Monday, November 1, 2010

An Open Letter to Worship Pastors

There has been something puzzling me for several years now. I'm writing this open letter to worship pastors so that the two I know who read this blog can respond for their kind. I usually leave worship pastors alone, because they must be the most attacked breed on the planet, aside from George W. Bush and lawyers. So here is the question:

Why do you have to sing so high?

I don't know why it is, but every worship leader I come across sings in a key unattainable by both men and women. The men alternately try to sing along with the leader and switch to an octave lower - going from Bee Gees to Barry White. While us women alternate between Sarah Brightman and deep-throated frog. Rather than focusing on worship, we are nervously trying to figure out which octave we can sing in in this particular verse, bridge, or chorus without embarassing ourselves with our neighbors. Or we just start mouthing it.

What gives? Are the type of men drawn to lead worship all tenors? Is it those skinny jeans you all insist on wearing? Or are you all enslaved by the key in which Matt Redmond writes in?

Recently, I overheard an elderly English lady talking to a worship pastor. She asked (read in an elderly English lady's voice): "I notice that the ladies sing quite breathy. You see, the songs are quite high. Can we sing any lower songs?"

I don't actually remember his reply, so busy was I giggling. Thus the need for this letter. Because of the highness of our songs, women only sing harmony in many church bands. It's already hard enough to "remain silent in church" without being relegated to harmony or deep-throated frog.

So what do you say, pastors? Why can't we bring it down?


hlw said...

Good question.

Vicki Small said...

Often noticed the same thing, Amber! But, to be fair, there's nothing wrong with singing harmony, assuming the song is singable, to begin with. I enjoy harmonizing and have, since I was 7.

Amber said...

I don't have anything against harmony, but not everyone can sing it!

Mary Ann said...

OH, AMEN, Sistuh. As a low second-alto/tenor, sometimes it's too high to even sing harmony. Sometimes I have to drop an octave and THEN take the tenor (or bass) part.

Aaron Armstrong said...

Word. I can't sing worth beans, so it's hard for me to even carry a tune, let alone make it sound good. It maybe a joyful noise to the Lord, but it's just noise for the people standing next to me :)

Now you've got me thinking of writing my own open-letter to worship pastors...

Amber said...

Comment sent to me by email from a worship leader:

LOL, ok ok ok, I'll be the first, since I'm one of those that sing high. The interesting thing is that a lot of the Psalms, it talks about singing and SHOUTING. Biblegateway it and search "shout." Shouting doesn't mean that you have to be in key or even have a good voice, but just letting your voice scream praises. When I first played "Your Beautiful" I wasn't sure if the crowd could sing it. But ... when the high part comes, everyone is SHOUTING praises. Its probably one of the most amazing things I get to hear. Watching and seeing men and women scream at the top of their lungs. Even when someone shouts, if we were to put a key or note or pitch, they are usually pretty high. I just think there is something about just screaming at the top of your lungs for Jesus with songs ... its just an amazing thing. But, that's my opinion. Chris Tomlin ... or David Crowder raises his songs so people can sing louder. Remember what I shared tonight when the young Pros had to sing softly ...? Well, we sang O Praise him in a way lower key, which made everyone sing way softer and not loud. It was kind of funny.

Another thing that comes to mind is (we all know) Rom 12:1 - therefore i urge you brothers in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Maybe many think that actually singing brings you into the presence of God, but this verse actually says your bodies, not your voices. :) There is a song of Steele's that I'm obsessed with. Its really high ... for the average MAN. But I don't even sing it, I just listen and I feel God calming my heart even without singing. I am worshiping because my attention is at God, and nothing else. I think that's a little bit of what worship is.

Travis said...

Well, I guess I would have to answer your question with another question.

Why do you have to sing so low?

Most women are tenor-altos, meaning their highest "comfortable" note is around an A above middle C. Shouting range can push them up to a B or C. Obviously many can sing higher, many can sing lower, I'm just talking about the general "public" that I've personally encountered, my wife being one of them.

Most men are low baritones and can comfortably sing a D above middle C, and can belt up to about an F# or G above middle C.

My "comfort" range, or where I have the most presence, which is just another word for energy or charisma, the intangible quality that makes you desire to sing along, is between the E above middle C to an A above middle C. I'm a tenor, and physically can't sing all that low. What's funny is I actually have a higher range than several of the women I regularly sing with.

Most worship leaders have zero training in how to MUSICALLY lead people into PARTICIPATION, and I was no exception. I honestly wasn't aware until just a few years ago how hard it was for people to sing along when I jumped to the upper reaches of my range. As a musician I naturally rebel against lowering dynamic range for the sake of making people happy, (don't mess with my art, man!) so I resisted it for awhile, but finally gave in. First rule of giving in: there's no way to make everyone happy. With ALL attempts at finding solutions, complaints and criticism will abound.

The way I combat this these days in worship settings is first to try to pick songs that don't have crazy low parts as well as insane high parts (ie. "Spoken For" by MercyMe, and almost anything Tim Hughes sings.) Those songs sound great on the CD, but aren't congregationally friendly. Second, I make sure the women have a few songs in their key, led by a woman. Third, I realize there is a percentage of guys in the crowd with my range, and throw them a song here and there to really belt out and assume the rest of the crowd will serve us by screaming along at some random pitch. Fourth, I always try to get a "traditional" type of song in the set with 3 or 4 part harmonies clearly led by the vocal team on stage.

Ultimately God gave me a certain range I can sing in comfortably. When I key too many of the songs lower, I can literally injure myself by trying to sing out of my range (and have!). I try to take the above steps to combat this, and haven't had too many complaints about it lately.

Amber said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Travo-o. It sounds like you have found a good balance.

Travis said...

Another thing to add - I'm not sure what's going on exactly, but at least in Fort Collins there seems to be a lack of soprano women. Unfortunately for 90% of worship songs, to key a song low enough for the non-soprano women to sing along with the melody, the male octave-lower melody then becomes unattainable by 60-70% of the men. The same is true in reverse. Hence #2 in my post above - some songs led by women.

Amber said...

Trav-o, I'm a soprano, but I don't usually sing the octave above, because I don't want to be singing that high solo, which I would be!