Book Review: The Heart of Technical Excellence

51yf1hzis4l-_sy346_“The Heart of Technical Excellence: How to Start, Train, and Operate a Technical Support Ministry with Excellence” by Curt Taipale

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 17: A book with 100 pages or less

One of my favorite descriptions of an ideal approach to the technical aspects of Worship Ministry comes from a supplement to a message series preached by John Piper about two decades ago. Here is his explanation of his great term “undistracting excellence”:

“We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.”

I love this concept, and the heart behind it. As a worship pastor, I want to guide our church to avoid the opposite errors of overemphasis on technical excellence—many churches put on such an elaborate production that the gospel can get lost in all the “show”—and lack of emphasis that produces what Piper calls “shoddy ministry”… which, sadly, describes far more churches than those guilty of “excessive finesse.”

But how to accomplish this? How do we get the idea of undistracting excellence from philosophy to practice? There are plenty of technical manuals which focus on the “how to” of technical production, and most books on worship philosophy include some token reference to the importance of media ministries, but there aren’t a lot of resources out there which “connect the dots” between technical excellence and heartfelt worship in a way that is useful and appealing both to technically-minded media workers and to artistically-minded worship musicians.

Enter Curt Taipale.

This small book has proved to be a great resource for me, as I seek to give leadership in an area of worship ministry in which my skills and experience lag far behind my musical expertise.  Taipale’s writing style and obvious heart for worship make it easy for a guy like me to absorb the necessary technical jargon that will help be better communicate my vision for our church’s worship ministry with those who work in the audio, video, and lighting areas. And his decades of expertise working with churches of all sizes and levels of media production give him a unique perspective to communicate a pastoral vision of media ministry to those workers in a way that no technical manual can.

The best parts of the book are his chapters on the relationship between the Worship Leader and the Sound Guy. I’m grateful to have Ray Stephens, our church’s Director of Media Ministries, as my “wingman,” and am glad we were both able to read this book recently. I pray this book will help us strengthen our relationship, and, in turn, to strengthen the overall media ministry at FBC Powell in a way that leads us toward undistracting excellence week in and week out.

If you’re a pastor, worship leader, or church media technician, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book. Print copies are apparently rare, but the Kindle version is under $4 here.

Interested in an Introductory Class on Christian Worldview & Philosophy?

In the last two weeks I’ve had several meetings brainstorming possible collaborations between the School of Performing Arts and other Christ-centered educational organizations in the Upper Cumberland. While there are several exciting and interesting possibilities, the one that is most appealing to me personally (and also the likeliest to happen in the near future) is the chance that I may be teaching a course in Christian Worldview & Philosophy for homeschooled high school students.

I’ve had a desire for a while now to incorporate classes at the SPA that would broaden the scope of what we currently offer; things such as Music Theory, Music History, and Music Appreciation. One of the things I love most about music is how well-suited it is to being a tool for teaching about the Great Ideas that have shaped human history. So when I learned that the Sharp Arrows Tutorial Academy was looking for someone to teach an introductory class in Christian Worldview & Philosophy at Peachtree Learning Center, it seemed like a natural fit for a collaborative effort between three different programs!

There are still some details to be worked out, and it’s far from being a “done deal”, but one of the major details involves gauging the interest level for a class like this. If it were offered, there would likely be two different classes: a weekday morning class for homeschool students, and a not-for-credit version in the evenings geared primarily toward parents and other community members interested in the subject matter.

I’ve drafted a tentative syllabus based on a 32-week class (16 in the Fall Semester + 16 in the Winter/Spring Semester). Here are my stated course objectives:

  • Provide students with a firm foundation for a comprehensive biblical worldview, as well as a basic understanding of major philosophical ideas that have competed with this worldview in shaping the world in which we live.
  • Investigate ways in which philosophy and worldview influence popular culture (music, art, literature, movies, etc) and how these cultural artifacts in turn influence the thinking of individuals and entire societies.
  • Equip students to be able to articulate a biblical worldview and defend it against challenges, while understanding that the proper end of apologetics is evangelism.

My three primary teaching sources would be The Truth Project materials from Dr. Del Tackett, Seven Men Who Rule the World From the Grave by David Breese (my review), and Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey (my review). In addition to studying some of the most influential philosophers in history, there will be a heavy emphasis on music and art history, showing how differing worldviews affect popular culture. I’m also hoping to end the class with a “field trip” to the Frist Center for the Arts and the Nashville Symphony.

