As a teenager, Barry Liesch was fascinated by jazz, learned to improvise at the piano by imitating others, started transcribing music from recordings, and became a skilled piano accompanist, even going on tent crusades in his native British Columbia. His church gave him a music scholarship to a Bible college, something family circumstances would not have permitted. He continued his studies, earning a doctorate in music theory, and for the past twenty years has taught at Biola University in Loma Linda, California.
A few years after he started teaching, he wrote an article on worship in Eternity magazine that generated an offer from Regent College in Vancouver to teach a course on worship. He offered a panoramic view of scriptural teaching on worship that formed the basis for his first book, People in the Presence of God (Zondervan, 1988), which I used in a course I taught at Calvin Seminary. What I found fascinating was his thorough reading of Scripture and his fresh approach to looking at the roles of pastor and musician in terms of family worship (patriarchs), small group worship (both synagogue and Pauline worship), large-group worship (tabernacle and temple worship), and, finally, "Revelation Worship."
One critic shook his head over the book, complaining that Liesch is yet one more evangelical who jumps straight from Scripture to the late twentieth century, ignoring twenty centuries of tradition. That criticism will help in discerning what Liesch has to offer. He is very aware of the profound changes in worship in more established churches and promotes a restoration of some things traditional— hymns, for example. He wants to encourage pastors and musicians in those churches as well as in new congregations with no liturgical histories.
When Liesch started working on The New Worship, he started dreaming of a way to not only talk about the issues, but to offer more direct help for musicians to develop their skills of modulating from one key to another and playing "with a sense of flow." And so he put together what amounts to an entire keyboard improvisation course on the Internet.
Early in 19951 got together with friends and started exploring putting an improvisation text on the Internet. We were convinced it was possible but had no idea if anyone would be interested, and the Internet wasn't very well organized yet It took a whole year, but we were able to get it up and running in January, 1996.
Within a week, a hundred people had visited the site. We had five thousand hits even before the book came out....
I also offered my e-mail address, and immediately started getting mail from Hong Kong, Tasmania, Australia, the Philippines, Iceland.... It was incredible. My favorite e-mail S message was from someone soutii of the border who identified himself as a "Mexican son of God," someone who was part of a worship team in his church and was now practicing every day on the keyboard, learning to improvise one step at a time from the course he could download from the Internet.
This year (1997) I am teaching a course at Biola on keyboard improvisation, so as I learn more in teaching, I will be making refinements to the program. I also want to put some "buttons" on, so that you can hear the example if you have a synthesizer.
What is fascinating is the eagerness with which people from around the world are using Internet technology to develop their keyboard skills for use in worship. Anyone interested can find the course on the Internet at http://www.biola.edu/faculty/barryl/bl.html. He also welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.