Web-Based Program Maps Sunday Worship Southern Baptists are trying to make life easier for music ministers, who are expected to create custom arrangements of hymns and praise songs each Sunday. A Web-based tool, SongMap, lets users rearrange and transpose popular church songs with a few clicks of the mouse.
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Web-Based Program Maps Sunday Worship

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Web-Based Program Maps Sunday Worship

Web-Based Program Maps Sunday Worship

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I?m Robert Siegel.


And I?m Michele Norris. And time now for All Tech Considered.


NORRIS: In this week, we?re heading to church to look at the intersection of technology and faith. We?re going to begin with a story about church music. The Southern Baptist Convention is spending millions of dollars to give its music ministers a high-tech gizmo. It?s a Web-based application called SongMap. SongMap allows music ministers to rearrange hymns and contemporary praise songs, and it may also help them avoid a particular sin: the sin of piracy. From member station WPLN in Nashville, Blake Farmer explains.

BLAKE FARMER: I?m at lifewayworship.com here on my PC. There are several hundred church songs on the site, old and new. This one is a traditional hymn, ?Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross.?


FARMER: It?s got four verses - pretty typical - and four choruses. But this Web site allows me to cut out a verse or add a chorus or put this song in a new key like I?m going to do. So when I choose to map this song, a window pops up with about a dozen alternative segments. Once I have them arranged to my liking, I can print out the score for a bass guitar, piano, heck, even a trombone. For a fee, I can also download audio of my custom arrangement.


FARMER: So easy for me, the layman. The real test comes on Sunday mornings.


KIRK KIRKLAND: No, (unintelligible).


FARMER: The clock at the back of Judson Baptist Sanctuary reaches 8:00 AM, and the rhythm section has less than an hour to prepare for first service.


KIRKLAND: Go ahead and build it right here, then go to (unintelligible). Two, three?

(Singing) Hosanna, hosanna?

Yeah. Stop right there.

FARMER: Part-time music minister Kirk Kirkland guides the players through the tune on the fly. Band members use one hand to scribble notes in the margins of their sheet music.

KIRKLAND: Take a look at the song, ?Alive Forever, Amen.?

FARMER: For this one, Kirkland printed off customized scores from SongMap last night for about seven bucks.

Is this a song y?all have played before at all-

KIRKLAND: No, this?ll be pretty new to them.

Unidentified Man #1: Got the time-


FARMER: Kirkland calls it off, and the band plays through on a dry run.


FARMER: Even with a key change, no problems. Kirkland rarely plays a song the same way twice. Sometimes he needs it shorter, or in different key. He says all the variation can confuse his volunteer musicians, which makes the custom sheet music all the more useful.

KIRKLAND: This way, I can just hand it out and all they have to do is play it from beginning to the end, just the way it?s written.

FARMER: And that helps prevent distracting hiccups and miscues on stage. But Kirkland says likes SongMap for another reason: He?s a songwriter and studio singer by trade.

KIRKLAND: I want to make sure that all those creative people get what they're owed.

FARMER: And they haven?t been. Music ministers are notorious for copying sheet music without permission, says Mike Harland. He oversees SongMap for LifeWay, which is the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Harland says ministers may not know what they?re doing is illegal, but SongMap could be an easy fix.

MIKE HARLAND: They pay for it at that moment. The publishers are paid, amen. The songwriters are properly credited, and the church has the confidence to know that they?ve done that legally.

FARMER: In the same iTunes give people an easy means to legitimately pay for albums, Harland hopes SongMap could do the same for worship music.

For NPR News, I?m Blake Farmer in Nashville.

NORRIS: And from Nashville, Tennessee to Austin, Texas, where we?re joined by Omar Gallaga. He?s our tech guru. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Hello, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, Michele. Good to talk to you.

