Well-versed songwriter a hit with Worship Arts students
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Listening to Mark Harris talk about Christian songwriting with Center for Worship Arts students at Grand Canyon University was like hearing Bill Belichick discuss football philosophy or Michael Keaton lecture on acting.
Harris doesn’t just know his craft, he truly loves it.
The founder and lead singer of 4Him, a Christian contemporary recording group that produced 27 No. 1 singles before it disbanded in 2006, talked for more than an hour and a half to students who usually spend their Monday evenings writing songs. This time, they got to hear how an expert does it.
“I love to write more than teach it,” said Harris, who also has been teaching the subject to students for 20 years. “I love writing songs.
“My challenge is, how can I help songwriters skip past the five to six years it usually takes to get to where you need to be?”
With his daughter Maddison, a Worship Arts student, in attendance, Harris listed four things that are required to write great songs. But his thoughts can be applied to any type of writing:
- Listen to know: Like so many writers, Harris said he often wakes up in the middle of the night with a melody in his head. “That’s your quietest time,” he said. “You have to slow down enough to listen. It takes time.”
- Write to flow: “If I have a melody in my head, I’ll write down things that are nonsensical,” he said. “If I write something down, I have something to replace. It’s better than a blank piece of paper.” To show what he meant, he made up an “I like the taste of pepperoni pizza” song off the top of his head and then started replacing the words with Christian-themed phrasing.
- Edit slow: As the old saying goes, “Write in haste, edit in leisure.” To which Harris added, “A song is not complete when there’s nothing more to add. A song is complete when there’s nothing more to take away.”
- Tie it in a bow and let it go: Harris emphasized personal development over writing to be discovered and said, “Some songs are not written for the masses to hear.” He added that he always has a lot of songs in the works — he writes one and moves on to the next one.
Notice that his four points rhyme. Once a songwriter, always a songwriter.
Harris explained the concept of “clustering,” which he uses to “find a hook” that becomes the central idea of the song. He thinks of one word, then comes up with similar words and ideas. “You get the words that become your song,” he said.
John Frederick, worship coordinator for the Center for Worship Arts, said his biggest takeaway from Harris’ talk was the importance of having someone else critique your work as a way of honoring them. But the most refreshing part of the whole night, Frederick said, was Harris’ attitude.
“Some people are burned out, but because he’s in it for the right reasons he was able to pour out his heart,” Frederick said.
Like Worship Arts director Bart Millard, Harris said he wishes he had been able to get advice like this when he was starting out. The value of his counsel increased tenfold when he joined with a group of students in singing on Monday a song they had written and offering them ideas about making it even better.
Harris is now a pastor and worship leader at Gateway Church in Dallas and works alongside Kari Jobe and Rita Springer. But he said he’d like to come back to GCU and have another session with the Worship Arts students.
“You’re the next generation of writers, the now generation,” he said. “What you write will be a documentation of what God is doing in His church.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.