Tony Cummings spoke to US worship leader and musicianary MARK TEDDER about his latest CD/DVD recorded live in Beijing, China
World travelling Mark Tedder might be known to Spring Harvesters having ministered at the event on a number of occasions while regular buyers of worship albums may have come across Tedder's 2005 'Worshiplanet' album (named after Mark and Carrie Tedder's Worshiplanet ministry which sends out musicianaries to work with local churches) and 2006's 'Pilgrim's Journey'. But the latest initiative from this Arkansas-born singer/songwriter takes him and indeed the whole of contemporary worship music into a completely uncharted area. For Tedder's newly released CD/DVD 'The Door' was recorded live in Beijing, China.
Mark spoke about his pioneering Chinese recording to me in the Cross Rhythms offices. "On 'The Door' project there are a lot of original songs that I wrote. But the thing that I did differently, and one of my passions for this project, was to invite Chinese worship leaders to participate. It is not a Mark Tedder project necessarily but a collaboration of Chinese and Western influences. What we did is we fused these two worlds together. We brought a Western song and combined it with Chinese ethnic instruments. Some of these instruments date back to 2000 years ago."
Mark went on to list some of the ethnic instruments played on the CD/DVD. "There's a sort of a gourd shaped flute instrument called a hulusi, there's a long wooden stringed instrument that looks like a harp laying on its side called a guzheng. There's another instrument that was imported into China about 1200 years ago called a yangqin and it looks very much like a hammer dulcimer. If you purchase 'The Door' project there is actually a CD and a DVD and you can see the musicians playing these instruments in a live worship setting. The other musician we used is David, who is a worship leader friend of ours and he plays an eight-string classical guitar."
So how did Mark first get a burden to work in China? He explained, "I was asked by a friend of mine who is a missions pastor at a little local church in Colorado Springs if I'd ever been to China and I hadn't at that time - that was about five years ago. He said why don't you go with me and we'll see if we can get your band to perhaps get a tour there at universities and some other opportunities. So we travelled to Beijing and there were several professors from several universities in the city and we ended up meeting with a gentleman who represented the Disabled Federation of China. They work with disabled children, get them medical assistance and that sort of thing. He asked if we would do a nationwide tour for them, on behalf of disabled children. It's a government organisation and so the State essentially invited us as a worship band to come and perform concerts to help raise awareness and money for their organisation. That was a unique door that opened to us five years ago and as a result of that we did a tour around China. They paid all of our expenses, which was interesting for the State to pay for a worship band's expenses pretty much all over China. As a result of that we spent our last day in Beijing and attended the International Church there. It's a church of about 4,000 people from about 70 different nationalities. As a result of that meeting, after the service the pastor took us to lunch and asked us if we would be interested in moving to China and I said, 'Twist my arm.' He twisted my arm and we moved to China a year later."
Even for hardcore musicianaries like the Tedders, relocating to China was a considerable challenge. They lived in Beijing for two years during which time they learned a smattering of Mandarin and in November 2007 began planning a large event for April 2008, The Door worship concert. Said Mark, "The venue was a theatre in central Beijing, where we have our services for the International Church. We rent the theatre every weekend and have to haul the equipment out and keep it in storage every week because they have shows there, concerts and what have you. It seats about 2,000 people."
The name The Door has special significance. Explained Mark, "Doors in China are very significant. You can see a shabby old house in the countryside but they'll have an incredible door. Doors are significant, thresholds are significant to people. When you enter a person's home in China, if they invite you to their house for a meal, when you walk over the threshold there's almost like a welcoming party. It's a very unusual experience to have as a Westerner but because they've received you into their house, they pretty much say what you see is yours, you're my guest. So when they receive you through their door it's a very significant thing. Doors are very significant in the New Testament. Jesus said, 'I am the door.' He also said, 'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens I will come in and dine with him.' We really felt like that now in China there is a door of opportunity - the door's opening in China, from an economic and political perspective doors are opening. The Olympics was a good example of a 'door'. They invited the world to Beijing, they opened their doors to the world to come and see China and enjoy the culture. So we really felt like this being the first ever attempted live worship project in China 'The Door' was the right name to put on it because really it's not about us getting our music in China, it's about the doors that God is opening into China and the opportunities we have as believers to really impact and influence a culture. Not to import whatever our music or our style or our message necessarily but to come and serve that nation, to present to them Jesus in a way that's relevant to that particular culture, that particular language."
For the recording/filming, Mark brought over his band of American musicians but told them that his heart was to empower and equip the Church in China. Said Mark, "That's the heartbeat behind the project. So the DVD has music charts in both languages, English and Chinese, Mandarin script and everything that local churches can actually print off from the computer for their worship teams. Secondly, the heartbeat behind it was to intentionally bring these Chinese musicians on the stage to participate in the recording so that they can then take ownership of this project and say, do you know what? We can do something like this in our home church. We can record our own music, with our own instruments in our own language. So what it did is it gave them sort of a profile and highlighted a way in which they could actually take what we did, the experience we did with 'The Door' project and say to their local church why can't we do something like this. It may not be as elaborate as this, it may not be a DVD but certainly they can record their own worship songs which is also going to help replicate and duplicate and grow the Chinese worship wave within mainland China."
Recording and filming the project was fraught with difficulties. Admitted Mark, "The restrictions that we had leading up to this project were intense. We were threatened that the project was going to be shot down before we even had a chance to press record. We had some influences from the government who said you cannot record this on DVD. It's forbidden. There were a lot of restrictions leading up to the very day that we recorded that we were concerned about because it is such a suppressed society, it's still a communist state - it's not like America or England. So because of that we had to deal with restrictions all along the way leading up to the recording of it. But the hand of God was on this project, without a doubt. People were bathing it in prayer. There was a lot of attention and time and effort from a host of about 50 different people who were involved in the team, who pulled it off, and they're all volunteers. The producer's from England, Trevor Michael, who produced the audio portion, and the video editors are from America and Singapore: David Tio from Singapore and Jim Calermine from Colorado who co-edited the video portion of the project. It was a collaboration. But the beautiful thing was we were able to pull it off by the grace of God and secondly we were able to get permission for these Chinese musicians to actually appear on the project. We told them it was going to be high risk and they said we don't care. We want to be a part of this. There was a beautiful response, knowing they could get in trouble."
Now living back in Colorado, Mark and his team continue to work in China. In 2009 he is planning three trips to tour the new CD/DVD and to be able to equip local churches there. December the first was the global launch for 'The Door' project. It is being sold on various websites including Cross Rhythms Direct. In China many thousands of copies are already circulating. Explained Mark, "When we had it pressed in China we said, 'Look, take this record and copy it as many times as you want to and give it out to as many villages and towns and cities as you can. Get it out there.' And so it is already permeating small villages in China."
Mark is very aware that in the past churches in American and Britain have shown a kind of cultural myopia to the World Church and it is only now that a more multi-cultural approach to worship music reflected in such projects as Michael W Smith's 'A New Hallelujah' and the 'CompassionArt' CD/DVD is beginning to become evident. Commented Mark, "What we've done in the Church in the West is isolate ourselves and we've become islands. It's been all about us, if we're honest. I think one of the things that's beautiful to see, particularly on the Smith album, and a couple of the other ones that I've heard more recently, is that people are taking risks and inviting a multi-cultural party and saying let's record this and see what God does. Let's just see what happens when we go live with 'The Door'."