Minister of Music Richard Hickam talks about the forthcoming album his church has produced, showcasing the diversity of the congregation.
Question: You are working on recording an album with Lifelong Music, the musicians of the Florida Hospital Seventh-day Adventist Church. What can you tell us about the album? Why did you decide to create an original album?
Answer: This album is very unique; it is an intergenerational, multicultural worship album. This is the DNA of Florida Hospital Church.
Our church has an incredible team of songwriters and musicians. Using our gifts joyously for God's glory has created a number of original songs that showcase the diversity that is uniquely Florida Hospital Church (FHC). In this process, we believe we are serving God, the local believers, and those beyond our walls who may connect with God in a new way through the vehicle of music.
How did you decide on which songs to include?
I wanted to use the "best of" songs from my time at FHC that covered the wide variety of genres that we include in worship. I went with five completely original songs and five reimagined hymns or gospel songs.
Are you happy with how the album turned out? What do the other musicians think?
I am thrilled with the results and can't wait to share the music.
It was a unifying experience. We didn't just try to make an album; we decided to make great art. This may not be the best album ever made, but it definitely is one of the most interesting, certainly in the genre of Christian music. There is nothing like it out there of which I know.
You serve as the full-time Minister of Music for the Florida Hospital Seventh-day Adventist Church. Can you take us through your responsibilities any given week? What are your responsibilities for the Sabbath church service? What other music are you responsible for?
I guide the musical ship at the church, providing the theological and philosophical reasons for why we do what we do. I then facilitate an amazing team of leaders with weekly programming, musician development, choir, orchestra, jazz band, youth, children, reaching out into the community, and more.
How many musicians do you work with each week? How much time do you spend rehearsing?
It varies. Most weeks is something different: big choir, CCM, folk/bluegrass, a capella, etc. For our regular rehearsals we meet on Thursday or Friday night for an hour and half. We then meet on Sabbath morning at 8 a.m. for a musician touch-up; at 8:40 a.m. we run through the entire service minus the preaching.
What kinds of music are played at the Florida Hospital Church? What instructions have you been given about styles of worship music?
FHC is a multiethnic, intergenerational church. We play a broad variety of styles that are in harmony with a God who created us all so differently. I'm not aware of any instructions that I have been given about not using any styles of music. I work for an amazing senior pastor who doesn't micromanage what I do but who encourages creativity that honors God and is intelligible to his people.
What has been your top favorite/most inspiring/most enjoyable musical performance/experience in your job at the Florida Hospital Church since you started in 2011? And has there been one that flopped?
We have a number of people in our congregation from the Carribbean. We had the steel drum band from Walla Walla University visit our campus. The director, Brandon Beck (my former college band director at Southern), and I put our heads together about combining our ensembles in a worship experience that really resonated with our congregation. Besides the music, it wasn't a “here are our guests from somewhere to perform for us today”; it was a creative opportunity to do something original that was “us together” and fresh and different.
Another similar experience was having our local Angklung ensemble (Filipino bamboo instruments) as well.
We have had an in-house iPad ensemble from time to time. (You can watch a performance on YouTube here.) One time the person with the melody on a hymn tune had a faulty connection, and so it just sounded like a jam session. The rest of us eventually just had to laugh because it made no sense to the congregation, but we were helpless.
I believe you are also now working for Adventist Health System and are responsible for music and arts in ministry for the organization. What does that mean? What do you do in this job? Did someone hold this post before you or are you the first?
I now have additionally been hired by Adventist Health System and Florida Hospital as Director for Arts in Ministry (Mission & Ministry Department). This is a brand-new position, and I feel extremely honored to be involved. In the short term, I cover music/worship/programming events for the mission department and the president.
As a part of the mission and ministry team, I am an advocate for mission and wholeness throughout the company. I am creating ensembles within the company to serve as needed and will eventually work on those to serve the community at large. I will also be involved in the near future with helping provide resources for the arts to churches connected with our hospitals and those communities as well.
You have an impressive track record in the world of Adventist musicians, mainly in the Southern community, working as music director at Collegedale Academy, serving as assistant director of the Southern Adventist University symphony orchestra while still a student, working as music director for the university's classical music station, and founding and conducting the East Tennessee Symphony Orchestra. Why did you stay for so long in the Southern community? What keeps you working for the church? Have you considered branching out into the non-Adventist music world?
My father and his side of the family are from the Smoky Mountain area in East Tennessee. It is a beautiful place with it's own rich musical traditions.
When I was in high school, my mother passed away from breast cancer. The good people in the Collegedale community helped nurture me at a difficult time in my life. I love the people and the work there. I had the most amazing group of teachers, pastors, and professors that influenced who I have become.
I believe that I have worked my professional career wherever I have felt God calling me. Each place I have worked has been a joy and difficult to leave. Although my employer has always been the denomination, my work has always taken me into the world. Isn't that what we are called to do? I freelance outside the denomination occasionally and if I felt impressed that God was calling me to work elsewhere, it would have to be considered.
Do you feel the Adventist Church has a strong musical tradition? What do you like about Adventist worship music? Do you find Adventist taste sometimes too artistically conservative?
The Adventist denomination has put its focus on classical music education. There are many well-known benefits here that have served the church well until recent decades when church music has had a change. Music is never static; it is always changing.
We have an amazing liturgy of music throughout church history and also in Adventism. We should reach into the great works of the past and realize it is the year of our Lord 2017. We should utilize the best of today's music that will contextually fit into a local congregation. I appreciate that we have a great deal of flexibility in our local congregations for worship.
Whenever you deal with an institution, you have to adapt to make something work within its framework. I don't spend too much energy worrying about the naysayers within ultra-conservative Adventism about music. I choose to take the advice of Isaac Watt's father (also Isaac) when young Isaac was complaining about the sad state of Psalm singing in his day. His father told him to quit whining and do something about it. Isaac was teased that his hymns were “whims,” but he persisted.
There is much to be improved upon praise singing and contemporary writing. There is also some better writing that is coming out; it is a young art form that is developing. I want to be part of the solution, not looking back to the “good old days” and shunning the current and future generations.
What do you enjoy most about music? Composing? Conducting? Playing with an ensemble? Listening? Performing?
I enjoy all of those things immensely. I am often asked which instrument I enjoy the most. It's like choosing between my children. There are elements of each that give enjoyment. I think the thing I love most about music is the shared experience in its many forms.
What other projects are you working on? What musical dream projects do you have? What would be your dream performance or concert to give?
I am in the last year of my Doctor of Worship Studies program. I have a stack of musical projects to dive into when this season finishes. Just about everything that isn't work, school, or family-related is on hold for the moment.
To change your question slightly, I would love to be a part of a project that is so visionary that it would help other music educators, artists, and leaders to see the potential to lead through change and creativity. I believe currently we have a last-day message with no last-day music. "We Have This Hope" was written in 1962. It’s a gem, but now we need to educate and empower this generation and the next to have a song that stirs their hearts as well.
What inspires you?
Witnessing selfless acts, great stories and art, nature, people who overcome tremendous obstacles.
What is your favorite song of all time?
Tchaikovsky Symphony #6.
How can we get your album when it's finished? I believe it is to be released January 1?
iTunes, the Florida Hospital Church website.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum Magazine.
Image courtesy of Richard Hickam.
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