Bring Joy To The Music

The joy of the Lord is our strength

As we played we cried. I don’t even remember the song at this point. I just remember seeing Abe’s face decorated with tears of joy. The worship was powerful and the music flowed with the move of the Spirit. As he turned to look back at me on the drums, we smiled knowing the Lord was truly “inhabiting the praises of His people.”- Psalm 22:3  It felt as if the bass and drums as well as the whole team were in total unison. As we left the stage after that wonderful time of worship I can vividly recall Abe Laboriel’s words to me. “Brother Carl, we were laying flowers at the feet of Jesus.” I could not have described the feeling better.

Something happens beyond playing the “right notes,” when musicians make a sound “as one.” Playing well together as a team is fun, but when your heart and soul are united in the holy pursuit of the Lord, something unique and powerful is released.  A language of the spirit is being spoken. A door is opened to the throne room of God.

In these moments I’m not thinking of being a drummer. My heart is totally focused on being in the presence of the Lord.  Maybe it’s the same experience the musicians had in the ancient temple when they made “a sound as with one voice.” The glory of God came into that place. (II Chronicles 5: 13-14)

I don’t remember if someone told me the story or if I read it somewhere, but Abe Laboriel Jr. (the drummer / son of Abe Sr. the bass player) told pop music icon Sting “I want to bring joy to your music.” Sting had just seen Abe Jr. perform at a festival date with another artist. He was so impressed, he asked him to be part of his band.  Abe Jr. got the gig.

Abe Jr. played for Sting for a season like he had for many other artists through the years. Currently he tours with Paul McCartney. Every time I see him play I witness him bringing joy to the music. He makes me laugh sometimes. The same way his father makes me laugh with joy when we play music together. I’ve learned from them as well as other joyful, exciting musicians, to play passionately at all times.  It’s as if they would be dishonoring the gift the Lord had given them if they did not give themselves fully to the music they are bringing to life. I’ve even heard great players say, “If you don’t mean it don’t play it.”

There are times we all feel “out of it.” I have played many times when I was exhausted, emotionally drained or even when I was very ill.  Through the years, I’ve also done my share of playing carelessly with no passion.  But now I rarely, if ever, sit at the drums and not give myself fully to the music before me. Especially in playing for praise and worship, there seems to be a heightened awareness of the responsibility to the calling of a minstrel. And I truly believe that embracing my musicianship as a “calling” has molded me into the player that I am now.  It feels stronger and more passionate now than it did 30 years ago when I started playing professionally.

It’s not a matter of more notes being played or my technique becoming more refined. If anything, I’m probably playing fewer notes now in a song than I ever have before. Well, that depends on the style of music I’m playing and the creative desires of the artist. But in general, it feels like every note counts more. As if each one has meaning. And they do!  Every great musician I know makes the most out of every sound they make. We might say they have “soul” or a “deep feel” to their playing.

So you may be wondering, am I talking about “soul” in playing music, or is this a discussion of technical excellence? I believe this is definitely a soul or heart issue. Technique seems to have little bearing here. The variety of style and technique of playing an instrument seem to be limitless. I’ve witnessed many great players with very different styles. Some actually looked like they were playing all wrong.  Or so I thought.  They would use totally unorthodox techniques, but the sound and power of the music would be indescribable.  There is something about being “into the music” that charges the atmosphere. A musician that gives an emotional, soulful performance seems to impact people deeply. People feel moved. Their soul or emotions have been touched.

I recently attended a Steve Gadd clinic. He spent the afternoon at a local drum shop meeting fans and signing autographs. I had the chance to shake his hand and get a picture. Few words were spoken. I just thanked him for being an inspiration to me.  In a very quiet and peaceful tone he just humbly thanked me for my kind words.

That evening at the clinic, in front of hundreds of fans, he played some beautiful drums solos. But what shocked me the most was, as he played my heart was moved and I felt like crying. I’ve seen many great drum clinics & concerts, so this wasn’t some emotional reaction to seeing one of my musical heroes. I asked the Lord what was going on. This was not a worship event. Then, in my heart, I felt the Lord say, “I have anointed Steve to play.”  WOW!  I don’t know what Steve’s relationship is with the Lord, but his gifting is powerful. And that night the Lord made it clear that it was His anointing and gifting in Steve that empowered his playing.

Is it true of all gifts the Lord gives mankind??  I feel it is! In fact I believe all skill and talent is from God. Even when people don’t honor or acknowledge the Lord in their lives His gifts are still displayed in His creation. For those great talents that are not following God I refer to them as  “the lost tribe of Levites.” That’s pretty wild isn’t it? But think of the many inspiring artists you’ve seen or heard and I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Moving around a lot, making faces, and other outward expressions are not necessarily a sign of a musician’s passion. Sometimes they just look intense, serious, or thoughtful. Although I think some sign of emotion should be happening when you are playing. I mean if music is a language of the soul and you’re expressing yourself, people should see some sign of life! Music should create a reaction in your heart not just your head. Even more so in the experience we have as minstrels expressing ourselves to the Lord.

In praise and worship I feel my deepest emotions. Although, as a professional musician, something always stirs my heart when I’m playing beautiful music… And I’m purposely not describing a style. I think you know the point I’m making, if you’ve ever felt the same way when playing music you really enjoy. If you don’t feel anything when you play, prayerfully consider what you are doing. Maybe being a musician is not the Lord’s call on your life. I don’t mean the occasional slump. I’m talking about the sense of never having an emotional reaction to what you’re playing. If there is no joy or passion in it, let it go! Like Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic runner in “Chariots of Fire,” said “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure,” you should also feel the Lord’s pleasure when you are doing what He made you for.