Whether this class happens beginning this Fall or not, I definitely plan to teach this at some point. So let me know if you or your teenage child would be interested in something like this and I’ll keep you informed on when and where it will be happening!

A Big Week for Cookeville Concerts

For those in the Cookeville and Crossville areas, there are several really great opportunities to hear live music in the next two weeks. Some have a price of admission, while others are free. I hope you’ll take advantage and attend one or more of these concerts!

Chamber Music for Winds, Strings, and Voice, featuring Robert Swan, piano

Part of Tennessee Tech’s “Center Stage Concert Series”, this performance will be held in the Bryan Fine Arts building tonight (April 18) at 7:30. The Center Stage concerts are always tremendous, and always free!

School of Performing Arts Student Recitals

Students from the Stevens Street School of Performing Arts will be performing in three recitals this week. Each will feature students of various ability levels playing a wide variety of instruments. These recitals are a great encouragement to me, and also wonderful for those who are considering taking music lessons. Children and parents can see what our students are capable of doing, which is helpful when deciding where to take lessons! The recitals will be held in the sanctuary of Stevens Street Baptist Church at 7:00 Thursday evening (April 19), and 5:00 and 7:00 Friday evening (April 20). All are free and open to the public.

TTU Symphony Band and Concert Band

As an alumnus I realize that I’m partial, but I think the Symphony Band is one of the best collegiate bands in the region! Their spring concert will be held in the Bryan Fine Arts building on Friday evening (April 20) at 7:30, and will be free. Students playing band instruments really need to have opportunities to hear great bands, so parents, get them there!

Southern Stars Symphonic Brass with Buddy Greene

The Southern Stars Brass Band is a great group, and one I’ve really enjoyed playing with. But of all the concerts we’ve played in the band’s three years of existence, this is the one I’ve anticipated most. In addition to a show consisting primarily of swingin’ hits from the big band era, we’ll be featuring guest artist Buddy Greene, who is the world’s greatest harmonica player. He’s most known as a member of the Gaither Band, and for co-writing the song Mary, Did You Know?, but he’s also a tremendous solo act. He’ll be playing a few songs specially arranged for harmonica and brass band, as well as doing a 30-minute segment by himself. As you’ll see in these videos, he combines great humor with extreme talent!

The concert will be held at Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, TN, at 7:00 on Saturday evening (April 21). Tickets are just $18 for adults and $5 for students (college and younger). You can purchase them at the door, or talk to me and I can get them for you. You can read more about this concert here.

Bryan Symphony Orchestra Concert

Many people don’t realize that we have a professional symphony orchestra right here in Cookeville. Not many towns our size can say that! They always put on a great show, and this one will be no different, featuring soprano soloist Sabrina Laney Warren. You can read about the concert’s programming on the BSO website, or watch this concert preview:

Tickets (if they are still available) are $30 for adults, $26 for seniors 65 and older, and $8 for students.

Tech Troubadours and Troubadours Alumni Big Band Concert

This one’s going to be a lot of fun! A group of alumni from TTU’s historic big band have “put the band back together“, and we’re playing our first gig this Sunday (April 22) at 6:00 p.m. in the banquet hall at Pueblo Viejo restaurant (located in what used to be the Wheeler Skating Rink on 10th). The current Troubadours group will perform a set in between ours. We’ve got a lot of great swing tunes in the book, and have a Wayne Pegram chart where any current or former Troubadour can take a solo (if this is you, bring your horn!). There’s a $7 cover charge for admission, most of which will go to help fund the jazz program at TTU. You will also be able to order from the dinner menu if you like to listen to jazz during your meal (who doesn’t?).

School of Performing Arts Faculty Recital

In addition to the student recitals listed above, we will be holding our first ever instructor recital on Thursday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. This will also be at Stevens Street Baptist Church. It’s always fun for students to see their teachers perform, and I’m excited for ours to get this opportunity. We’re also encouraging folks from our community and from our church body to come out and see what a spectacular staff we have! Our 15 teachers are all incredibly talented, and will each be performing. There will be solos, chamber music, and a couple large ensemble pieces covering a wide variety of genres from classical to pop to bluegrass to corporate hymn singing. This is a free event, and we hope many will come!