NORRIS: Omar, it sounds like this updated church music points to something bigger that?s percolating in places of worship all over the country. What do you know-

GALLAGA: Well, as long as it has been a World Wide Web, people have been using it to connect with other people with similar faiths for discussions, to set up a virtual place of worship, to find ways to promote their mega church or to supplement sermons with transcripts and schedules. But in more recent years as the technology has changed, more ways to worship have emerged. Now you can view a Bible on your Kindle eBook reader. You can view 40 Catholic prayers as an iPhone app, or even listen to podcast that discusses the intersection between the theology and technology.

NORRIS: Omar, before we go on, let?s take a quick listen to that.

Unidentified Man #2: Today, we talk about using Twitter in your church ministry - that this week on the ?Geeks and God? podcast.


Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible) and encouraging Christian ministry, use technology and the Internet effectively.

NORRIS: That?s an interesting sound there, not what you usually hear coming from the pulpit, Omar. and this isn?t confined only to Christians, I assume.

SIEGEL: No, no. Many religious faiths have embarrassed new ways of using technology. For instance, there was the ilkone, named for the Arab word for universe. It was launched in 2005, and it was billed as the world?s first fully Islamic phone. The flip-phone gave reminders five times a day for prayer times, it pointed the direction of Mecca, and it contained the complete version of the Koran. There are smartphone applications that perform similar functions now. And, you know, that?s really not surprising to me. Back in college in 1995, a classmate of mine started CyberMuslim, which is one of the first Muslim-themed sites on the Internet.

At the time, it was actually housed on the University of Oklahoma Web servers. But even then, it became a place for people to unite and have very serious discussions.

NORRIS: And, you know, when we talk about faith and technology, I?m assuming that social networking sites probably play a very important role on this community.

GALLAGA: Right. It really is, because it?s made it that much easier to find people of similar interests and backgrounds. And we?re talking about much more than just creating a Facebook group or page on MySpace. There?s Web site called mychurch.org that offers churches a way of easily setting up a Web presence and ways for parishioners to blog about their faith. For smaller religious groups, having a Web presence is also a way to fight misinformation and persecution.

For instance, bahaihub.com, which offers its followers their own social network, really is able to put out the information and a kind of combat that. There are just as many groups for pagans, atheists ? there?s always a place online for any believer or non-believer who has similar interests.

NORRIS: But Omar, if we think back to church, or at least some sort of sanctuary, does a tech-savvy congregation also pose a potential risk, that people perhaps aren?t paying attention, if they are distracted by all of this new technology-

GALLAGA: Right. Well, like in any other public situation, they can always be a distraction or something that is not polite to bring out your email in the middle of a service?

NORRIS: Yes. It?s never polite to check your email or check you cell phone in the middle of the service.

GALLAGA: Yeah. I don?t even like to do during dinner. It?s a little bit rude. But in a more formal way, there has been a movement to try to combat what?s staring to be seen as our addiction to some technologies. Bishops recently asked Catholics to give up their tech toys, from text messaging to the Internet, to stress the importance of real relationships over virtual ones. So you could be giving up your cell phone for Lent. Some will probably find it lot harder than just eating fish on Fridays.

NORRIS: Yeah, a lot of people are giving up Facebook for Lent.

GALLAGA: Yeah, yeah. I don?t know that I could do that for 40 days.

NORRIS: Well, I bet you could, if you tried.

GALLAGA: If I tried really hard, maybe so. Yes.

NORRIS: You can do anything if you try really hard.


GALLAGA: All right.

NORRIS: Well, Omar, before we let you go, we want to say that we?re building our own community of the faithful online. We want to hear your questions - that?s for our listeners - your questions and your ideas for All Tech Considered. So please write to us at npr.org/alltech. And Omar I hope that you will post some of these links on the site.

GALLAGA: I will, definitely. And last week, we had a really good discussion about the university clickers segment ? a lot of feedback from professors and other people at universities telling us how they are using them. So we definitely want to hear from you.

NORRIS: Always good to talk to you, Omar. Thanks so much.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.


NORRIS: This is NPR: National Public Radio.

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