Mike Koop is a musician who regularly leads worship at saint benedict’s table, where most of what we sing is original music written by members of the community. I asked him a few questions about how he approaches writing music for Sunday worship and how he views his role as a musician in the Church. ‒ KN
KN: Can you tell me a bit about your musical career and influences?
MK: I have been making music since 1987-88 or so, though I would say the music I’ve been making could start being vaguely classified as “good” somewhere around 1992-93. This is, obviously, open to debate.
I’ve released around nine or 10 albums both solo and with various groups, such as The Bonaduces, Buick Six, The Kicker, and The Waterworks. Most of my stuff is available on YouTube and The Bonaduces releases are on Bandcamp. I am ferociously inept at self promotion and completely stupid about music as a business. My newest group, The Leftists (oh, how I love that name!), does have a Facebook page, which I have no control of. There’s some pretty sweet videos there though! And, if people wanna talk they can message me on Instagram ‒ my handle is @imintocds.
My influences include The Who, Neil Young, The Velvet Underground, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Larry Norman, Husker Du, The Replacements, Superchunk, Sebadoh, Jawbreaker, Nikki Sudden, Epic Soundtracks (the artist, not the record label), The Cure, power pop, old blues, and country music. Other influences I’m less willing to reveal include musical theatre, hair metal, and the once-inescapable invisible hand of Cancon.
KN: What do you think is the role of church musicians besides providing music for worship?
MK: To make the very best music you can make. Your art should be a reflection of God’s glory so you should really give your all to create and preform to the very best of your abilities. To be as inviting and open as you can be (not all personalities work this way, I know, but still).
Musicians and leaders have to remember it’s not about them so they need to be open to criticism especially when it comes from a place of, “is the music promoting faith, hope, and love? Providing a space for worship and contemplation? And, as is sometimes required, is it pushing people into less comfortable places where the unenjoyable and/or downright ugly truths of the world around them are laid bare?”
KN: You often write music based on verses in the Bible to fit a particular Sunday and you have a distinct style. How do you approach writing music for these verses? How do you decide on tempo, range, rhythm, etc.?
MK: More or less, I ask (or am informed) about what the particular scripture is for a given Sunday. I look it over, pick up my guitar start playing. As I play I start singing. If what I’m playing and singing “works,” I keep singing and playing it over and over until I feel it’s taken shape. At that point I make a quick demo recording so I don’t forget what I’ve done.
With music for saint ben’s, I often try to keep the Taizé music tradition in mind: “short songs repeated again and again (to) give it a meditative character.” As well, I prefer trying to emulate, or at least show the influence of, early 20th century blues, country, and gospel in my saint ben’s material. I am completely incapable of copying any particular style properly ‒ it always ends up sounding, for better or worse, like me.
KN: Do you think musicians have a place in forming the theology of a church?
MK: If they are gifted to do so, then yes. It must be the community, not just the leadership ‒ including the music leaders ‒ that ultimately forms the theology through reading, discussing, debating, prayer and contemplation.
KN: While you mostly write music for Bible verses, we have sung a few of your settings of traditional liturgical texts, like “Agnus Dei,” “Kyrie Eleison,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord.” And, at saint ben’s, we have begun contemporizing the language of some hymns. Is there an onus on musicians to update or renew words and passages that have been around for hundreds of years?
MK: In music, the “new thing” may not always be the best thing for a given situation. However, there is always room for new art and new music. New music or art may open willing eyes and ears that have been closed to “the same old thing.” Sometimes, these newly opened eyes and ears may eventually come to respect and desire what they once dismissed. But, the new thing always, always, always becomes “the same old thing” eventually.