SONIC SOUP OR A SONIC EMBRACE ? | Grant Norsworthy
LESS IS ( ALMOST ALWAYS ) MORE .
This wonderful paradox is especially true for the musical arrangement of songs we would use to invite a congregation to worship God by singing . It ’ s my strong conviction that we can more effectively invite the congregation to worship God through our songs with simpler , cleaner , less cluttered instrumentation than with busier , messier , over-full instrumentation .
Rather than drowning our congregation in a thick , gluggy “ sonic soup ”… leaving them reluctant , unwilling or even unable to hear any “ gap ” for their “ voice ”, we ought to craft an “ embrace ” of sound … wrapping the loving arms of our band ’ s sound around them to support and encourage them . Intentionally , we should leave a gaping hole in our arrangements that invites the congregation to complete the overall sound with their “ voice ”.
Yet , it ’ s my experience that many teams of church singers and instrumentalists have not yet fully understood nor implemented the truth and effectiveness of “ less is more ”. As I provide coaching for church teams through More Than Music Mentor , almost invariably , the team ’ s pre-coached sound is sonically soupy . But the restraint of “ less is more ” is an essential element of good musicality !
Sonically soupy church bands make me think of watching my 8-year-old son Marcus ’ s rugby team play ! ( Note : In my home country of New Zealand , rugby is by far the most popular winter sport . But don ’ t fret . This analogy works for soccer / football too , I ’ m sure ). With Marcus and the other kids on his team still learning even the basics of the game , the coach is on the field with them and constantly giving instructions . The games are actually opportunities to teach a bunch of inexperienced individuals how to play together as a team !
The most common instruction the coach has to give is to remind the kids to “ Spread out !” Left without coaching , every one of the 7- and 8-year-old players on the team tends to crowd around the ball leaving the wide expanse of the grassy field completely unoccupied . They all want to get their hands on the ball at the same time . They want the personal excitement of handing the ball and , therefore , control of the game .
But if they all pack around the ball , striving to have it at the same time , the team ends up struggling against one another ! If the coach allows the team to stay clumped together , the game ends up in a mess . No flow . Very little movement . Less play . A lot less fun . The team is ineffective and will ( probably ) lose the game .
Rugby ( like soccer and American football ) has positions for the different players . For the team to succeed , each team member needs to play their role . Not everyone can shine - have the ball - at the same time . Some team members may shine more than others . The team , as a whole , should be fine with that . To get a good game , the players need to spread out , leave space for one another and play their assigned position .
And so it is with a team of church singers and instrumentalists . We need to produce a “ spread out ” sound with clarity and distinction between the different musical elements . Leave space for one another ! Allow our own personal contribution to be smaller than if we were playing on our own . We must see our contribution as being a small part of something that ’ s way bigger . As we embrace the congregation - warmly inviting their vocal participation as an expression of worship to God - less will be more .
Without intentionality , and perhaps without clear instruction from the Musical Director ( MD ), there can be a tendency from each individual to focus too much on their own contribution and not enough on the contributions of others and the overall sound . As I coach , I almost always find myself needing to encourage the team members to :
1 ) MONITOR - be able to hear and be aware of each and every sonic element the ensemble is producing .
[ NOTE : While in-ear monitors with personal mixing consoles are the newer , technologically more advanced and more popular form of monitoring , they make it VERY easy for each individual to ignore other members of the ensemble that they are part of - mixing them very low , or even muting them in their personal monitor mix . To my exasperation , I have even heard a pro drummer at a large “ worship conference ” teach a workshop where he stated that he , “ just has the click , some of the backing tracks and a little bit of the leader ,” in his IEMs . Little wonder , so many band members are overplaying and over-singing . Their monitors are telling them they ’ re soloists !]
2 ) LISTEN TO THE SONG - its entire sound - as a higher priority than listening to their own instrument ,
3 ) MAKE THEIR OWN SONIC CONTRIBUTION SMALLER , SIMPLER , CLEANER
4 ) LEAVE SONIC SPACE FOR EACH OTHER - don ’ t crowd each other and especially don ’ t crowd