It’s 10:35 AM, Easter Sunday 2018. It’s been a great Sunday so far. Everyone arrived on time. Soundchecks were swift and effortless. By this time, our team has executed two of three services in which we celebrated the resurrected Jesus with beautiful lighting, powerful songs, and encouraging messages. All is well. Or, all WAS well, until 25 minutes before the final service, one of my lead vocalists comes to me with a look of horror on her face and mouths to me: “my voice is gone.”
I had a brief moment of panic. It’s Easter Sunday: the most well-produced and highly attended service of the year, and now we have no lead vocalist for our first song. I immediately encouraged her to drink as much water as possible, and not to talk at all, until the service was about to begin. When she revved her voice back up (during the 5-minute countdown), it was back—albeit unsteady—but I could finally breathe again. She made it through the song, and we survived the set.
This whole incident got me to thinking: with all the early call times, soundchecks, numerous run-thrus and multiple services we have each Sunday, how can we best condition our voices to survive operation overload?
What follows are some practical suggestions that will help you—the vocalist—make the most of your instrument on a day full of singing.
Planning for worship is important. In fact, most of us don’t want to imagine a Sunday/service day for which we show up and have no plan. Talk about disaster. Worship set planning is (largely) done by worship leaders, pastors, directors or staff. So let me write directly to those in charge of worship planning for a moment.
First, we need to know our vocalist roster well. Chances are, you sat in on the tryout of any guy or gal who’s singing in regular rotation with your team. Even if not, you’ve likely sang enough alongside each of them that you know their capabilities. And so here’s what I want to say: know the strengths and weaknesses of your vocalists, and schedule them accordingly. For example: don’t plan a song for an alto range vocalist in the key of F if you know they’re already pushing or straining to reach the pitch peaks in the key of D. If this happens, they may kill it in the warmups, but two to three services in…they’ll have nothing left. And the same applies to you, too. *wink, wink*
Next, we need to plan to ‘share the load.’ To illustrate this concept, I want you to travel in your mind to the snowy Alaskan Yukon, where you then encounter a company of rugged sled dogs. How does this team of sled dogs get their job done? Each dog does their part. Each has a unique role and each is important. Their task is accomplished only after they’ve given their greatest individual effort, while simultaneously giving their greatest cooperative effort. It works the same way for our platform vocalists. Each vocalist has a unique set of gifts, and when we combine our gifts as a team, we give our most excellent effort for the glory of God.
Can I give you a piece of advice that I wish I’d have known when I started my career as a worship pastor? Here it is:
You don’t have to sing every song.
Yep, it’s true. I can remember a time when reading that line would’ve felt like a gut-punch. But the more I grow and desire to see others grow too, the more I believe in shared ministry. Part of that shared ministry means that you plan for and empower others to “carry” a song. Do this every Sunday. Your voice will love you for it, and your team will grow because of it.
I took vocal lessons on both the Bachelor and Graduate levels while in college. Though I have always been somewhat of a rebel (shhh! don’t tell my professors), I have learned a lot when it comes to conditioning your voice and how that applies to getting ready to sing on a Sunday. Here are some of my do’s and don’ts for conditioning your voice:
Don’t: Eat Before Singing
May seem crazy to many, but I’ve had terrible experiences of on-stage indigestion…and once it was so bad that I burped into the microphone. (it was my Mom’s breakfast, so it was kinda worth it) On Sundays, to make sure that I do have SOME sustenance, I typically start my morning with a Bolthouse Farms Smoothie Drink. They’re loaded with sugar, fruit and all kinds of stuff…but it does well to fill me up and hold me over until Sunday services are done. Disclaimer: I do confess to occasionally sneaking a donut or two in-between services, but it’s rare.
Do: Warmup Your Voice
There’s a thousand exercises all over the interweb for vocal warmups. I don’t really care what my team does—as long as they’re doing something—but it thrills my heart when I hear them lip buzzing or humming scales before we downbeat. I usually warm up with a mixture of 1-5-1 scale slides and lip buzzing. But for goodness sakes, please don’t show up and sing cold-turkey. Take care of your instrument!
Do: Drink Water
In case you didn’t know: water is a singer’s best friend. It doesn’t contain sugar or anything that causes buildup on your pipes. It keeps your vocal chords moist and allows you to swallow without drying your throat out. You need water, and lots of it. As soon as I finish my “breakfast smoothie” on a Sunday morning, I immediately begin chugging down water. On average, I drink at least 40-50 oz. of water each Sunday morning.
CAN YOU HEAR YOURSELF?
I remember the days of wedge monitors. I don’t miss them.
I grew tired of constantly asking the FOH/Monitor Operator for “more of me,” and my voice grew tired (literally) of overcompensating and straining in an effort to be louder than everything else.
But five years ago, all that changed. I started using in-ear monitors for the first time in 2013, and—to be honest—it has been a tremendous voice-saver for me. In days past, I could barely make it through a four-song set without losing my voice. But now, I make it through 5 hours worth of warmups and services with no problem. The difference: I can hear myself. My voice is always THE loudest thing in my IEMs. Don’t be afraid to crank your voice up on your personal monitor mix.
THE MORNING OF
Part of the danger of all of the soundchecks and run-thrus on Sunday mornings is that we jeopardize our voices. If we overdo it in rehearsal, by the time we get to services we’ve got nothing left in the tank. I have a method of fighting against this that I call “phrasing.” Basically, the idea is that if our team has to run a song more than once, I suggest that the lead vocalist NOT sing each line, but rather, that they only sing the transition phrases…aka: the phrases that help the musicians identify where we are in the arrangement. By doing this, it cuts out 75% of the vocal parts in the song, and allows the lead vocalist to “save it” for later.
GO…AND SING WELL
Whether you’re a worship pastor, a vocalist on worship team, or an aspiring platform leader, hopefully some of these ideas will prove helpful to you. If you are a worship pastor or you work in worship production, I’d love to hear (in the comments below) about the things that work for you and your team. Thanks for taking the time to read! I pray God would use you greatly as you sing the gospel story!