By Grant Norsworthy
Even people who don’t think they can sing will sing in the shower … and enjoy it! Why?
It’s because the hard tile and glass surfaces in the bathroom reflect the sound giving natural delay and reverb effects that improve the sound of the single voice. That one person singing is immersed in the sound of several voices singing. It feels like they’re part of a group. And even though there might be family members who can hear through the walls, the person in the shower has no sense that they are performing for an audience.
Sometimes I’m more likely to sing in the shower than when I’m in a Church service.
Ideally, these sonic “shower” conditions (without the falling water and nakedness) should be replicated for a Church congregation who are being asked to sing as an expression of worship:
1) Each individual should feel like they are part of a collection of people who are singing.
2) No one should feel like they are required to perform solo for an audience.
There are many reasons why people will struggle or even resist singing along in a Church service. Many of those we cannot control. But some we can. Volume – especially the volume in the room from the leading team of musicians – is one of them.
Sure, there are many other factors involved, but I believe that individuals in the congregation are most likely to sing if they feel like they are part of a group of people who are also singing. Not many people want to feel like they’re a soloist. And we can be encouraged to greater levels of volume and passion if we move there with those around us.
So what influence does room volume have?
Too little volume from the leading singers and instrumentalists through the PA into the room, and the people won’t be engaged. They won’t hear the invitation to join the band with their “voice”. They’ll strike up conversations, find some distraction on their smartphone, politely wait until the music’s over or maybe even fall asleep.
Even though the people’s attention will be drawn to the sound, too much volume and they will tend to remain passive. Their lips might be moving a little – perhaps out of habit or obligation – but subconsciously they’ll have a sense that they are spectators at a concert performance. They will not have a sense that they are being invited to participate – to join the band with their “voice”.
So here’s the primary consideration: We want the volume level in the room from the leading musicians through the PA to create an environment where people want to sing! More important than the dB measurement at the mixing desk is whether or not individuals in the congregation can at least hear their own voice and the voices of the people behind them and to their left and right.
If individuals in the congregation cannot hear the voices of the people directly around them, we have one of two situations:
1) The people are singing but the room volume from the leading musicians is too high, or
2) The people are not singing, or singing only very softly … in which case the room volume from the leading musicians is also too high.
To get a sense of how well the congregation is singing, the FOH audio engineer will probably need to leave the safety of the mixing console from time to time and move out amongst the congregation. Listen. Then head back to the desk to make adjustments. Or better yet, they’ll have freedom of movement because they are mixing wirelessly using an iPad or similar mobile device.
If the necessary changes are beyond the scope of the engineer, more fundamental changes will need to be made. Most likely, this will be the case if the stage volume is too great and is overwhelming the room volume. The band will need to find ways of making their stage volume level lower.
Is the congregation singing? Are they singing well? Are they projecting volume into the room that encourages the whole? Does the “voice” of the congregation balance well with the sound of the band in the room? Can the band – especially the praise leader – hear the congregation in the room over their stage sound? If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, inappropriate volume level might be a contributing factor. Maybe the biggest contributing factor.
The room volume from the musicians must “meet” the congregation where they are. Over time, volume can be used to encourage and teach greater levels of vocal participation from the people. We must find creative ways to make a musical invitation to the congregation. They must know that their participation – their “voice” – is essential.
Without the “voice” of the congregation taking prominent position in the mix, we might have some cool background ambience music, or we might have a jaw-dropping concert performance, but our main objective of having God’s people raise their voices in praise to God will be lost.
This video is #4 in the More Than Music Mentor training resource series. In it I share thoughts about a highly contentious issue in Church music: What’s the best way to assess the most appropriate volume level?
Watch Video#4 – Assessing The Room Volume again.
For more free resource videos and info, visit www.MoreThanMusicMentor.com.