If you have been in the back room for the last year and a half and don't know about "Praise and Harmony" by Keith Lancaster, let me introduce you. First of all, for those who do not know who Keith is, he is THE person behind the group Acappella. Singing groups associated with our brotherhood are of two kinds, (1) performing and (2) praise teams. Acappella has never made bones about their purpose - to entertain using Christian music. I have heard it said many times "people will listen to a song that would not otherwise listen to a sermon". Acappella has been preaching to us through song for some twenty-five years and has taught many wonderful lessons about the love and grace of our dear Lord. We might at times sing along with Acappella, but most of us just enjoy listening to their wonderful lyrics and beautiful harmonies, allowing the message to soak in.
Praise teams were organized for another purpose. Their intent is to lead us in worship in our assemblies. It has been an interesting process as to how their existence has come about. As long as we sang from hymnals where songs have been carefully chosen and scrutinized by the editors for good melody, rhythm and harmony, we were fine. The music was singable by the average congregation. When the Christian music industry took off like a rocket in the 70's and 80's, people heard these songs and wanted to sing them in church. These songs were not written for a'capella congregational singing but were written for bands with lead singers. Many of these songs do not easily translate into a'capella because of the difficult rhythm and harmony. Most of the first attempts to arrange these songs were poorly done. As these arrangements found their way around the country, some even got into our songbooks. As a result, congregations found themselves struggling with these new songs.
A few enterprising individuals saw a need to produce a'capella versions of these songs in printed and audio form so individuals and churches could have the music and hear what those arrangements should sound like. They formed groups who started producing CD's and booklets of these songs. Groups like Hallal, Free Indeed and ZoŽ started touring and holding conferences on worship to introduce the public to their arrangements and compositions. Many church leaders started to take notice and arrived at the conclusion that a group at their congregation could also produce the same results in their assemblies as these groups were acheiving in their programs. Thus local praise teams were formed. The singers chosen were usually the best the congregations had to offer. Since producing the music in a readable printed form may not be an easy task, usually only the lyrics were printed and later projected. The praise team was expected to teach the melody and harmony to the congregation. The art of reading music had come to an end in those congregations, as far as the member sitting in the audience was concerned. It became easier to just sit and listen than to actively participate. As the participation from the audience declined, the volume of the praise team was raised in the audio system to make up for the lack of singing from the congregation. Over time, many of these praise teams became performing groups, even standing up front, with the audience mostly listening to their good singing. I might point out that no song from Free Indeed has been requested from us, but our users continue to request songs from Hallal and ZoŽ. I would therefore conclude that Free Indeed is, and probably always was intended to be nothing more than a performing group while Hallal and ZoŽ still stick to their charter to enhance the worship experience.
Now - back to my topic. Keith never bought into the praise team idea as it has evolved in many churches. He has seen what the lack of music training has caused in our congregations. He has taken several popular newer songs and arranged them to be sung in our assemblies. To make sure we learn them, he is now devoting himself fulltime to holding "Praise and Harmony" clinics around the country in local congregations. He is publishing the songs in written and audio form in such a way that individuals can easily learn the songs on their own. So far he has produced two sets of music: (1) Awesome God and (2) Glorious God (just released). When he holds one of his clinics, the churches order the music ahead of time, people learn the songs, and then he goes to the congregation for usually two days and adds his talent to making the congregation's singing powerful and beautiful again. I have only heard good things about his clinics. Visit the Praise and Harmony web site for more information.