“Why do you rehearse so much?” my daughter asked.  Well, that’s a long answer.

Spirit Garage rehearsals are intended to be part team building and part worship music rehearsal.  We start by “checking in”.  Each person shares highs and lows of the week and then shares their “Wild Card”—a question that everyone answers.

The highs and lows can be as short or long as they need to be [within reason, of course.  Yes, I’ll ask you to wrap it up when it approaches 5 minutes!].  It is a way for each person to notify the band of the stresses and joys of our lives and allows the band to bond over public, and often times, private matters.  This team-building time is crucial, and I wouldn’t take it away for anything.  It allows each member, in turn, to release some of those distractions and allow the group to take on some of the pressure, while helping each member to leave the world outside so we can focus on music together.

The Wild Card is a fun tag to the check-in [special thanks to Anna Brenk for inventing it!] and can vary widely.  Here’s a very short list of Wild Cards we’ve had:

  • What’s the Best BBQ you’ve ever had?
  • What’s the weirdest Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
  • I learned ______ the hard way.
  • I want to STOP doing ______ and START doing ______.
  • What’s the best live show you’ve seen recently?
  • What’s the first album you remember hearing?
  • What’s the worst car you ever had?
  • Name a time when you had to ask for help.
  • What was your 19thsummer like?
  • Where’s the worst place you’ve ever pooped?
  • If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Believe me, I could go on for days.  The Wild Card is my favorite part of the check-in, but it is also very hard to keep coming up with new ideas.

Once you have checked-in you get to select the next person and so on, until everyone is finished.  We TRY to avoid hijacking check-ins, and I TRY to curtail this, and we all TRY to do our best to listen.  Lastly, if you wish to skip your check-in, you may, and you wouldn’t be the first.

After we are all caught up, it is band business time.

Often times the band business is merely a rundown of what we are playing Sunday and who is doing what.  This will include special events during worship, who is mixing, who is absent, why we are playing specific songs, etc.  If we are rehearsing for a show we try to move through the check-ins swiftly and the scale tips a bit more toward business and music.  Many times band business will entail why a band member is absent or will welcome a new member but all questions and answers are on the table.

First time hearing that song?

While rehearsing songs for the first time, I will often play the original audio [if any] and we will slog our way through the chart in an effort to emulate it. Sometimes we have to stop and restart, but hey, it’s a rehearsal.

Once a run-through is finished I’ll often point out transitions and parts to fix or re-tread; my hope is that this always comes across as a group effort, and I like to think that I’m open to ideas from everyone.   This is where harmonies get worked out and/or learned and the foundations of songs get solidified.

When things feel “mostly there” I’ll often move on and let people work on their parts on their own.  I don’t like to micro-manage people and their instruments, but I know that at times I do. These are the times when I know that the people I work with either trust my judgment or are comfortable telling me they disagree.  Sometimes these two things may not be the case and I hope that the relationship will grow with more stage-time together and more check-ins together.

Halfway through rehearsal I give everyone a 5-minute break.

Use the restroom, have a smoke, check your email (or chess games in my world), and rest your ears.  I urge everyone to STOP PLAYING MUSIC at these times.  Tired ears are definitely A THING.  If this break goes on 20 minutes someone will always get us back on task, if not myself.  I like this. Sometimes I get stuck on playing George Carlin clips for the band and derail myself completely.

Often times the band members are not in the same room at the same time until worship soundcheck actually happens.  People have kids and activities and travel and get sick and you can name a hundred reasons, and we just have to do the best we can.  It is important for me to point these things out like “This will so much easier when our drummer is present” and “Keep in mind that person X will be doing thing Y which means we all have to pay attention to Z or we will have a trainwreck on stage.”

A word about Trainwrecks.

A “Trainwreck” is when one or more band members make mistakes at the same time and no one knows what to do next.  The whole song falls apart and dies on stage while everyone looks around either wondering what happened, looking at another member like it is their fault, or just keeps on playing/singing and the rest of the band leaves them hanging and then they eventually stop.  Everyone turns red, we start the song either at the beginning or where we left off, and then we discuss it at the next rehearsal in the “Band Business” segment.  This usually starts with “What happened with _____?”

Trainwrecks, in my opinion, while graciously forgiven by our wonderful community, are absolutely the worst thing that can happen to a band on stage, and it is with a bit of pride that I can honestly say that in 22+ years of leading worship with Spirit Garage, I can only remember maybe 3 trainwrecks that have occurred on my watch.  I will continue to vigilantly police this level of musicianship so that a] each band member knows their material sufficiently, b] each band member knows the importance of and can effectively read their chart correctly and c] the band as a whole can envision success and not succumb to a disaster such as a trainwreck on stage.

Rah, Rah, Zim, Zam!

Now that we’ve practiced each of the songs I try to give everyone a brief cheer of positivity like “Y’all sound awesome” or “Great work, let’s rock it on Sunday” or even “Everyone needs to practice on their own this week in order for us all to feel comfortable on stage.”  This is usually accompanied by reminders of soundcheck and set times or a “Yes, we play THIS Sunday.”

We could be so much better if we skipped all the check-ins and dove into music and played the for the whole time we are in the studio.  That is not the goal here, necessarily.  Friendship, bonding, and a relaxed environment are very important to us.  I attest this routine to the reason that our musicians have stuck around for so long. It’s not just the music.  It’s not just the church.  It is the relationships that we build while in the church and in the music that keep us attached.  Once those relationships lose importance there is usually band member turnover.

The relationships are the reason that we participate in each other’s weddings and funerals and parties and lives and I definitely want to see them again next week.