I’m going to share a secret with you: I’m uncomfortable singing in the church.
Don’t get me wrong; I love singing in the church.
But between my inbred-midwestern-Nazarene-born fear of the fine line between ‘swaying for God’ and ‘ungodly swaying‘ and that time when my well meaning brand new husband told me I sing so loud in the congregation that it makes other people uncomfortable, I have to admit I have a really hard time just freely worshipping when I’m elbow to elbow in the seats.
God knows I have an issue.
So I imagine He must have chuckled to Himself that Sunday as I was ‘self monitoring’ my volume and trying not to move enough to inadvertently touch the stranger next to me.
THIS is worship
We had moved and were settling in to a new church. Some of the songs or arrangements were new to me, and Lord knows the only thing worse than being heard when you sing something right is singing something wrong, so I was….well, ok. I’m just going to come out with it: I was lip syncing.
It was nice. It was peaceful. Then band transitioned into a hymn.
Without warning a booming, shrill, angry sounding male voice blew past the back of my head.
My husband reacted before he caught himself. I hoped the man hadn’t seen our surprise.
The voice knew every word. Not many notes, but every word. And he sang them each with the gusto of an Irish drinking song at final call.
The problem with worship singers (like me)
Between my work in Christian radio, as a worship leader, guest vocalist and workshop speaker I’ve had the opportunity to worship in a good number of churches and talk candidly with a whole bunch of singers who serve in worship.
We all take very seriously our job to remove distractions so other people can worship in song. That’s why we learn the words, memorize the notes, try to stay awake through rehearsals at hours no self respecting singer should even be awake yet and train to increase our vocal skill.
But many of us are distracted too: distracted by not sounding ‘good enough’, not being loud enough or being too loud, and not sounding as good as the singer next to us.
Put us in a room of other singers who know (or think) we can sing (can you say ‘worship conference’?) and we are even more tempted by the distraction of our perceived imperfections and what the singers next to us think.
What we’re afraid to tell worship leading singers
‘It’s ok if you can’t hold a tune in a bucket’
‘God does say to make a joyful noise‘
‘It doesn’t matter what you have as long as you give it to God’
These are the things we tell non-singers in the church all the time. But what would happen if we said them as often to our worship teams, leaders and choirs? Would everything might really become noise.
Is singing worship really so different than cover songs?
There are the 3 steps I teach every professional/gigging singers I work with:
1) You build your skills (ongoing personal training)
2) Then you fit those skills to a specific purpose (rehearsals for a show)
3) Finally, when you hit the stage you stop thinking about you (show time)
Why the last one?
The goal of a great singer/performer is to grow a fan base to start or build a career. Thinking about good you are (or aren’t) might get you through a gig but thinking about your audience turns attenders into fans.
But if our brain is forced to choose between thinking of ourselves and thinking about our audience, it will inevitably choose ‘me’.
When a singer has taken the personal prep and group rehearsal steps seriously, the quality of what they studied and what learned will kick in (aka, they’ll become good), leaving the brain free to focus on the audience instead.
By verse two of that hymn God was reminding me that the same is true for worship. But many of us (guilty) forget step 3. (By the way, how do you get a ‘joyful NOISE’? Forget steps 1 & 2)
To refuse to be distracted by anything is to have the ability to give our full attention to our audience of One.
This IS worship
When the hymn finished we were directed to “shake a hand next to ya”.
Thinking about how wonderfully un-distracted this man’s worship had been I turned around to put a face to the voice behind me.
“I really enjoyed your fervent worship”, I said.
It must have emboldened him. At the closing hymn, he sang twice as loud. And twice as badly.
And joined in.
Even if you’re not interested in ‘what’s behind the curtain’ aka the anatomy of the voice, it’s important to have a good basic understanding of how sound is made and what can get in the way.
This module from our “Sing Like a Natural” Series explains how your voice works and why it works the way it does.
Is there something wrong with my voice?
