That Moment of Serenity...

If I've described this feeling before, I probably used colorful language or an inappropriate analogy that nobody really understood. Rach accuses this of me on a regular basis, so I should probably work on that.

To give you a little bit of background before I dive in, most of my vocal experience was within the area that is Missouri State University. While I no longer believe that uni was the best option for me, the experiences I had in the music culture there, big band, jazz, polka, instrumental, world music, acapella, classical, etc., have shaped me as both a musician and a human being. 

I was part of a couple different barbershop groups. Barbershop is fun. REALLY FUN.. Anyway... The rehearsals for a group like this are unique and intense. There are a few things that have to happen for a small vocal ensemble, specifically a barbershop quartet (quintet, etc.). I'm going to describe these three things below, but what I want everyone to know is that these things apply to every musical ensemble. This applies especially to vocalists, but guitarists and keyboards and drummers need to keep these things in mind as well.


(Please bear in mind that these are just my opinions. I won't attempt to back them up with science, but there are some things that just work.)

1. Group Vocals vs. Lead Vocals

What's the difference? Group vocals BLEND. What does that mean? When you sing with another person, or a few other people, the most important thing you can do is LISTEN. Of course, blend isn't a rule of thumb. Some styles lend themselves to a more organic sound with differing vocal characteristics. In our group though, when there is more than one vocal part, we need to blend. This means having similar (preferably the same) vowels. So if the lead vocalist pronounces avocado as 'aive-awc-oh-doe' instead of 'ah-voe-cah-doe', the whole group should follow suit. This is probably easier to understand in person, but this will give you a foundation for my quirky analogies in the future. Blend also means having similar phrases. When the lead vocalist sings this phrase (commas denote breaths), "When this life has overwhelmed me, and I feel like giving up." you should not sing it as "When this life, has overwhelmed me and I feel, like giving up." These phrases most likely come naturally to people as they listen to other performers, but that's not always the case.

Lead vocals can move away from the group. When you're singing alone or in front of the group, you need to stick out. The backup vocals can match your vowels and phrases, but your volume and stage presence is what creates and maintains that gap. 

Vowels are important. Phrasing is important. 

2. Confidence

Blending applies to everyone and so does confidence. When you play an instrument or sing, your body is relying on muscle memory and skill to demonstrate inner emotion. Whether you're hitting a stick on a piece of mylar or smashing your fingers into a plastic key, your body is being driven by your brain. That's a wonderful thing to think about, the things your body goes through in order to create a sound. Unfortunately, unless people have a good ear for everyone's instrument and personality, nobody knows what goes into the making of a beautiful sound. This is why confidence is important. When we practice we train our bodies to go through a set of motions in order to perform a task. Something we should also be doing is allowing those set of motions to freely dictate our outward appearance. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Smile. When you enjoy what you're doing, people will enjoy watching you do it. Serving is the hinge that opens the door for people's hearts to worship, and that's our job. Allowing confidence in rehearsal and using it during performance means that our good music has the ability to become great music. Whether it sounds like it or not, our appearance needs to reflect our expectations for the congregation. I'm not saying to be a douche. I am saying to be proud of what you're doing to serve God. Your authenticity directly affects the accessibility of a person's heart.

3. Preparation

Know your part. Our jobs as musicians isn't to just know our part, but everyone else's as well. Why is this important? Scroll back up to "1. Group Vocals vs. Lead Vocals". If you don't know your own part, then there's no way you've had time to learn anyone else's. Timing, phrasing and patterns emerge from within an arrangement. They become obvious when you don't just focus on your small part, but what your part looks like within the greater piece.

When these three things line up within an ensemble, there's something that happens. I've heard it described in many different ways, but my favorite way is "click". Waves jump into alignment with each other, musicians capture a rhythm and are in "tune" with each other; this moment of serenity is when true, skillful music occurs. Sometimes it just happens at random, but with focus and attention to detail, it can be replicated. Here's a good example of "click". RIP Glenn Frey.

Whether you're a drummer, singer, guitarist, keyboardist, tambourine-ist; these things all apply. 

By doing these things, you're not only taking your musicianship to the next level, but the band as well. If the band moves forward, we move forward; Stonebrooke moves forward. In the end this is all about allowing the greatest transition we can, into a first date with Jesus. Playing in the band might not be the most important thing in your life, but the impact you have on those who aren't even interested in meeting Jesus is MONUMENTAL. It's an honor to serve and grow with you, and to make that positive impact on the people around us.

I'll see you tomorrow. :)

Joseph BennettComment