Embrace the Struggle
Years ago when I was on the road with a vocal ensemble, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a man named Gordon Twist, a vocal producer on Broadway. In one of the many rehearsals that I spent with Gordon, he engaged us in a rather unusual exercise: he “shot” us with an invisible harpoon and expected us to respond accordingly. Some of us were willing to make a fool of ourselves, flopping around and screaming in “pain” while others stood in bewilderment trying to figure out what was expected of them. The point of the exercise was to see who was willing to push past their comfort zone and do something that was potentially embarrassing. It was an impetus for me to stretch as a singer and performer, knowing that I had more emotional depth than I ever imagined.
Fast forward a couple decades later...As I lead a group of young worship leaders I continue to challenge them the way “the Twister” challenged me - to embrace the struggle of the performance. 90% of worship songs are very easy to sing. They have to be. A great worship song, or a great pop song for that matter, needs to be easily accessible to the listener. Musicians who have a knack for their instrument can knock these songs out in their sleep. And that’s where we lose the energy and passion in our services.
The dilemma: how do we make what is inherently easy into a passionate struggle? Here are a few ideas...
1. If you can sing your song with ease, you aren’t working hard enough.
I worked with Jordan the other day on a song that came easily to him. The key was perfect for him and his phrasing was smooth and tight. But I asked him to rough it up a bit and shorten his phrasing, as well as hitting each word that started with a vowel with a new breath. I wanted him to work harder to present his message. His delivery needed to seem as if he were pondering every word, which in this new mindset he was. The result was a sense of immediacy in his voice rather than a nice, sweet tone.
2. The struggle in your performance = passion to your audience.
The people in the room don’t necessarily want a song they can sing, they want a song they can believe. And if you don’t believe it, why should they? As you work through the song during the week, wrestle with it until you understand the weight it carries.
3. If you are not emotionally drained after each set, you haven’t worked hard enough.
Sweat every word/phrase/thought. I encourage those on our stage to give it all each service, no matter how much they’ve got left in the tank.
4. Don’t be afraid to fail or be embarrassed.
I remind our guys, especially our vocalists, to own their mistakes on stage. The audience knows you missed it, so don’t run and hide. Acknowledge your humanness and allow them to see you as real.
The great performers work hard to communicate their message, even with the simplest of songs. Let’s make sure we aren’t taking the easiest path each weekend. God deserves more than that...