What began as an idea for an Instagram post blossomed into a full-blown music production. We find out the story behind CityWorship’s latest release “You Bore The Waves”.
“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” So said inventor Albert Einstein, and he probably knew what he was talking about.
Mark Kwan, the Creative Director of City Harvest Church’s music ministry CityWorship, was watching a church service when part of the preaching inspired a song. When he took the song to a recording session, worship leader Amos Ang found it a perfect match for a bridge he had written. With Pastor Sun Ho’s encouragement they wound up recording the song for a praise and worship session just before Singapore went into lockdown.
During the lockdown, the idea came about that CityWorship could do an Instagram video of “You Bore The Waves” with the worship leaders singing from their own homes, and all their performances would be stitched into one video. The finished product turned out well, and it seemed a shame to simply put it out as a one-off Instagram post.
That led to the idea that the song could be edited and mixed and made available on music apps, with a beautiful artwork to boot. And if they could do that for “You Bore The Waves”, why not the instrumental pieces that others in CityWorship had already been creating during the lockdown, on their own?
City News talks to Mark, worship leader Annabel Soh, video editor and animator Lucas Chia and album art designer Kezia Yee about the immense work that took place to produce this creation.
THE IDEA AND INSPIRATION: MARK KWAN
CN: How did “You Bore The Waves” come about? What does the song mean? What inspired it? How did it become a collaboration with Amos?
MK: The genesis of the song was a week before Easter. Pastor Kong [Hee] was preaching about the love of Jesus. I was at home watching service— it was just before the Circuit Breaker but our church services had already gone online. I remember very distinctly that he said, “Jesus bore the waves of God’s wrath against sin.” Because God is holy, so there’s so much wrath against sin, and Jesus bore those waves of wrath. That moment he was saying that, about how Jesus bore waves upon waves of pain and wrath—I was so moved by the presence of God that I teared. I cried. And even as Pastor was preaching, the first line came out: “You bore the waves of pain to bring me waves of grace”. I couldn’t write “You bore the waves of God’s wrath”, because it would sound strange. So I changed it to “You bore the waves of pain” because it’s the pain and suffering that sin brings us, and Jesus bore for us, and in return, we receive waves upon waves of unmerited favour, His grace.
Then I carried on to fill in the rest of the lyrics, for the verse and chorus. That’s all I had for that one week. It was meant to be an Easter song, because of the theme, but it wasn’t planned for release. It was just a song that I wrote that had an Easter theme, because that was what Pastor was preaching about.
We were told that we had to prepare for lockdown on Thursday (2 April—the Circuit Breaker began on 7 April and we couldn’t go back to Suntec Singapore thereafter). On Friday we decided, okay, we need to have the last praise and worship recording before we enter into the CB period.
We were at Sun’s house that day—it was the day before the recording and we were supposed to run through the songs for praise and worship. Before practice, I took out this song and I was just sharing with Sun and Amos and trying to figure out the chords. Then Amos said he had a section he wrote a month back that he felt would be perfect together. So then we worked on the lyrics for that, and we pieced it together so it’s like two parts becoming one and it didn’t feel disjointed—it felt perfect together. So that’s actually the whole experience. It wasn’t like “Amos, can you write this part? And I’ll write this part and we’ll put it together.” It just came about very organically. So the chords were figured out on the spot with Salome [Hoon, the keyboardist], and we recorded it.
So when you listen to the Huddle version, it’s more polished—because we had time to work out a nicer sequence and everything—than the one that we did for Easter, because that one was put together on the fly.
The Huddle version featured the worship leaders singing different parts and the song coming together at editing. How did that come about?
What I like about this season is how everything happens organically. The Huddle version was not planned to be released. We didn’t plan for it to be a Spotify release. We just wanted to release it for the members to worship with during the CB period. And also, I wanted our team to have a project to work together on—we couldn’t get together to worship but we had this thing we could work on together. And it was supposed to go up on CityWorship’s Instagram feed.
That was the preliminary idea, and it evolved and developed as we did it. We did the vocal arrangement; we planned the music arrangement with Salome, with Amos and Mervyn (Lim, bassist), then the singers, then I included Gin (Lam, head of CHC’s dance ministry The Disciples) as well because I felt she could add a creative, dance element. As we recorded, as it developed, as we edited – it just grew. It just evolved on its own. It’s also part of our DNA that when we do something, we want to do it well for the Lord. So with that spirit of excellence, with everyone putting in 120 percent to get their part right, it just felt like, since we are already doing it already at this standard and on this scale, why don’t we release it properly instead of just on Instagram? So we spent a lot of time editing it. Lucas did a great job editing it, Kezia did an amazing artwork… everything just came together really organically.
