Making Quarantine Music with Acoustic Grace

Technology and Music Ministry During the Pandemic
Music remains an important part of our worship experience at Zion United Methodist Church. Yet, Acoustic Grace, our worship team, is not presenting “live” music on Sunday mornings during the pandemic. Early on, Zion's musicians decided they were not willing to put anyone at risk by singing at the front of the church as singing is now known to be a "higher-risk" activity in relationship to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.    
What is Acoustic Grace doing to make music?   
Dan Lea, Worship Leader for Zion UMC, very quickly adapted to making music at home by teaching himself to use the music recording software Logic Pro X.  The remaining members of Acoustic Grace work independently from their homes, submitting electronic files of their music to Dan.    
Individual parts are recorded in many different ways. Vocalists, Dan Lea (baritone), Jacey Lea (soprano), and Pam Hotle (alto), use a microphone and interface unit connected to a digital music program to record their singing parts. Ed Ebert (bass), records his vocals directly into an iPad. Patty Mewhorter (second soprano), has joined us on two videos. Colin Orth (trumpet), plays directly into his smartphone. Carol Dean, keyboardist, submits a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. Her files contain a variety of instrumental layers. Additionally, Dan records acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and even adds percussion tracks, as needed. 

Dan uploads all of this musical data into Logic Pro X and begins the intensive editing process to create musical balance, harmony, and a finished song. Once the song is complete, Dan switches gears and begins to create a music video using iMovie. He takes everyone's videos of their vocal or instrumental efforts recorded on smart phones or iPads, and collages them together to create one final music video presentation. Other members of the congregation are often included in the videos. It takes many, many hours of work to produce just one song. 

In Our Buildings - Congregational Song Leadership
Every Sunday morning, our PowerPoint presentations still include hymns. Now, those hymns are brought to life in lyric videos. Jacey Lea (soprano) brings clear vocal leadership to many of the hymns recorded to date. Occasionally, additional members of Acoustic Grace are included in the making of these congregational hymns. To date, Acoustic Grace has developed a library of 27 prerecorded hymns. The vast majority of these recordings are favorite, traditional hymns. We are able to share this music because of an annual music license subscription that gives us the privilege of projecting copyrighted lyrics in our physical buildings.    

The Difference Between "Online" and YouTube

Most of the songs we sing inside our building are not licensed for online internet streaming. To record well-known hymns online often means we must pay licensing fees, as much as $25-$100 per song, or risk having them blocked by the copyright holder. Like many small churches, we do not have a budget that can handle those additional fees on an on-going basis.  

In fact, when we recorded a beautiful arrangement of "It is Well with My Soul," we received a copyright notification from YouTube, even though the song was written in 1876.

So, What Can We Do to Bring Online Music to our Church Family?
Special Music from Acoustic Grace

Although we are a small church, we are blessed with some talented musicians. Our Worship Leader, Dan Lea, has composed many contemporary worship songs. His willingness to record these compositions has opened a door for us to share this music with our congregation online. There are no licensing fees or complications when we use original music.  
Dan’s work, in a variety of musical styles, uses Biblical passages as the basis for his lyrical story-telling. For example, the story of the Good Samaritan is shared in “Walking Down the Road,” and was composed in a “swing style."  “Spread the Word,” is fashioned after a 1958 early rock song “LaBamba,” and is another example of an upbeat and engaging recording that includes individuals from our two congregations. In Dan’s words, “It is a reminder that we’re not supposed to keep the good word about God’s love to ourselves, but rather to share it all around the world. Mark 16:15."
To date, Acoustic Grace has created 15 new music videos with several more in the works. One favorite recording from their 2019 “Seasons of Grace” CD, “Act of Faith,” was made into a music video, too. Even our keyboardist, Carol Dean, has been inspired to jump into the world of worship composition. The results are impressive when you realize there is no special production budget, no additional staffing and, prior to COVID-19, this wasn't an area of expertise for any of our musicians.
The use of our new-found music technology has allowed us to share the music of Acoustic Grace with our sister church, Hallie United Methodist, enriching their Sunday worship.  Additionally, we continue to create a weekly, online worship service experience that allows us to reach many church members, their families, our friends, and beyond.