I stood with my hand over my heart in front of the flag waiting for the Soloist to begin her rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s a nerve-racking feat to sing a song with such a range of high and low notes in front of a crowd of people, and I’m sure this moment was no picnic for the lady as she began. She didn’t mean to, I’m sure, but she sang in at least nine keys before the song was over. Every line seemed to jump up a half step or down a whole step musically, and I just closed my eyes hoping it would be over soon. The gracious audience applauded at the song’s end, and the sporting event commenced. And I got to thinking…
Why don’t we the audience sing “The Star Spangled Banner” together anymore at sporting events? Why is it relegated to a Soloist? Granted, some soloists can sing any song so well you think you were transported to another heavenly dimension when they are done, and I love to hear good singing, believe me; but there is something missing–something big and uniting missing when the voices of many are silenced for the one.
I thought about the most moving moments in the movie “The Sound of Music” when Captain Von Trapp leads the Austrian audience in the singing of their anthem “Edelweiss”. Their collective voices joined together in a common affection for the country they held dear, and it was beautiful.
It’s not just the National Anthem that has been turned over to soloists. I’ve visited many churches in my lifetime and have watched a trend in worship music move from the collective voices of the many to the soloing voice on stage. Congregations aren’t singing like they used to. I know there are multiple factors: new songs, no written music to follow, multiple lyrics, keys that aren’t congregation friendly, syncopations that are tricky, vocal runs, octave jumps, and an inability to try to master the melody before its three minute run is over. All of these things can contribute to a worship experience that is only entered into by the ones on stage who rehearsed for hours before presenting.
I’ve attended conferences where the worship band for that night is recording their new album live, and I am part of the live experience in the audience, and that is fun except when I don’t know any of the songs, and an hour passes with me being a spectator instead of a worshiper. Like a kid waiting to enter a double-dutch jump-roping session, I’m looking for an opening, but can’t get in. So I just close my eyes and sing my own song to God in my heart.
One of my children told me the other day that they struggled to learn a new song in church, and just gave up singing. I said, “Imagine what the older generation is going through. Worship leaders don’t sing their songs anymore in church.”
“I never thought about that!” they said.
How can we create connection, shared fellowship and story by soloing? Don’t misunderstand, I have been a soloist and singer most all of my life. I love to sing, and I love to hear singers. We need soloists. It’s just that there are some pieces of community where the collective voice has gone silent, and almost extinct, and that bothers me. I’m glad my kids here professionals and soloists sing the National Anthem, but they also need to hear the voices of their neighbors, and the American Veterans singing that song together even if their voices aren’t as polished. My kids need to see and hear their grandparent’s generation singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and watch them get caught up in the goodness of a God that has carried them through the years, as badly as they need to hear their favorite worship band sing their newest release. Both are valuable. Together they tell the story of God’s goodness. Together they give depth and meaning to the lyric and rhyme.
Wiser people have written on this subject, and I can’t begin to articulate the nuances of our culture shifts like others can. My friend Manuel Luz, a worship pastor has written several articles like this one, and I would recommend reading his thoughts on the aging out of worshipers, and other cultural hurdles in our churches on his site: www. manuelluz.com .
Honestly, I don’t have all of the solutions, and I certainly have no desire to pick on churches or sporting events. Our culture is shifting in front of our eyes, and there is a lot to keep up with, but I do want to get a conversation going. So, I would love to hear your thoughts on these things. Do you notice the silence of the collected voice? Does it bother you? How has your church or organization dealt with these issues?