The Sax In Contemporary Christian Worship part II

Continuing from previous post The Sax In Contemporary Christian Worship Music

What I called complementary harmony in the last post, for lack of a better term, is simply polyphonic harmony plus counterpoint. Polyphony is great for sax, especially soprano sax. Examples are Branford Marsalis on soprano backing Sting’s vocals, or Gerry Mulligan on bari backing Jane Duboc on O Bom Alvinho. Of course in Mulligan’s case it’s a vocalist-sax duet, so there is a lot more sax.

Using this type of harmony, the sax can provide emphasis where needed at certain points of intensity in the song. Because of the context, these expressions are added at places that enhance praise, not necessarily where they would enhance the musical appeal of a song. Finding these times requires the spiritual sense of a worshiper, rather than the intellectual or emotional sense of a song writer or improvising musician.

OK, having made some rules and guidelines, I have to throw in the “they don’t always apply” provisions. On some songs the sax can provide basic harmony if part of a brass section. There are some songs where the sax can team with one of the rhythm pieces to good effect. Also, though I stated that conventional sax playing comes from music styles not often used in contemporary worship music, sometimes those styles are used, and a conventional jazz or blues sax style works well. [For example, the Martins song Mighty God].

Finally, I have to clarify one thing. I mentioned that the role of the worship team is to escort the congregation into praise. Ideally, that shouldn’t be the case. The people should bring their praise with them. You could say that today’s worship teams are actually remedial worship teams, because often the people don’t understand praise or are not at the stage where praise readily comes from them. Because of this, the worship team has to focus on its role as a servant of the congregation, helping them into praise and not distracting them from it. But in worship services where the congregation does bring its own praise, then they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do, and the team can just cut loose and join in. Those are the best times, because everyone is focused on God anyway – that’s why they came – so the worship team is not going to distract them and we can all just praise like David.

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4 Responses to “The Sax In Contemporary Christian Worship part II”

  1. Kris says:

    Hey i play the alto saxophone and i have been playing it for about 4 years…me and a few friends are wroking on starting a praise and worship team for school which is going to consist of a acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, a cajon, vocalists, and mayb a sax. I was wondering if its a good idea to have a sax for our praise team…

  2. admin says:

    Sure, why not? If you double on anything, including singer, that would help as well.

    I suspect most of the stuff you’ll be playing is rock. A rock style does not need a sax per se, but there is plenty of use for one, if you can find out what that is. The sax has to find where its voice adds to what the team is trying to accomplish.

    Also, its not just a sax, but your sax – your tone especially – that determines how you can use it. How can the team benefit from your sax (not just a sax)?

    One thing you can do is listen to the original recording of a particular song your group is doing, if you have it. Find a part that’s missing in your group and play that. I end up playing lead guitar and strings parts because we lack those in our team. Also you’ll find very simple brass-section background (sometimes synthesized) in the original recording that does not appear in the score (if you purchase it).

    Another thing an alto can do, because it has the range of the typical female voice, is sub for vocal harmony if your singers don’t sing harmony, or if on any given day you’re missing your harmony singer.

    Don’t forget to have fun! :)

    And Happy Easter!

    Hey, there’s a “Kris” on saxontheweb forum. Is that you? I’m “DesertCreature”.

  3. BradP says:

    Wow!! This information is exactly what I was looking for. It is confirmation. I play the alto sax for our church P&W team and have been feeling a lot like I was putting on a performance for the congregation rather than helping lead “participants” in worship. Our congregation is interesting in that they like the modern Contemporary Christian music, but seem to prefer just being played to rather than actively worshiping. The band and I recently attended a Praise Leadership Conference and workshop, and when I left there I realized that I have been voiceing too much in several of our songs. Your post here has basically put into words what the Holy Spirit has been placing on my heart…Less is more. Now, can you help me here: I would like to hear some examples of bands who have successfully incorporated a sax in with a 5 piece band and still made it sound worshipful. I will buy the music, but I just need to know where to start. Do you have any suggestions? That would be fantastic. Thank you for your commitment to serving God.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks for posting Brad. Man I wish could make the recommendation you ask for. Had I found good examples to follow, I probably would have never posted on his topic to begin with. There are good examples of inspirational soloists, but just as a good fills/lead-ins/harmony player in a band, as you are in a 5-piece, I have not found a good example. Were I to make such a search, I would begin looking at YouTube for CCM “covers” from church services (rather than concerts), but that might be a long search.

    What I expected to work when I wrote these posts did work once I joined the worship team as a sax player. But I never did quite succeed in the quest to find the just-right place for the sax in CCM – at least to my satisfaction – before switching to bass guitar.

    But I think the big difference for us as worship team members versus performers is in purpose. Styles are tools in the toolbox, and we will employ the same tool set as entertainers, but to different ends, and that shapes how we go about it.

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