March 22, 2017

Excerpt by Malcolm Du Plessis


You’ve probably noticed as a songwriter that there are some basic characteristics of most popular songs. Certain melody choices, lyrical phrasing, and song maps. But have you ever stopped to ask to the question “why?”

In a recent interview, Malcolm Du Plessis used the analogy of railroad tracks to show us how easy it is to get stuck in tradition and the importance of challenging the creative status quo.



“The Canada and US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?

The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads?

The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots.

Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. The US standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot…

…The Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. Thus, we have the answer to the original question.”




It’s our traditions and our habits that Jesus said, “make null and void the word of God.” God’s Word is powerful but getting into a rut—getting into a groove—has a way of numbing us to the impending power of God.

We have to change. We can’t be caught in routines. We don’t have to change for change’s sake but when you think of it, we have the railroad gauges made for something that happened years ago.


In what ways do you tend to get stuck in worship?

What are some ways to get un-stuck?

Discussion Question:
Malcolm Du Plessis

Malcolm has straddled the worlds of prophetic Christianity and showbiz for over thirty years – ranging from church planter to record company exec; from songwriter to song publisher; from pioneer of multicultural, multilingual worship music that fused praise and protest in the apartheid era of his native South Africa to artist manager in that same context; from consulting ministries, movements, artists, songwriters, record labels and publishing companies in the Christian arena to helping develop top 40 songwriters in the mainstream. He continues to consult for a range of organizations, yet identifies primarily as an underground activist and as a father figure to a growing number of young leaders. One of his priorities is his relentless call for the decolonization of the worship movement and for doors of dignity to be unlocked for more communities and ethnicities to contribute toward the “common” hymnal." (Source:

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