For the vocal arrangements, the singers came together to do it. It was mostly by Annabel and Alison (Yap). The idea of the Huddle came from me—when a sports team huddles, that’s when they cheer each other on, that’s when they motivate each other. That’s where the team spirit comes from. When I think about “huddle”, it’s also coming together in intimacy. Even though we can’t gather physically during this time, we can’t worship face to face, side by side, we can still huddle together in spirit, because we do communicate spirit to spirit. That’s why I call it huddle from home. We can still come together through digital means to worship, and release this worship together.
We understand that apart from “You Bore The Waves”, other members of CityWorship have also been inspired to put out instrumental recordings?
For our next release, we’ll have three volumes called Behind Closed Doors, because it represents the worship of our team, particularly Jessel (Yam, music director) and Dianne (Rivas) in their quiet time, their reflection space. Worshiping God on their own, their devotional space.
Once again it was really organic. I’m really blessed because I’ve been wanting to put out a CityWorship release since our last album was about two years ago. Because of time and energy and different things that happened, and other projects, I haven’t been able to devote much time and energy to making the albums happen. So it’s amazing how COVID-19 also fulfils God’s purposes, because we see how “You Bore The Waves” happened so organically.
Jessel started to arrange music, instrumentals of spontaneous moments of worship, and he started to send to me and Sun. We were really blessed by it. So at first, once again, we wanted to release on IGTV. But as it developed, we thought, “This is an incredible resource that we should put out for the members on Spotify. We just need to mix it down nicely, and we can release it for our members as they go through their devotional time at home. So that’s how Jessel’s part came about.
Then there’s Dianne’s amazing story. She was stuck overseas and she couldn’t come back—there’s a whole story of how God took care of her and provided for her in that time of extreme stress and isolation. And out of that time she released her own instrumental song on Spotify, and at the same time she started doing covers of CityWorship’s original songs and she sent them to me. Pastor (Lin) Junxian (pastoral oversight for CityWorship), Sun and me listened to them and we felt, “Wow, this is amazing!” It came out of a heart of worship, and more than that, a heart of surrender, because there was nothing else she could do for herself. That’s why she chose to worship—she chose God in the midst of her desperation. It’s just as Pastor Erwin (McManus) preached, that desperation births courage. So in this instance, desperation brought out her heart of worship: she began to do covers.
And as she sent them to us, one after another, that’s when the idea clicked that that this would work for members—I would love to pray and worship along with this, I would love to have this in the background as I’m reading the Bible. So we told her, let’s do an EP. And we worked out the song list with her. So everything really happened organically. So even though we couldn’t release the albums we thought we wanted to release over the past two years, yet God still has a way of causing His purposes to pass, and CityWorship is still releasing our worship and our music and our sound—in a different way from what we expected but still brings glory to God, which at the end of it, is what counts the most.
For Jessel’s volume of Behind Closed Doors, he will be using spontaneous moments that came out of our worship. These include songs written by church members like Sandy (Wong) and Teng Huiting, who are both in Pastor Edmund Tay’s zone. When Pastor Kong sang their songs during the churchwide Bible study, they gained traction, and that’s when Jessel also picked up on them and said “I can arrange that.” I left it to Jessel to propose what he wanted to do. I told him “It must be something you connect with: what is the song, the melody you connect with?” And then he adds his own take to it. And that’s what Dianne did with our original songs as well. Dianne will be playing covers of our originals, such as “Pure As Gold”—they are covers but they have her heart and her flavour in them as well.
For you, as Creative Director, what has been the best and the worst of this lockdown period?
The worship team has been very much “on hiatus” during this time because of the restrictions and guidelines given by MOH and MCCY. But even though we have not been able to gather to worship, many of us are still finding ways and means to express our love towards Jesus and the church.
We are all first and foremost individual worshipers with unique relationships with God. That cannot be replaced or taken away from us by these times of isolation or restriction. To me, these incredible times give us an incredible opportunity to deepen our personal relationship with God. Intimacy with the Holy Spirit … Knowledge and revelation of His word … Strengthening our capacity for prayer and intercession … all these are the fruits that I feel will come out from this season. And I believe that these fruits in the individual will lead to a stronger community for Jesus in CHC.
As CD, it’s been a most interesting season for me.
