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Meeting the musical challenge of a virtual Annual Conference

Meeting the musical challenge of a virtual Annual Conference

Missions and Outreach
The choir from Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church in Singapore performs "And Can It Be"


When leaders decided to hold a virtual Annual Conference for the second consecutive year, Jeremy Hearn immediately went to work.

As the Worship Music Coordinator for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, his task was to solicit and collect video-recorded music from various churches around the state.

Then, choose the ones that best fit the moment in the two-day Annual Conference June 11-12.

Sound simple?

It isn't.

Jeremy Hearn

"The biggest challenge is trying to find content that is done well, is engaging, and meets the needs of Annual Conference. Not every remote video of a song fits Annual Conference," said Hearn, who also serves as a Service Worship Leader at First UMC Lakeland.

"We're trying to make it a well-rounded experience for several age groups, ethnicity groups, and all who are welcome at the open table."

The plan is to incorporate between seven and nine videos to match the music to the moment, using songs to enhance the particular message. Conference churches have an abundance of talented musicians and singers, but as we've learned in the past year, performing before a live audience is far different from recording in a largely empty space.

"Every church has a different set of resources available. Some churches are making it with just a piano player, a singer, and the pastor going live on Facebook. Some churches have video, lights, and sounds," Hearn said.

And some churches offer different styles of music.

First Miami UMC, for instance, uses what Hearn called "two phenomenal opera singers" as part of their worship right now. And a magnificent video from the Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church in Singapore may also be part of the Annual Conference.

"With a virtual production, you have the opportunity to see more diversity than the same group of people on the platform charged with leading the music that year," he said.

"While we would love to meet in person, we have the opportunity to bring more people in with less time and resources needed for a live event."

Hearn discovered last year that changes had to be made in production and presentation when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift to online worship. Hearn is a gifted and dedicated musician, but he quickly learned that singing to a virtual audience requires a different skill set.

"I had so much to learn. When I watched myself, I was like, I need to change the way I lift my eyes. Or I need to smile more. It's important to engage, even when you're not getting the energy from a live audience.

"I know I have to amp myself up, run the song two or three times before I'm ready to record. It's just different."

Different, yes. But it's also an opportunity to learn new things.

"I know when we decided to do last year's Annual Conference virtually, it was strange at first. But then I felt something inside of me was ready to meet the challenge head-on last year, and I went to work.

"Fear and anxiety gave way to learning new video editing skills and looking into the camera."

​Churches wishing to submit videos for consideration have until May 23. Contact Hearn at JHearn@firstumc.org for details.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org


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