One of the most brilliant statements to singers is this little quote from the book Art and Fear, by Orland and Bayles: “The only voice you need is that one you already have.”
This highlights a biblical truth (Gal 2:20) that a timeless God abides within the physical bodies of human beings and that, as long as they are breathing, God is uniquely at work in them, through their very lives, giving testimony to his transforming presence, healing power, and forgiving nature. He extends a redemptive invitation to salvation by allowing all people the opportunity to trade their sinful nature for his righteousness. This gives credence to the fact that the ability to praise God and give voice to his life in us is utterly timeless. He invites us to everlasting life and everlasting worship of a timeless, limitless God.
In contrast, a predominant view seen in many churches today is that singers and worship leaders are irrelevant once they hit their mid-30s. In fact, one large church that we know of actually has a policy that requires vocal team members to step down once they hit 35. Yet in the secular world, singers like Bono, who is 51 and Sting, who just turned 60, are still at the top of their game, still relevant, still creating. So, why is the Church so reluctant to believe that singers can continue to stay viable as they age, and so quick to label them as extraneous once they actually acquire some wisdom and maturity?
Worship Slide toward Youth
We think there are a few of reasons why many churches are “going younger.”
- Younger singers are often fearless and open to new musical styles. Social media and has allowed them to “put themselves out there,” and experimenting in public makes coloring outside of musical lines an everyday occurrence for young artists. Taking risks is native for the Internet generation.
- Singers in the church tend to sing safer as they get older, hide behind their limitations, vocalize less often and stop exposing themselves to new music as they age.
- Church leaders believe the misconception that singers over 35 are incapable of learning new ways of singing outside of what is comfortable and known. Becoming irrelevant seems inevitable.
But the apostle Paul, in 1 Cor. 12:4-7 challenges us to steward our unique gifts regardless of age. In our years of leading singers in the local church, we have seen powerful ministry happening through multiple generations leading worship together—all relevant, all authentically worshiping in a variety of styles, all experiencing great community through worship. Currently, we have singers who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s serving alongside singers who are in their teens and 20s, singing United, Baloche, Crowder, Wesley, Getty, Handel, and everything in between. It is possible! But it takes hard work and intentionality to achieve that kind of versatility across age ranges, particularly when the newer worship styles are not “native.”
Use it. Don’t lose it.
There are two essential keys to achieving the ability to authentically adapt to changing musical styles, regardless of age, and we teach these extensively in our WorshipVoice seminars and at the NWLC (National Worship Leader Conference).
First, singers need to stay “in voice,” consistently working on their vocal technique, vocalizing 3-5 times a week for 20-30 minutes a day. Singers who intentionally work on low breathing, strong breath support, reducing areas of tension while separating and strengthening (and then re-blending) their head and chest voices in various combinations are voices impervious to age and stylistic limitations. The current vocal approach heard in pop and post-modern worship is merely a re-invented take on the singing approach taught in the bel canto era. This enables singers to be versatile and vocally healthy.
Study to Show Yourself Approved
Secondly, singers need to become students of vocal style. The reason why much of the worship music sounds like “karaoke in church” is due to the fact that styles are often performed out of context and not adapted authentically. All genres have specific nuances or different ways they use the elements of phrasing, vibrato, ornamentation, resonance (where sound is placed), tone color (timbre), registration (use of head/chest/blend voice), diction and dynamics. Learning to hear and reproduce them in different combinations can allow singers to sing various styles with authenticity and freedom. Traditional, pop, gospel, and post-modern music are very different, but vocalists can handle all of them well, if they are in voice and if they understand and can replicate the nuances of each.
The mastery of vocal technique and style are the keys to unlocking freedom, versatility and longevity in vocal ministry. If we are to engage multiple generations leading and worshiping together, we must steward well our unique gifts while celebrating our unique differences.
“The only voice you need is the one you already have.”