In many ways, this has been what I’ve been praying for over the last couple of years! No, I’ve not been praying for a global pandemic! But I have been asking God to give us wisdom and discernment in the way we function and exist as a church. To know with greater clarity what are the essentials that we should focus on. And what are things that we can shed in the running of our church. With Covid-19, we’ve been forced to not only consider these things, but to only function at our bare minimum. This causes us to see our church at its truest. And I feel so proud to know that CHC has not only been surviving, but thriving through the crisis. With all the frills and thrills put aside, we are, at our core, a church that continues to love God wholeheartedly and love people fervently.
But more than that, I feel that God is teaching us something new in the midst of it all.
Over 30 years, we’ve lived and functioned so well as a church with our vision to love God and to love others. But God, in His unfathomable ability to turn what is meant for destruction into something good, is using this season to reveal to us that there is a centrepiece to our maxim that we cannot neglect—that is, to love ourselves.
We’ve been coerced by the coronavirus to confront questions that we usually shrug aside; questions about our own safety, protection, and care. And in our isolation, many of us have also reassessed our personal well-being and wholeness—spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically. The pause in life unwound our usual busy routines and distractions, and the unexpected time we had on our own allowed us to think about what we enjoy doing, not merely for achievement or to get ahead in life, but more for personal fulfilment, development and pleasure. To embrace the simple joys of our lives … to love ourselves a little better.
Loving ourselves is not a selfish proposition. I believe it’s a key part of God’s plan for our lives! Loving God reveals to us the identity of wholeness and purpose we have been given in Him. As we subscribe to that healthy and holy self-image, it will help us to love ourselves better, the way God loves us. That, in turn, will empower us to love others better as well, the way God loves them!
Loving God wholeheartedly. Loving ourselves unabashedly. Loving others fervently.
THE RECORDING: ANNABEL SOH
How did you get involved in the Huddle?
It was originally meant just for CityWorship’s Instagram project. We reckoned that CityWorship should put something together for the church during this time since we couldn’t meet to worship with everyone. Initially, Mark and I wanted to involve more singers but eventually decided that since it was our first attempt, we should keep this project to smaller team of staff for a start. That was the genesis of it all, the whole process starting from tying down the sequence, to the key of the song, the tempo, getting the musicians to record the music, vocal arrangements etc to the finished product! Everyone including the talented creative team—Lucas and Kezia—contributed, and we are so glad many are blessed by it.
You had to record your own part. Can you share how you did it?
Okay, it was a tedious process, at least for me! Firstly the singers had to meet through WhatsApp video to try out the harmonies and vocal arrangements and determine if the flow of song and dynamic was good. It is not easy to sing together in a group without any time lags! Thus, we had to each record our harmony into the chat group while singing with everyone, to ensure our parts were accurate!
Then the process of recording began.
After receiving the music track, each of us did the audio recording using our own devices. I did it through my phone device with a microphone my husband bought for me years ago. I had to sing the song (which is more than 10 minutes long!) in one take, straight. It took me a number of takes due to some mistakes along the way. After that, we had to wait for a rough vocal mix of the four voices to be done before recording the video segment.
The video recording almost killed me! Haha! I’m not a techie so it took me a long time to get it right. First was the lighting. I’ve come to know that lighting is one of the most important keys for a good video recording. I thank God for my resourceful husband! During this COVID season, he bought a standing light ring that I could put to use! Then I tried recording with my phone but for some strange reason, it couldn’t record more than five minutes! I had to seek help from my tech-savvy husband once again and he helped me set up his DSLR camera to record.
So, picture with me: I had my laptop open to play the recorded track, then I had to switch screen to the lyrics of the song so that I could refer to them while singing; and I had to remember the sequence of the song, and sing or mouth my words to the camera and once again complete the whole 10-minute song in one take; then I had to watch and check the full song—any mistake and I would have to redo the whole thing. In the process of it all, I still had to ensure my face was not oily and my makeup still intact! It actually took me hours to get a good few takes.
The “best” thing was, after I had done a few takes and submitted them to Lucas, our editor for the video, he actually flunked me—the background colour was not right thus I had to find another location within the house to redo the whole thing!
Overall, it was quite an experience for me. For the first time, I was fully hands on: operating the camera, learning to upload, learning camera angles, correct lighting, paying attention to background etc. I now truly appreciate all the professionalism and skilfulness of our camera and TV crew in church! Kudos!
When we watch the Huddle video it doesn’t feel like you are apart from Ally and the others—how did you all coordinate such that even your worship stance looks like you’re in the same room worshiping?
