expressive worship

Mystery of the Sunday Soloist

There’s a mystery to solve here at Tom Jackson Productions, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it!

We got an e-mail from Glenda, who sings solos at her church every few weeks. She’s only been singing for a year, and said for awhile the people seemed to enjoy it – clapping and complimenting her after the services.

Then she found out that she was singing off-key all that time and was of course embarrassed. She then took two months of vocal training and improved, even getting the courage to sing with her eyes open and use gestures to really bring out the meaning of the songs.

Then she says, “OK, here’s the weird part. On the days I’m in the zone, the planets have aligned, I’m not off-key, the presence of the Lord is on me and I didn’t forget the words, nobody claps, – they just sit there with long stone faces. The song is over with and you could hear a pin drop. They look at the pastor to figure out how to respond. But if I mess up, forget the words and am scared half to death, they love it!”

Hmmmm. That IS a mystery. Of course without being there or even seeing video of her performance I can’t really answer accurately. I can venture a few guesses. Perhaps it’s one of the following:

    • She’s SO much better and gives such a great performance that the people are too surprised and stunned to react.
    • She sounds worse, or looks so awkward and uncomfortable onstage that the congregation is too mortified and embarrassed to respond.
    • She sounds so good and has so much confidence on stage, that people are saying to themselves, “Who does she think she is now, singing so great?! We liked her better when she was just ‘our little Glenda’, trying to sing her songs. Now she’s just showing off!” OR…
    • The church just can’t deal with change.

      Anyone have any other ideas or can relate to this scenario? Glenda, I could give you some help if you were to send me a video of some live performances. And I’d like to have you watch them yourself, then ask some people who you trust and who will be honest with you, to tell you the truth about your singing.

      Many times the people closest to you won’t be brutally honest in order to avoid hurting your feelings. We see this all the time on American Idol, where people honestly think they are great singers (because everyone has told them so) where in reality, they are awful! And they are genuinely dismayed when the judges tell them the truth. Their family and friends have not done them any favors in life by keeping up this charade.

      On the other hand Glenda, maybe you have a terrific voice, but you are not comfortable on stage yet – maybe even awkward to watch! I don’t know – again, I’d have to see you to ‘solve the mystery’! If you’re interested in that we can do a Video Critique for you or work one-on-one.

      We’ll get to the bottom of this, believe me! And thanks to Glenda for having the courage to write in.

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      Amy Wolter

      Amy has vast and varied experience in music, from keyboardist to lead singer, from songwriter to producer. She fronted a nationally touring Christian rock band that garnered some top 10 CCM hits. Playing in a variety of venues and churches gave her a real understanding of what audiences and congregations connect with. As a member of her church’s worship team, Amy understands the challenges that come with this, and enjoys helping Christian artists and Worship Teams create freedom in the room to truly express their worship.

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      1. Re: Glenda/applause: When a singer is congruent with the purpose of ministering through music–the key word being ‘ministering’ vs ‘performing’…then “deep harkens unto deep” as they say. A sacred moment, an experience has been created where all are One. And no one wants to burst the moment with loud applause. Let it be. The audience has been transported from their heads into their hearts. That’s your job.
        I simply acknowledge such a hush by extending my hands, and back away from the mic w/head bowed, signaling, It is finished. An attuned minister moves into prayer/meditation. There are always some in the audience who are more in the head, saying ‘NOW we applaud.” Applause always shifts the energy. ALWAYS.

        Traditions differ in every congregation. The music, when it is well done, is the key to taking an audience from its head to its heart. Again, that’s your job. The applause is irrelevant.

        If one LOOKS for applause, one is offtrack in purpose.

      2. Bill LaPiana says:

        Glenda,

        I confer with Georgi that there are times when applause is not going to happen because the song has said or done something to the church members. As Tom mentioned – without seeing or hearing it one can only guess. However, I have been singing for over 20 years and have experienced the same thing many times depending on the song.

        I have found that “worship” songs (vertical in nature) often leave people feeling “reflective” and thus they don’t want to break the silence at that moment. “Praise” songs (horizontal – look at all that God does for me) tend to leave people wanting to join in and shout out. Don’t stress over it – let God move people to reflection or celebration. I love music that blows people away and leaves them speechless from the message it brings – thus have gotten comfortable with silence. When you see tears and eyes closed – you know they have been moved !