Theology Through the Arts

I recently discovered Jeremy Begbie through a chapter he contributed to the book A Place for Truth (review coming this week). He is a professor of systematic theology at the Duke Divinity School, and specializes in the interface between theology and the arts. I have greatly enjoyed his perspective, and hope you will, too. Here’s a good clip to introduce you to him:

Music and the Undisciplined Mind


I’ve nearly finished the book Future Men by Douglas Wilson. It is a helpful book on raising sons, and I have really enjoyed it.

This morning I’d like to share a quote from the book, where Pastor Wilson is discussing the importance of cultivating discernment in boys and young men with regard to the type of music, movies, and art they choose to consume. In this instance, the same could be said for daughters as well:

Of course production in pop culture can frequently be quite demanding but the consumption of it rarely is. Take a series of examples in several different areas. The music of Bach is of course demanding to perform, but it also makes demands on the listener. This is why the undisciplined mind avoids such music; it invites thought, contemplation, discipline, lots of icky things. More than one rock guitarist is an impressive virtuoso, but the fingerboard display makes no real demands on the hearer, other than a willingness to be blown over. The listener to classical music is impressively engaged; the devotee of such rock music is left, with a ringing in his ears, right where he started.

P.S. – The picture at the top is Pastor Wilson, who is obviously not opposed to playing the guitar!

Crossing Educational Boundaries

In the last couple weeks I have represented the School of Performing Arts at a homeschooling curriculum expo, back-to-school events for three public schools (with at least two more coming up), and with families from a private Christian school for which I serve on the School Board.

With as much emotion as gets packed into debates among Christians about which method of education is the “right” one for Christian families, people occasionally ask me why I involve myself so much with all different approaches to education. It’s a fair question.

As a parent, I certainly have my own opinion about how best to fulfill my obligation to raise my children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. But as the administrator of a Christ-centered music school, and — more importantly — as a concerned Christian citizen, there are really only two pertinent points related to my decision to invest in home, private, and public schools:

  1. Every child needs to experience God’s love through relationships with caring, Christian adults
  2. Every child can benefit from what we offer: An excellent music education rooted in the understanding that the arts are a gift from a creative God, and are a primary means through which He reveals Himself to the world. Through the arts, we bear witness to the world that Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are objective realities evidencing the eternal attributes of our Creator.

Lots of Christian families make educational choices that I would not make for my family. Lots of parents, believers and unbelievers alike, give no thought at all to their children’s education, or feel as if they do not have a choice. My responsibility to each of these families, and to every child, is the same.

I love them. I want to teach them to love the Lord, and to show them that He loves them. I want them to learn to appreciate the Beauty that exists all around us in His creation, and to use the creative abilities He has given them to enrich the world with more Beauty.

It is my belief that it is entirely possible to winsomely work toward improvements across the entire educational spectrum, encouraging and aiding students, parents, and teachers throughout the community, while retaining my personal convictions about educational methods. I can and will continue to advocate for a specific type of education which I find to be superior to all others, while acknowledging that it may not be the best choice in every situation, and refraining from judging families who have weighed their options and chosen differently.

In the meantime, I hope and pray that the Lord will use me to impact the lives of children, wherever our paths may cross!

How to Start Your Classical Music Collection

At the School of Performing Arts, I am always encouraging our students to listen to LOTS of (good) music. Nothing helps budding musicians to grow more quickly than exposure to excellent performances of musical masterpieces. Live performances are preferable, of course, but for day-to-day listening, nothing beats a good collection of recorded classics.

Which is why the collections being offered by Amazon right now for just $5 each are such a great deal! They have a series of collections highlighting composers, instruments, or “moods”. Each collection contains 99 tracks… which means they are about a nickel each!

Each of these collections is worth having, but I’ll give you a few recommendations:

Right there is over 40 hours of great music for just twenty bucks! If it were me, I’d stick with the albums arranged by composer, since you’ll start getting some overlap among the other assorted collections. However, if you just get one, go with The 99 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music. I’d hate to be the one to have to narrow down that list, but it is a GREAT collection!

Click here to browse the rest of the collections. There are nearly 30 to choose from! Note that these are not CD’s, but mp3 downloads. This gives you the freedom to play them on your computer, your iPod (or digital player of your choice), or to make your own CDs.

If you’d like any specific recommendations, I’d be happy to assist you. Happy listening!