I guess we just worshipped God and expressed what the song made us feel! The sound and creative team did a great job putting us together and making the song flow looked so seamless—like we are in the same room, as you say! The best thing was looking at the finished product and marvelling at how it all came together! Creating is hard work but it’s also fun. We created something out of nothing—together, in our own individual spaces.
What have you been doing during this period of working from home? Will there be more Huddles?
I’ve been writing songs weekly! In fact, during this period I co-wrote about five songs. Three are done and two are underway. I also initiated a weekly devotion with the CityWorship songleaders—we simply worship and take time to encourage one another. It’s been 20 sessions since April and we’ve had many good sessions building relationships and growing and learning together. Our songleaders are very busy, yet they are a highly committed group of people. To meet face to face like this is rare but so needful for a ministry like ours—in church we serve and give of ourselves each weekend unreservedly. So this season is a good time for everyone to receive too.
THE MUSIC VIDEO: LUCAS CHIA
When you first heard about the Huddle From Home music video, what were your concerns about how to put it together?
My initial thought when I first heard that CityWorship was gonna do a MV was: “YASSSSSSSSSS, let’s do this!!!!”
Did you have any special instructions for the singers and musicians when it came to their recording at home? Did anyone have to re-record?
Yes! This was my exact message to the group:
“Hi guys!!! Hope you are all keeping well!
Here are some instructions for the video recordings
- Use the rear/back camera on your phone! So we get a higher quality video!
- Sing to the camera
- Ensure your face is well lit. You can face a window at home to get some natural light.
Before you guys start to record proper, you can send me your sample recording to QC (quality control) first!
Here below are some samples of how you can frame your shots! Thank you guys!”
A few of them had to re-record a few times over. Some of the singers closed their eyes the whole recording or showed too much nostril… But I shan’t reveal their names! It’s really okay, and this is all part of the process. Even Hollywood does reshoots. It happens to the best of us.
How did you do it? How many parts did you need to stitch together? How did you get the videos to work together?
I love sharing about the process! I’m kinda nerdy this way. Let me break down the visuals and video side of things. Audio production is actually a whole other process.
#1 Vision casting: Mark Kwan, our Creative Director, kickstarted the project with vision casting. This was where the overall tone, feel and vibe were set. Certain visual feature moments that he envisioned for the song would be highlighted as well. One example was Gin’s dance segment during the song interlude.
#2 Research and references: In the Creative Department (Mark, Kezia and myself), we work closely together on how we want to present the song visually. We start by gathering images and video references that inspires us. For this video, we wanted to challenge ourselves to do something different from all the videos from home that we’d been seeing online at that point in time. Hence, we set off working towards a video presentation that shows the rawness of us huddling at home, but also stamped it with the mark of CHC’s DNA of Excellence.
#3 Filming: It took about a week for all the recordings to come in. We had eight talents and each of them sent us about two to three recordings. In total, we had over 20 videos to edit from. Thankfully, with advanced technology today, our mobile phones actually shoot pretty well.
#4 Editing: I listened through the entire song a couple of times, and then marked out what I saw happening at various points. Then, I started building a skeleton from the 20-plus video tracks. This was a slightly tedious process of scrutinising every video so as to pull out the best moments
Kezia designed and sourced all the paper tears, tapes and film borders in the video. She’s so talented! Together with Mark, we worked out all the graphic elements needed for the video together. The biggest challenge for this video was the motion tracking, animation and masking of the graphic elements and footage that were moving across the screen. That section was the most laborious and time-consuming part of the editing process.
After many, many drafts and notes back and forth between Mark and I, we finally locked down the edit. This is called the “Picture-Lock”. All editing stops here and we move into the final phase, the “Color Grade”, where you finesse adjust all the video colors and final tweaks. Kinda like the icing on a cake.
All in all, the whole editing of the music video took us about three weeks to produce. That’s is not including the song teasers, and social media and Spotify content that has gone up on our platforms.
Throughout the entire editing process, I’d constantly pray and ask the Lord for strength, creativity and inspiration while I worked. You do get tired and mental fatigue from trying to be creative over a prolonged period of time. I’m so grateful that God always finds His way into our videos. Some people call those moments “happy accidents” — where you weren’t intending to edit something a certain way, but it somehow went another direction and turned out better than you intended. God is good! I also truly feel that this track is so anointed. As I was editing the video, I could feel the presence of God in my room!
This was not just a video but the song is being released on Spotify etc. Did you have any issues with the sound quality?