When I’m playing drums & percussion there’s a sense of peace & joy that comes over me. I really do feel the pleasure of the Lord. I also have a sense that He meets me there with some divine purpose. When I pour myself into the gift the Lord has given me, He’s giving something back. We might call that the anointing. (I Samuel 16: 18 … the Lord is with him.) The anointing to play sounds that lead His people in praise and worship. The empowering to break spiritual bondages or cast out demons. (I Samuel 16: 23 / *David plays for Saul)  Maybe it’s just the Lord’s manifest presence being released when I’m playing to honor Him. The word says the Lord “inhabits the praises of His people (Israel).” – Psalm 22:3 And I believe He does!

So is this something we can learn, like we do a new lick or drum groove? I think so. By pursuing the Lord and being mentored by other minstrels we can grow into our deeper calling.

I think I always knew there was something stirring in my heart about being a drummer, but it took years to understand what this passion is that I have for the instrument. Although it does go beyond just being a musician. It affects my whole life. Have I perfected it? Not at all… but I’ve embraced the journey.

You might be thinking, “Carl, give me something practical to work on.” Well, if you know you were made to be a musician, you can begin here. For starters, I always sing along with the songs or at least learn the words. I want to know the meaning of what I’m playing. Let me remind you this isn’t about thinking every song is great. It’s about you knowing the heart of the song and injecting life into it. “Bring joy to the music.”

Another “soul exercise” I use is to pray when I play.  When I’m practicing I’ll start to pray and then play a solo and just let the music pour out of my heart. Don’t analyze what you’re doing. Just get before the Lord. Literally picture Him listening to the music you are creating and think of the Lord smiling. Be the “Little Drummer Boy” (or girl) and just play for HIM. I think you’ll be amazed at what happens. You might feel your spirit stirring.  If not, don’t be discouraged, just play from your heart and don’t think about performing, or your skill, or anything technical. Just pray & play!

Start to apply these simple “soul exercises” into whatever musical situation you are in. I believe you will see and hear a difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if others don’t comment on how good the music feels or that the worship seems deeper to them. And finally don’t forget to stay humble before the Lord and realize that He is releasing something deeper and more passionate in you and into your music. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, REJOICE!! – Phil.4:4  “Bring Joy to the Music!”

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About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.

Comments

  1. Ken O'Connell says:

    Hi Carl,
    Thank you for putting into words thoughts & feelings I have held for many years playing & singing to The Lord! I just sent the link to our Worship Pastor to hopefully share this with the rest of our Worship Team. I’m sure one day you WILL hear the words “Well done My good and faithful servant!”
    God Bless You—Ken O’Connell—Ridgewood Bible Church, Lockport, NY.

  2. Hello Carl! Thank you for the words! Very provacative, thoughtful, inspiring, and truthful words!

  3. My first reaction after reading this article was, “stellar, beautiful, and inspiring!” I want everyone to read this! We all need to be reminded about the gifts the Lord as allowed us to steward, and use to bring Him glory, and this is an excellent reminder/instruction, about what that is. Thank you for your passion and heart for what you are gifted with!

    • Ah, thanks Linda… my sister (sissy) in the Lord. Leann & I always feel blessed by your support & prayers. Ciao for now, Carl

  4. Hi Carl,

    I totally agree with you about putting your whole heart and soul into playing. When I was younger I did not have the appreciation for the opportunity to play music for God. I believe that time and maturity has allowed me to gain a whole new perspective on what it means to help lead worship. I am thankful for every time I get onstage and lay down a solid groove for the Lord.

    Right after I started teaching a couple of years ago I had to come up with a name for my studio. Wanting to be original I came up with “Groove With Passion.” I tell my students that every time we play, we should do so with everything we have. When you play drums live, actually every time you get behind the kit, we should at least attempt to put our whole heart into it. I know there are times when we’re tired, sick, and distracted. But when we play live, we should give it everything we’ve got. When playing for God, all of our energy, focus, and desire should be to play our very best for the one who gave us music as a gift. I believe God blesses us with musical talent so that we can honor and glorify Him. He always gives us 100% and so we need to give Him nothing less.

    I am blessed to be able to play percussion at my church and also play drum set at two other churches. I am always excited on Sunday mornings when I join my fellow musicans and singers onstage. And when the prescence of the “Lord inhabits the praises of His people”, it truly is a wonderful experience. I believe God taps his feet and claps his hands when we play. That’s amazes me to know the Creator is enjoying the music we play for Him. Now that is Awesome!!!

    Thank-you Carl for sharing your insights with us and what it means to be a worship drummer. I believe worship musicians do have a higher calling and we need to respond accordingly.

    God Bless you,

    John

  5. Hi Carl, Thanks so much for being the inspiration that you are to us all! I lead worship from the drums some so I especially liked the comment about knowing the words and the meaning to what you are playing. It makes all the difference when it comes to putting feeling and emotion into your playing, and not just the playing but your worship to the Lord. I love it when I see all the musician’s singing the words to the songs. It helps to bring that bond as a team that not only you feel but the church as a whole feels. Thanks again and God Bless You Brother…..Rod Diel…… Worship Director……..Orchardville Church Centralia Branch in Centralia, IL.

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