Support - Music
Music Expresses Emotion at Your Gatherings
Here are our best suggestions and advice for creating excitement without live music, starting a band, navigating the interests of musicians and the community, and more.
If you have more questions or great advice to add, share on Workplace!
Assemblies Without Musicians
Communities don't always have willing musical talent to perform at gatherings or the funds to pay a professional. Going without music is possible, but songs are a major component of Sunday Assembly.
Consider pre-show and post-show music from a streaming service or your personal music library. Ensure the volume fits comfortably underneath conversation among the gathered.
Example: find a Spotify playlist that fits the vibe of the assembly and your community and play it from a device into your sound system. (If there are ads, lower the volume for them and monitor when they'll return.)
As an assembly section, playing a music or lyrics video to a popular song can be successful, but the audience will engage more if someone leads or sings along from the front, much like karaoke. This song leader needs confidence (or silliness) on the stage more than music prowess.
Forming a Band
Whether paid professionals who vibe with the community or home-grown amateurs who volunteer their time, forming a group to perform live music is a powerful way to make assemblies more energetic, to evoke themes, and provide a creative way to contribute to the community.
A single motivated person can form a band around them. Ask members directly if they've played music before and would like to with the community. Create a cadence of meeting for practice a few times a month for each assembly, and invite anyone interested to join.
Make being in the band easy by not requiring high skill on an instrument. People with a musical background from school or who just sing in the shower may enjoy a chance to do something more. Celebrate any performance, even one with many mistakes, as an act of love for the community.
Your band may not have every desired instrument covered each assembly. Compensate by choosing simpler songs, interpreting songs acoustically or with similar-sounding instruments, or perform to a backing track.
Example: if you only have singers, or a guitarist and singer, practice and perform to a karaoke-like video with lyrics (or the original), like this one of "Here Comes The Sun".
Depending on the skill level of the musicians, the number of songs, and the familiarity or difficulty of the song, the amount of practice required will vary. Be flexible, allowing for more or fewer practices or adding/removing songs as needed.
Often early practices on a song will involve playing along to the track in the background. This allows the band to understand the sections of the song, the key, and make decisions about any changes.
Some assembly bands memorize lyrics and music, while others don't. The lyrics for the audience can serve the singers, as well, usually on a different screen.
Keep a culture of kindness, fun, and humility where feedback is supportive and accepting.
Keep in mind what will be different between the practice space and the performance space.
Examples: where people and equipment are positioned, or whether any equipment or tech will be different.
Different groups have distinct desires and motivations when deciding what songs the band will perform. Aim for pleasing all 3 groups, or at least 2 of them:
Musicians have their own tastes that should be recognized and accepted when possible to keep band enjoyable for them.
Assemblers at the gathering usually want to hear songs they recognize or enjoy, including ones they can sing along to or participate in.
Assembly planners may wish for some music to fit a theme or tonal vibe.
Examples: if the subject is a heavy one, planners may desire ballads; if the theme is about astronomy, songs about space may be requested.
If a song has an opportunity for audience participation, take it! Demonstrate it before the song begins (or during an instrumental introduction if you're confident), and signal the audience with physical motions to get them to join in. Designating seed folks in the audience to commit to participation is helpful.
Examples: clapping, singing a well-known chorus a capella, call-and-response, or non-verbal melodies ("oh"s and "ah"s).
Add context to songs with a brief intro or explanation for the choice if needed for the audience to understand. Personal stories about relating to the music can get the audience invested in the performance.
Minimize "dead time" transitioning between the previous section and the band setting up before beginning the song (and after a song). A musician or MC can "vamp", or pass the time by lightly entertaining the audience.
Equipment needed varies significantly depending on band make-up, instruments, existing venue systems, and level of professionalism desired.
Example: a band with acoustic guitar or piano may need no further equipment other than sheet music and/or lyrics sheets or slides.
Example: a band with singers, electric guitars, keyboard, or an electronic drum set will likely need a mixing console, microphones, many cables, and speakers.
On assembly day, time to set up and practice in the venue is very important and can easily take more than an hour.
Keeping the Band Together
Band practice can be considered a small group activity, and membership will change over time. Being accommodating as musicians come and go with their availability and interest is part of creating a positive environment within the band.
Asking for a month-long commitment for a single performance should be reasonable.
Open communication can ensure members don't feel obligated to keep performing when they don't want to.
How did you recruit musicians? Do you pay them?
Crista, Silicon Valley: A similar community has a different guest musician every week, as there are many musicians without work right now (time of writing was during pandemic).
Finding musicians: Eric shared that he asked a musician contact for recommendations and received a list of 12 people. He has learned of others through the musicians networking together. He found some by asking about musicians at local restaurants and gigs.
Payment: They pay $75 for the event, so they look for solo musicians rather than a band.
East Bay: We tapped Susan to be the music lead early on. As someone who plays piano, she ties the singers and other musicians together and leads them. Along the way, the community kept encouraging their existing and new members to join them to play an instrument and sing. Sometimes there were professional musicians that came through and volunteered to play. Other times, community members with no prior experience stepped up to take the opportunity to learn and practice, like Craig the drummer.
Ross, Atlanta: many churches pay their musicians to perform, and some of our band members in the past have come from that tradition but perform for free because they value our community.
What songs do you choose?
Ross, Atlanta: Our band has the concept of "coda songs" that are performed after the assembly is complete and the audience starts conversation and potluck. Because the band has less focus at that time, this is an opportunity to play songs of their choice, even if they don't match the theme or are longer.
Silicon Valley's past songs list (including how many times we’ve sung it, when, how many votes each song got, etc.)
Gainesville song list
London's lockdown songs
YouTube playlist of performed songs, started in pandemic, which over time will only stay as up-to-date as folks contribute to it!
(Other lists of performed/suggested songs exist)