Initially, we didn’t plan for this song to be released on Spotify. But thankfully, all our singers and musicians had good recording equipment at home. After all the recordings were sent in, the team felt that the audio quality was actually pretty good, good enough for Spotify, and our digital platforms! We have amazingly skilled audio engineers—William Ng, Lee Shuxia and Daniel Lee—who are just so good at what they do!
Personally for me, I wasn’t so involved with audio mixes in this project. Usually, Mark works closely with our Audio Department to get the audio mixes out. I just needed to wait for the final mixes to be sent to me, as I worked on the video edit.
Any funny anecdotes from your experience with this?
There were a few moments during the editing process that I wanted to scream, pull my hair out and binge on a big bag of chips or a tub of ice-cream! But that’s quite normal. It happens during most of our challenging video projects. Maybe that’s just how I deal with stress and pressure!
As a creative person, has it been challenging for you to work from home, mostly alone? What is the significance of the Huddle From Home MV for you?
Yes! To be honest, some days were really, really tough. I’m quite a social person so this Work From Home period has been driving me insane. I would just go for a drive on some nights for a change of scenery. Also, thank God for my bunch of bros that would do soccer drills together almost every evening over Zoom. That kept me sane!
This Huddle from Home project was definitely significant for me. I’m thankful that Mark gave me the opportunity to edit this video! He knows I love taking on projects that are creatively challenging. I’m always so grateful to create with Mark and Kezia to produce work for the Kingdom of God. I hope everyone that watched or listened to the song was as blessed and ministered to as we were.
There’s one particular moment that I hold very dear to my heart. This happened at the end of the project, just before we released the video and music on our social media and digital platforms. Mark decided to give all those involved in the MV—the singers, musicians, Gin (our amazing dancer) and Pastor Junxian (our fatherly CityWorship Pastoral oversight)— an exclusive first-viewing. I felt that was really special, a shared moment for us to appreciate one another and the hard (heart) work, love and dedication that was brought to the project. We gave thanks, laughed and just appreciated one another. That’s something we rarely ever get to do because we’re usually so busy bouncing from one project or event to the next. If it wasn’t for this COVID-19 situation, we wouldn’t have had that moment.
THE ARTWORK: KEZIA YEE
The inspiration is centered around the opening lyrics of the song, “You bore the waves of pain / To bring me waves of grace / Jesus You died for me / And now I live for You”. Mark shared how He encountered God powerfully in His room as He gave thanks for the work that Jesus had done on the cross for us. Christ bore waves of pain, shame and wrath so that we could experience waves of His presence, glory and grace. That was really powerful to me. I wanted the album art to fully encompass that!
In the Creative Department, we work very closely with each other and always seek feedback, especially when creating visuals for CityWorship. The “You Bore The Waves” artwork would not be possible without Mark, who is also our Creative Director. He is always very involved in the process, and his valuable input never fails to evolve the design into something even better! Lucas, who also edited the amazing Huddle From Home video, took the artwork and made it come alive. The animated Canvas videos that you see on Spotify were all meticulously animated by him! This is the first time we’ve seen moving CityWorship album visuals on Spotify, and Lucas did a beautiful job with them.
The design research for this artwork included studying a variety of waves–rough and stormy, calm and still, even seismic wave vibrations, in order to portray “waves of pain” and “waves of grace”. But the real challenge was to put two contrasting spectrums into one image. How do we combine chaos and calm? How do we show pain and grace? As I was brainstorming, the Holy Spirit gave me an epiphany. We always say “every cloud has a silver lining” and I thought, ‘Why can’t the chaotic waves of pain, shame, and wrath have that lining of God’s presence, grace, and glory?’
So the illustrated waves had a gold outline—a symbolic expression that God is still with you in all the painful circumstances you are going through. Each choppy and rolling wave also has a different look and texture —a reflection of how every challenge or situation in our lives looks different in each season. Thank God that His presence is our glimmer of hope through it all!
If you look closely at the sun in the album art, there is a crown of hearts right above the cross. Jesus always points us back to love. He is the King of love. And He exemplifies that so well by dying on the cross for us not because He felt responsible for sin, but because He felt unconditional love and amazing grace towards us! When I look at the cross, I think of His heart toward me and I feel really overwhelmed with thankfulness by that. When I look at the sun, I think of the Son… And not just because those two words sound the same, but because Jesus radiates that life and light.
When “You Bore The Waves” was released, a friend of mine texted me and said she immediately saw the redemptive work of God through the artwork. I was so encouraged by that! God speaks to us in so many different ways, even through art. It is my prayer that the song and its visuals will reach many people, especially non-believers, and bring them closer to Jesus. May they find the unconditional love of Father and live their lives fully for Him.