After 5 years and 10 months of reading, researching, thinking, analyzing, writing, and editing—it is done! The examiners have reviewed my dissertation and deemed it worthy of doctoral status…such a relief! I would like to take this opportunity to thank my two supervisors, Dr Scott Harrison and Prof Paul Draper, who both contributed mightily to the dissertation. Their careful and considered input never wavered during the arduous journey and as a result the final presentation of the data and my analysis thereof is all the more richer and robust. Thank you gentlemen!
For those of you interested in the finer details, the document is approximately 83,000 words covering some 330 pages; organized into 6 chapters. It sports approximately 800 references taken from over 200 books, articles and recordings. The research queried 85 online survey contributors and 9 interview participants. The results brandish a collection of 19 distinctive features that distinguish the Contemporary Worship Singer as a unique vocalist in the wider community. The implications of the study find their climax in the Contemporary Worship Singer Assessment Tool which all singing teachers who have the opportunity to instruct today’s church singer will find invaluable.
Many of you have asked for a copy of the dissertation once it is ready for distribution. The document can be downloaded from the Griffith ‘open access’ portal here – http://bit.ly/IXArES
Now to the exciting bit…
Over the coming months I will be writing about my research findings; hopefully in a manner that enables church worship directors and Contemporary Worship Singers to apply the information to their current and future activities. As by way of introducing the research findings I will now briefly outline the structure which governed my conclusions. This structure nominates four main pillars of influence on and in the task and identity of the Contemporary Worship Singer. The four research pillars of enquiry are construct, culture, environment and voice.
The label of ‘construct’ acknowledges that the Contemporary Worship Singer exists within the wide and vast framework of Christianity. The construct is serviced by the rich history of Christian worship which can be shown to pre-date Christianity; including and embracing Jewish worship practices. The historical footings of Christian worship have included the practice of singing as an integral activity of the worship construct almost inclusively across theological bounds. The multiplicities of theological positions however have formed ideological camps and these competing views have drawn battlefronts known as the ‘worship wars’. Essentially, what seems to be in continual conflict is the worship style (liturgical, traditional, contemporary, blended and emerging) and the worship form (modular, thematic and flow).
Of course, the multiplicity of worship construct in turn forms specific subcultures. These subcultures can be viewed at various levels: Christianity, denominations, local church etc. The modern western church is grappling with a number of key subjects in the area of worship; especially when considering the persons involved in presenting and leading worship. These contemplations arise, in part, from the prominence of worship in today’s church culture. The label ‘worship,’ as used in my previous sentence, is often contextualized to include those parts of the church service ordered to music. While I am the first to acknowledge that this is a limited view of worship and all that it may (and should) encompass for today’s Christian, it is nonetheless the terminology that many church attending Christians use to describe that which can be also termed congregational singing. While reflecting on the culture of today’s modern worship matters such as the celebrity status (intentional and otherwise) of those leading worship should be considered. My research enquires as to the heightened status of the Contemporary Worship Singer in these modern cultures and in doing so also considers the attributes and place of ‘performance’ as a part of the role. Furthermore, the theological consideration of the ‘anointing’ is reviewed/researched as well as the concept of excellence. Both subjects (anointing and excellence) are found to be contextualized and held in direct relation to the multiplicity of each Contemporary Worship Singers church context.
The practical nature of both construct and culture are observed under the heading ‘environment’. Winston Churchill stated, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” The truth of this statement is undeniable and exemplified in the task of the Contemporary Worship Singer. Church architecture plays a major role in shaping and presenting the role of the modern church singer. Whether hearing the singer’s voice emanate from the wings (transept) of an Anglican cathedral or viewing the enthusiastic energies of the Contemporary Worship Singer on a raised stage in a modern auditorium, the architecture serves to accentuate the voice(s) of the singer and the voices of those that they lead. Herein lies a challenge that Contemporary Worship Singers face every time they seek to lead the congregational voice: acoustic space balance. Inherent to the task of leading the congregation in song is the prominent presentation of the leader’s voice. Sing too loud and the congregation may be ‘drowned out’ by the leader’s voice. Sing too quietly and individuals within the congregation may be ‘socially uncomfortable’ and in so feeling reduce their vocal participation. If the acoustic space balance is not managed well, congregations reduce/discontinue their involvement; the very opposite of what the Contemporary Worship Singer is seeking to achieve. Also queried under the label of ‘environment’ is the use of modern-day equipment such as microphones and foldback. Briefly, it would seem that the vast majority of singers are utilizing these modern pieces of equipment, but few have considered their implications upon their role as a Contemporary Worship Singer, and thus little attention is given to developing better strategies for their inclusion in the role.
Finally, my research reviews the use of the voice as the Contemporary Worship Singers primary tool. The teaching and learning of singing (vocal pedagogy) is a well-researched and heavily documented discipline. This being said, the Contemporary Worship Singer and their unique vocal task has received very little (if any) critical enquiry. Much more work is needed in this area, but I am hopeful that my initial findings will be helpful as future research is embarked upon. What I have concluded from this work is that the Contemporary Worship Singer must determine what vocal discipline is best suited to their needs; classical or contemporary. Typically in Australian churches either hymns or choruses are used; generally a mix of both. These two musical idioms fall neatly into the vocal disciplines of classical (hymns) and contemporary (choruses) instruction. Given that most modern worship constructs are using a combination of both musical genres the Contemporary Worship Singer (along with their singing teacher) needs to determine what vocal discipline best suits their overall vocal development. Also exposed by the research is the poorly practiced activity of vocal warm-ups and cool-downs by Contemporary Worship Singers. Anecdotally I believe the findings in this area simply mirror the wider vocal community’s poor practice of caring for the voice through such practices as warm-ups. Regardless, due to the Contemporary Worship Singer’s desire to present a standard of excellence in their worship (culture) they must be encouraged to develop higher standards of voice care and practice; including regular warm-ups and cool-downs.
Over the coming months I will endeavor to unpack each of the ‘pillars’ (construct, culture, environment and voice); breaking down the details, highlighting the findings and offering suggestions for practical implementation. As always I eagerly invite you to write your comments and open dialogue around your views and experiences.