Task and Context
A few posts ago (Thai Duck and the Impending Doom) I made a commitment to disseminate many of my research findings through my blog; highlighting the various unique facets of the Contemporary Worship Singer. I am still committed to that promise but alas I have not yet received my examiners results. It is therefore prudent that I exercise restraint and only present a brief introduction to my work at this time. I maintain my commitment to release the body of the work once the examiners have had their say and I have responded to their requested changes.
What’s so special about the Contemporary Worship Singer? Good question. At first glance it appears that the modern church singer is like many other vocalists who sing repertoire that is categorised as ‘contemporary’. Prior to the study I had contented myself with the misnomer that today’s church singers predominantly sing choruses. The modern church chorus stylistically vacillates between pop/rock to pop ballad and rarely strays to other genres. My research has revealed that the minority of churches (18%, n15/83) use only choruses. The majority of my research participants indicated that their church use a balanced amount of choruses and hymns. This is perhaps the most fundamental (but certainly not the only) challenge facing the Contemporary Worship Singer: the vocal task must address repertoire that is technically different. Hymns are best sung with a classical discipline, while the modern chorus is best served with a pedagogy that is contemporary. This poses the question: Can a singer learn to do both? Moreover, can the singer learn to switch between the different styles (classical and contemporary) all within the confines of one worship service? As many of my vocal students would tell you, it’s difficult enough to learn proficiency in one discipline without the heightened task of freely activating either/or. For the volunteer church singer who has little to no vocal training the modern church environment creates a difficult vocal task. I can hear many of you sighing, “Sure, that’s an interesting feature of the modern church singer…but it’s not enough to declare them unique!” I agree. I made the same observation at the conclusion of my Master’s Degree. The vocal task in and of itself does not separate the Contemporary Worship Singer from their vocal peers in the wider community of singers. So what does?
Reviewing the singing task of the Contemporary Worship Singer reveals what the singer does, but it stops short of identifying who they are. Herein lies the challenge facing my research. The context of the Contemporary Worship Singer has a multiplicity that other singers do not need to grapple with. At a superficial level it is helpful to separate the contexts into traditional and contemporary. The traditional church environments are typically conservative in their theological orientation. This conservatism is observed in the architecture of the worship space, the manner in which modern equipment (PA and Video projection) is used and the presentational modes of those presenting the worship service. The alternate mode of church presentation is as its namesake suggests: contemporary. The Contemporary Worship Singer who practices their craft in the contemporary environments are more exposed in their presentation with both PA and video projection used to enhance their audial and visual leadership. This heightened exposure can lead to a cultural dilemma: if the general purpose of worship is to corporately direct adoration to God, how then does the Contemporary Worship Singer ensure that they are striking the balance of necessary encouragement to the worship participants without drawing undue attention to themselves or their performance? This is a unique feature. No other singer in the wider community has to draw attention to their task without drawing attention to themselves. This has broader ramifications for such considerations as excellence and how the individual singer might develop their craft. Again, I need to stop short of unpacking this until I have been given the ‘all-clear’ by my examiners…but I think you can gain the general picture. What makes the Contemporary Worship Singer unique is both the task and the context combined.
I’m looking forward to delivering a more in-depth account of my work and its findings in the coming months. I can assure you no one wants the examiners comments more than I do, but wait we shall. Once I have a definitive indication of the work and it’s approved finality I will step us through the outcomes/findings of the research and disclose the conclusions including the ‘Contemporary Worship Singer Assessment Tool’ accompanied by the nineteen distinctive features which collectively form a detailed role description of the Contemporary Worship Singer. I can’t wait to reveal all.