expressive worship

What Would Southern Gospel Do?

My Dad always wanted our family to go on the road. He thought since ‘Daddy Sang Bass’ and mama sang – actually soprano – and me and big brother joined right in there, quartet-style, that we should get a bus and be the ‘Singing Swartzendrubers.’

But it wasn’t meant to be, since my brother and I preferred Larry Norman, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night and 2nd Chapter of Acts over The Blackwood Brothers.

Southern Gospel (which I will refer to as ‘SoGo’) was and is, a great love of his and of many – especially here in the South.

Which is why my husband and I took Dad and Mom to a Quartet Festival in the birthplace of SoGo – Lawrenceburg, TN. Yep, down where they actually pronounce Wal-Mart, ‘Wal-MarK!’

Though I don’t currently have any SoGo on my iPod, I can appreciate the tight harmonies and of course the gospel message and heart of those groups. Watching four quartets back to back that night, I couldn’t help but slip a little into work mode and make some observations, good and bad.

So those of you singing SoGo, take some notes! (Please note though that according to my friend Randy who KNOWS this world well, these are traits belonging more to quartet culture rather than to other types of Southern gospel groups.)

Best Different Moment. Quartets typically have great piano players, and SoGo groups should make a place for these players to shine. One group had not only a piano player, but they recently learned he could play guitar as well, AND sing like Johnny Cash!

He got up there and wowed the crowd with one of Cash’s gospel numbers that brought down the house. They were wise to highlight that talent and create a great, fun moment for the audience. I definitely wanted to hear more of that!

Most Overused Ending. I figured out that night that SoGo’s version of a ‘trash can’ ending, is the big huge vocal stack at the end of the song that they hold until everyone’s in (they tend to come in at will as soon as they get a big breath), and then the bass singer slides down an octave to hit that low note in the basement.

This is a crowd-pleaser, but not on every song, like one of the groups did. It’s too much! (Check out our DVD on putting together a set list and where to put those trash endings.) We need soft endings, sharp, cut-off endings… just change it up for us! You know the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’?

Also in the ‘Over-Used’ Category. After the applause following the trash endings, the singers would tag the end of the song and close with the exact same finish. Every group did this on at least two of their songs and it seemed a bit forced.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to say again how much I appreciate the talent of these groups, but as in every genre and every artist, there’s always room for improvement. SoGo can stay true to its roots, but do what they do much better and be more effective with their message.

I’ll be weighing in with more observations from that night in a future blog. Stay tuned for SoGo, Part II!

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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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