Worship this past Sunday was exciting, uplifting, worshipful and confessional – all rolled up into one Lutheran ball of biblically driven, Christ-centered reverent blessedness. This was a unique service for us as a guest band (The Branches Band) accompanied the musical portions of the liturgy. I knew things would be different when I saw all the Facebook activity including comments, emails and “likes” floating back and forth between members of our church discussing the upcoming worship service. This just doesn’t happen when things are routine. Every church should have the chance to experience something like this.
The Branches Band is comprised of Andy Braun (acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocals), his wife, Rachel Braun (vocals, bongos, tambourine and shaker) and Jeremy Bakken (keyboards, bass guitar, acoustic 12 string guitar and vocals.) Their sound was tight and their harmonies inspiring in spite of the fact that I put them through the test of musical professionalism, which I would think, most Pastors and worship planners in our Synod would do. That is, I asked the band to play songs that thematically matched our worship theme and the scripture readings of the day. This forces the worship team to learn new pieces and puts the focus where it belongs. I got the impression that the band was used to this and that they handled the musical diversity that we required extremely well.
Branches arrangements of our Lutheran hymns are truly refreshing. I was moved from the very start by the gathering hymn (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – CW234) which set the stage for the entire worship service to follow. As a musician, I caught myself glancing over at Andy’s fret hand and saw that he was playing in the key of F, but capoed at the first fret and used chords in the key of E. The chord voicings were complex and colorful with a variety of open strings played in upper neck positions. I was so moved that after the service I raced out to their merchandise table to purchase a copy of the sheet music for the piece – which by the way contains all the chord shapes shown in grid diagrams (a very nice touch for us guitarists!).
After a well attended and participatory worship we were treated to a concert of mostly Pentecost themed music. My favorites were the contemporary pieces: “Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin, “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman and “My Savior My God” by Aaron Shust but the band’s arrangement of “Nothing but the Blood” was equally incredible as Rachel’s gospel-styled vocals filled the sanctuary. I also greatly enjoyed a very unique arrangement of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which interestingly enough was marked by Braun’s subtle blues-like accompaniment. Technically he did this by hammering and pulling notes off the first position E-chord changing it from E to Em (a famous guitar blues-lick in any key). I was sitting with my fellow band mate, another guitarist, and we just looked at each other and grinned when we heard Brauns’ fretwork because we understood musically where he was coming from. From a worship perspective, the nicely muted blues vibe made it interesting for several reasons – first, I’ve sung that hymn well over a hundred times and it’s one of those hymns that I don’t need to look at the music because it’s committed to memory, so to me the stylistic change was just enough to make me think about those great lyrics again. And second, if you know the background of the hymn-writers life, you can understand why the blues can work. It is a fact that we can bring our “blues” to God in prayer, and know without a hint of doubt that He is listening, and answering as He sees fit. The congregation was asked to join in on this piece and I will also say that it brought a few tears to my eyes, something that this hymn has not done to me for decades. That’s how good and effective it was. This, the work of the Holy Spirit, for me using Braun’s accompaniment to affect me on some hidden level.
There’s so much to this band – Rachel’s lovely voice and her tastefully added percussion, Braun’s guitar work and Bakken’s thumb-thumping bass lines (and he does play with his thumb!) but one other surprise that I wasn’t expecting was the falsetto that both Jeremy and Andy have and they do it well – especially on the a capella pieces.
You can contact the band at their website if you are interested in having them accompany worship at your church or to host a concert – http://www.branchesband.com/. I highly recommend this because in our church; both hymn-lovers and contemporary music aficionados alike, were pleased, were comfortable with the worship, and more importantly were all participating in resounding brotherly love. And that, unfortunately, is not an easy thing to do these days!
- Third Sunday After Pentecost – Contemporary Worship (sjbrown58.wordpress.com)