On stage, Brandon Chew plays the beats that lead people into the presence of God. Offstage, he is upbeat and always ready to try new things and take on challenges. He shares with us his adventures serving God.
“I’m the crazy and funny type,” CityWorship drummer Brandon Chew admits. “I’ll think of the wackiest things, crack jokes and try to lighten the mood.”
Unlike singers and guitarists who are constantly in the limelight, drummers are usually hidden behind their drums at the back of the stage, giving off the “don’t need to come too near” vibe. Therefore, the fun-loving and upbeat Brandon is a pleasant surprise.
Playing the drum may be his persona on stage, but Brandon is, first and foremost, a cell group guitarist. He shares that he will also be playing bass at the Emerge youth camps. During the day, Brandon works as a technical sales trainer and he is married to fellow CHC member Esther Lam whom he met at a youth camp.
TRIAL BY FIRE
It was the year 2013 and Brandon was studying in City Harvest Church’s School Of Theology. He auditioned for the SOT band as a guitarist but “for some reason, on that day, even though I practised so hard, the audition went terribly,” he recalls. But Brandon was not ready to give up. “I love music and I’ll always serve God with music, so I thought, why not try something else?”
Armed with some basic knowledge of drum patterns—cultivated through his love for punk rock—Brandon bravely went for the drum audition. “It went terribly as well (laughs). We had to play with a metronome, and I’ve never played with a metronome so I couldn’t keep to the beat.”
By the grace of God, Brandon was nevertheless selected as a drummer along with another student. “But our skills were poor, and we had to practise very hard every day after school,” he remembers. “The SOT band is supposed to be made up of that year’s SOT students. But because we could not play the drums well, other drummers from the church’s music ministry had to come down and play for the daily morning praise and worship. We felt bad about it, and we knew we had to up our game.”
They had a mentor, John Ho, who would guide them on their playing but on most days, Brandon would learn by observing the drummers when they played on stage: how they followed drum patterns, how they moved with the dynamics of the song and how they flowed with the song leaders and pastors.
“After school, we would stay behind to practise our chops for two or three hours. We would switch on the metronome and play the songs over and over again to get familiar with those songs and with our instrument,” he recounted.
“Those days were tough but also fun. Eventually, I recognised that drumming is my craft and I had to take responsibility for it.”
In 2015, Brandon started playing the drums for the Harvest Kidz ministry, which he serves to this day. “I really enjoy playing at Harvest Kidz because we can do crazy things and get away with it,” he laughs, adding that his audience is a fun-loving group of high energy kids.
“We would try to make the music as creative and fun as possible,” he describes. “At the same time, we also worked as a team and in alignment with the pastors and teachers on stage.”
Harvest Kidz was also the place where Brandon sharpened his skills. Eventually, he joined the Emerge band, which then led him to play for CHC’s main weekend service. “It was 2017; we were practising for the Emerge service. Alan (Chan, CHC’s music director) suggested that I serve in the main service that week, to learn the work ethic of the musicians and bring that to Emerge. I’ve been serving in the main service ever since.”
HAVING AN ADVENTURE WITH GOD
To Brandon, serving God has always been a fun and interesting journey. Whether it was playing creative beats at Harvest Kidz, or needing to regain momentum when he returned to the stage following two years of the pandemic and online services, or having a tough set to practise for, such as the recent worship night at a conference, every step brought Him closer to God.
Reflecting on the months that CHC held its services online and the musicians had to take a break, Brandon says that he was longing for the day he could serve on stage again. The worship services resumed, and he raised a hallelujah.
“We were in the Theatre the first time we went back on-site, and we had to make a lot of adjustments because we had become super rusty,” he chuckles. “But after a while, we got back our rhythm. When we finally went back to the main hall, there were still certain things to get used to but most of the issues were already ironed out.”
One of the most memorable experiences Brandon had in CityWorship was serving at the Worship Encounter Night during The Harvest Network’s Virtual Missions Conference last year. “It was super tough—the setlist was long, there were a lot of things to remember, and the practice schedule was rigorous,” he recalled, adding that it was the second toughest thing he had to do as a drummer, after SOT.
“At the end of it, I felt that I went up another level in terms of my personal drumming skills and flowing with the Holy Spirit, and flowing with the rest of the band,” he says. “I always cherish such times when I’m given the opportunity to have this sort of pinnacle moment, moments I can look back and point out ‘that’s when I levelled up’.”
As much fun as Brandon makes it sound, being in the stage ministry also presents struggles. One common drawback is the influence it has on the human heart, he says. Standing in the limelight, one could start to crave the fame and recognition it brings.
“An ideal situation to me is if we only have the worship leaders on stage and the musicians play in the background, so we become a faceless and nameless band,” Brandon comments. “But of course, there are also many other benefits of having the band on stage—like avoiding the cognitive dissonance of not seeing where the music comes from.” This was all too real a situation during COVID when there was a limit to the number of people who could be on stage.
The challenge of battling with the flesh is real but Brandon knows that just means he has to constantly align his heart with God’s. “One practical way we do this is by praying together as a band before service: we pray for the service to go well, for the crowd to receive the Word and have their lives changed. If we pray for all those things, we would naturally not think about ourselves. So, praying corporately as a band helps us align with what’s in God’s heart,” he explains. “It really conditions our heart to recognise that we’re pointing people to that Northern Star which is Jesus.”
Besides praying corporately, Brandon keeps up his personal walk with God as it reminds him why he serves. “We always say that how much we give in public is an overflow of what we do in our personal walk. It’s a cliche but it’s true: you can’t give what you don’t have,” he reflects.
In his personal time of worship, Brandon sings while playing his guitar, and has conversations with God. “I would ask God something simple like, ‘What is worship to You?’, ‘What do you want people to experience in worship?’, ‘What is your take on emotions in worship?’”
Sometimes, his conversations with God would lead to a certain way God wants him to play on stage. “For example, ‘Raise A Hallelujah’—whatever beat I play, I think of it as a battle song. God told me that no matter what beats I play, I need to know that He has anointed it to lift the spirit and faith of those who are battling with issues in their lives,” he says.
To serve God brings him joy. “Every time, it’s a breath of fresh air because there’s always something God wants me to do. It’s a fun and interesting journey with Him.”