I don’t know how many of us have witnessed multiple lead vocalists attempting to share the same vocal stage – during the same song. While there may be some true “harmony” present, there can be a perceived “limelight-hog” air about the event that can leave the participants feeling like they’ve gotten a pedicure from a cheese grater (slightly amusing, but mostly painful).
While assembling a team that includes several powerhouse singers can seem like a worship leader’s dream come true, there is an inherent danger in opening the flood gates. Supportive singers are intended to be just that… “supportive.” The goal is not about impressing the congregation with our skills, it’s about assisting in drawing the congregation into a worship-filled experience. While it is within our ability as supportive vocalists to grab the oars and plow through “Oceans” with powerful and amazing harmonies, we need to be mindful and constantly aware of the mood, phrasing, and tone presented through the worship leader.
Many worship songs contain builds, climaxes, breakdowns, and recaps. Adjusting your abilities to support the phrasing of the song is a critical tool we need to keep foremost in our toolbox. Generally, appropriate phrasing consists of the worship leader fielding the first verse on their own. Then, as the stew is cooking, we season the next verse, bridge, or phrase with a single harmony or octave unison (as the register and complexity of the melody permits). We then build the chorus with a deeper oblique (or single tone) harmony to fill the chord. As we move to the next phrase or verse, we need not “reset” the supportive line, but may choose, instead, to back the support down to the single harmony.
When we support the melody with a harmony that matches the timing of the melody, we “latch” onto that melody. As supportive singers, it is important that we not only follow the melodic rhythm as closely as possible, but we also can adjust our diction to adopt warmer pronunciations. The more we concentrate on the open vowels in our diction, the less absolute we must be in articulating every consonant. Not only does this create a full and rich sound on open vowels, it minimizes the amount of hard consonants heard by the audience – which run the risk of not being at the same time! So instead of hearing the word “peace,” the audience hears “peace-ce-ce-ce-ce-ce-,” which is something we absolutely do not want to have happen.
Following Worship Leader Cues
The worship leader will sometimes adjust their vocal delivery by backing away from the mic when the Spirit is engaging the congregation. This most oftentimes occurs in a Chorus recap, but can also present itself within other moving phrases. Now, imagine we – as supportive vocalists – aren’t paying attention to the movement of the Spirit as closely as we should. The result can be an awkward and unbalanced harmony presenting through the PA, with little or no melody reinforcement. The key to an effective and unified vocal presence resides in our adaptation to the worship leader’s cues. When we see them back away from the mic to let the Spirit’s movement in the congregation take control for a short while, we – as supportive vocalists – need to mimic the cue and back away as well. Backing away from the mic is also an extremely effective tool we as singers can use to project in a more “ambient vocal” manner.