The Voice Club’s speech therapist Chelsea Roberts has a great list of symptoms that your voice could be in trouble.
As a speech therapist, there are several things I listen for when evaluating a new patient. Most of the warning signs I listen for are also signs you would recognize as well! It does not always take an expert to identify a concerning sound but does usually take an expert to treat the disorder. Below is a list of ten vocal symptoms that may require attention from a speech therapist.
1. Pitch breaks
2. Phonation breaks (voice completely cuts out for a second)
3. Increased vocal fatigue as the day progresses
4. Harsh vocal quality (raspy, gruff, etc…)
5. Low pitch
6. Frequent laryngitis
7. Frequent throat clearing or coughing
8. Inappropriate breath support (odd breathing patterns)
9. Obvious vocal and/or neck tension
10. Reduced loudness or vocal range
If you hear these symptoms in your voice while signing or talking it may be time to request a referral from your primary care physician for an evaluation by a licensed speech and language pathologist.
Good luck and happy singing!
This week, I have started walking into things. A lot. I’m simply not used to taking up this much space from front to back and since the bump is growing at an alarming rate now (32 weeks) there’s not much hope that my spacial awareness skills will keep up with it over the next 8 weeks until my due date.
When I am not walking into things I am bidding on baby stuff on eBay. This is twenty first century nesting! This week, I have made 24 separate eBay purchases, all for Baby Bignell. And that’s just the essential stuff – I’m pleased that I’ve got everything at such knock down prices (and slightly lessened the environmental dent of bringing a new human into the world by buying secondhand), but I’m not sure where to put all this stuff once it starts arriving!
I am also slowing down. In normal life I move pretty fast, so at least this means I am still relatively active at this late stage of pregnancy. I still take short walks and do pilates, but I have no desire to climb big hills or run marathons, and naps are fairly obligatory now (as is the daily brioche break).
Thanks to the nesting instinct, my motivation is running pretty high, which helps with the energy levels. Last week I landscaped a section of the garden which I’ve been wanting to do since we moved in (it’s so beautiful now!) I wouldn’t advise every heavily pregnant woman to start digging up turf and laying concrete paving slabs, but I find if I pay close attention to my body and limit that kind of activity to 90 minutes a day, I can not only avoid injury and exhaustion, but I actually get more done than if I were to spread the work out over a full day. Funny how the human mind works, isn’t it?
I still have so many projects I want to complete before the baby arrives, but crucially, I am not starting new ones. This is really key!
Now the major garden work is finished, and I’ve also completed the baby blanket I’ve been knitting for MONTHS, I am more or less free to focus on completing my album (over 1 year in the making) and planning the first draft of my novel (more like 2 years… but with less progress!) These are ideal third trimester projects because they involve sitting in a chair and creating stuff. Very little physical effort, and major mental distraction, which I sense is going to become increasingly important in the run up to labour and delivery. I definitely don’t want to spend the final weeks of pregnancy analysing every twinge and thinking “is this it?”
I am still enjoying being pregnant, which has really surprised me. I am blessed with general good health, and of course I’ve done what I can do keep healthy and active during pregnancy, but everything I read prepared me to absolutely loathe this whole final trimester – to feel like a beached whale, generally be swollen and uncomfortable, and fed up. I’m not saying I won’t get there, but right now I feel big and beautiful, full of beans, and with the most wonderful excuse to do only what I feel like doing (including napping in social situations and eating limitless amounts of brioche. Did I mention I like brioche?) Even my voice is playing ball – as I get bigger, my voice is getting bigger too. The tone is more rounded, more satisfying, and it’s easier to get a little more power out of notes. That’s been the biggest surprise – aside from the fact that I need toilet breaks every 20 minutes, I am in the best vocal shape of my life without even trying. Why did no-one tell me pregnancy would be like this?
Ladies – how did pregnancy affect your voice? Share your vocal pregnancy stories below.