        Focus on offering the best you have to offer – let God do the rest !

      3. Crystal says:

        I think audiences want to be supportive of performers. If you look or sound nervous or make a noticeable mistake, most audience members (especially in a loving church congregation) will applaud to let you know they still love you and you didn’t tank it as bad as you thought. If your performance is solid, you free them to have their own experience rather than spend the time concerned with supporting you. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they would react without applause. As others have said, it’s hard to really analyze without seeing the performance, but I would bet that when you feel good about your singing, it sounds good to the audience as well.

      4. I’ve seen this scenario in churches before. People seem to really want to encourage someone who is really struggling in performing. I’ve seen wild applause for someone who was trying to sing while stricken with fear.

      5. Trey Gunn says:

        Great conundrum!

        One not so nice interpretation would be that the audience is so conditioned to the histrionics of performance, that if you replace it with real Music then they are deaf to what is actually happening. If you switch the histrionics out for authentic music/presence some people have no idea how to “eat the experience.”

        or….

        It could be that the audience senses that applause is a rather “ugly” response to something beyond this world.

        Either way, I would encourage the version where you deliver in presence with your authentic self. AND in-tune ;)

        cheers,

        Trey

      6. Paul Secord says:

        It’s natural to want to encourage someone who is struggling or appears to be struggling. If you feel you’ve gotten over that hump, focus now on taking your audience somewhere. They have already proven they are behind you by applauding you when you were not at your best. Now reward them by loving them, communicating with them, and creating a moment they can relate to.

        A good friend shared this story with me. It was his first night on the job as a bartender at a karaoke bar. He watched a young lady sing horribly and then sit down at his bar. The audience reaction to her had not been very good and she was a bit upset. Thinking about his tip, he said, “great job up there”, and served her a drink. She perked up right away. He made her night.

        He was almost immediately pulled aside by a veteran bartender that informed him of his HUGE mistake. Because for the next year, that young lady returned once a week to deliver yet another horrid performance. They had nowhere to run…

      7. Mr. X says:

        I’m kind of well-known in the music industry and therefore I need to somewhat control where my real name goes on the web, hence my caution. I truly hate to hide my real name and I apologize for it.

        I think that Glenda first and foremost needs to have a real professional Christian singer evaluate her performance and agree to be 100% honest about his or her evaluation. This would be someone who can recognize the need to be honest without crushing the spirit of someone who may potentially grow into comfort and skill.

        Like the poster above me, I believe that it is a serious mistake to encourage someone without having heard them, and it is equally wrong to hear a bad performance and then falsely encourage.

        Having said all that, I can say beyond a doubt that the most beautiful song I ever heard was at a funeral ant my church. The brother of the deceased has no voice or technique at all, yet his song was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Mediocre voice + heart CAN = beauty.

      8. Amy Wolter says:

        To Mysterious ‘Mr. X’ – Agreed. It doesn’t do any good in the long run to encourage someone who sings badly and it’s apparent that is not their gifting. And never having heard her sing I can’t really answer her question! But like you, I’ve been moved as well by songs delivered – not necessarily with lots of talent – but with lots of heart and emotion. Sometimes those are the most memorable moments of all.

      9. Vicky says:

        Solid and true answers, but, I’d like to add more as I can relate to what she is experiencing on other levels. Singing since I was a young child, I have been encouraged by outside-of-myself elements When I was in Jr Hi, I was chosen to sing all year in a trio. Individually, I was chosen to perform for other things on TV and was asked to join a band when I was 15. This led me to believe, I was fulfilling my destiny as I loved to sing. I always felt I was doing it well, so imagine my surprise when years later, I had a few opportunities to hear myself on both audio and video recordings and I was devastated to hear it often sounding off-key! I had no idea that it was sounding that way and the havack that new-found knowledge can have on your confidence is career crippling. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how I could fix something I couldn’t hear since I can sing harmonies quite skillfully. Whats up with that? Add to that the un-certainty of a worship environment and I feel her pain!

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