these components, the message of the song couldn’t have been properly expressed. That is the reason we’re here this weekend.”

Armed with a new perspective, the group broke up to go to their elected breakout sessions, and I joined the other musicians. Most of the breakout sessions began with a training phase designed to equip beginners with a basic understanding of the subject. This was usually done by a combination of demonstration or presentation, and once the trainees had a grasp on the fundamentals, they were encouraged to practice with hands-on experience. 

The orchestra practiced pieces together, and the AV lighting crew created fixtures and programs for various occasions. The photographers learned some shot basics before mixing in focus, spacing, and exposure. Those operating video cameras cut between shots and filmed an impromptu karaoke show. 

In the digital musicians’ space, I was greeted by silence, but when I saw the musicians were wearing headphones, everything made sense. Getting to hear a few of their masterpieces made it entirely worth the initial confusion.

When I had the chance, I chatted with a few people responsible for organizing and constructing these courses. Luke is a music teacher and can play more instruments than most people know exist. I wondered about how much effort he had put into arranging the orchestral music program; he admitted it had been time-consuming, but seeing the hard work pay off far eclipsed the effort put in. “Let’s just say I’ve missed a few hours of sleep recently, but it’s all worth it. Working with others who are so enthusiastic for God’s Word has been a blast as well as personally reinvigorating.”

Several participants were inspired to refine their musical craft and involve themselves more. Sylvia, a clarinetist who traveled from Canada to learn vocal recording and play in the orchestra, was inspired to support her local church: “Our studio back at home doesn’t get used enough so we’re going to amp it up. I’m also going to start playing clarinet in our Sunday services.” 

The breakout sessions lasted through the afternoon, and that evening, when we were all dressed our spiffiest, we toasted to our accomplishments. Accompanied by good food, God’s Word, and games that raised laughter to the roof, we were treated to a talent show of the achievements of various groups. The orchestra and choir shared the stage for a few songs, and the photographers presented a slideshow of their captures. We enjoyed a collaboration from the video team and digital music participants: a short video using music made earlier that day. 

Selina is a young technician who had her first exposure to AV during this event. She was on a high, running point as the video mix director during the event: “I’m in charge of the whole broadcast– they actually trust me with it!” 

Breakout sessions concluded the following morning with a final session. While the first sessions were intended to teach handlebars from pedals, this session was simply meant to be fun. It was a chance to goof off, take funny pictures, and create crazy light shows. It was a chance to use new skills in a creative and free environment.  It was a chance to enjoy the company of new friends who shared similar interests.

Wandering through the sessions, I couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiastic and artistic atmospheres. I chuckled – and winced – at the puns supported by sound effects from the AV crew. From a safe distance, I watched photographers immortalize each others’ wild hairdos, stoic motifs, and vintage outfits. 

I asked participants Sean and Kaden – who both drove over 350 miles and crossed an international border to be here – if it was worth the journey. They both answered without a hint of hesitation; “Yes. Always. Definitely. There’s no question about it.”

In its entirety, the training weekend was intended to broaden horizons and skill sets as well as encourage young people to get involved in their local churches and communities. After seeing the energy, creativity, and enthusiasm invested in improving our media, I have no doubt this was achieved. I’m excited to see the elevated quality of music, AV, and media in the near future.