Expecting the Unexpected

In churches we work so hard– and spend precious resources– to make our music and sound infrastructure perform better. Accordingly, we expect things to work. Everywhere we turn in our consumer-oriented society we are seduced into thinking we can buy solutions to almost anything. When a purchased fix doesn’t perform as planned, don’t we feel betrayed or cheated, or worse?

These expectations are the very basis of commerce, and are manifest in contracts, warranties, advertising, and in products themselves. We really have little choice other than to buy an answer when it comes to so many needs. Anybody tried to tune their own car lately?

So it seems we must partner in solving problems and building an organization–including the Kingdom. Buying equipment, installations, and tools is a form of partnering. But we the consumers are still ultimately responsible for their effective use.

This issue of Christian Sound & Song features topics dealing with sound systems. As I’ve heard a good friend and system contractor, Sandy Swartzendruber say, "The best sound system is one you don’t notice." I’m reminded of that simple truth every time I perceive acoustic "flak" like feedback, pops, hums, unnatural EQ, or "not enough guitar on the solo line." In truth, we know there is no perfect sound system.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, or shouldn’t buy. We can help ourselves as pastors, music ministers, and sound operators, by being on our toes. To sweeten a popular bumper sticker slogan, "things happen!" Amen. They do indeed, and it’s an important aspect of any ministry– preaching, musical or acoustical– to be able to roll with the punches.

I recently observed two acoustical "disappointments" followed by remarkable on-the-spot responses. I’m not criticizing those organizations, but they bought their solutions and thereby serve to illustrate. At the last Gaither Praise Gathering at Indianapolis’ Convention Center, about 10,000 paying attendees eagerly awaited a concert by the always wonderful Christ Church Choir directed by the talented and energetic Landy Gardner. The Praise Gathering is not only a magnificent offering of gospel and Christian music. It’s also an amazing example of sound and video technology effectively deployed to serve an enormous audience. The concert had just begun, and Joy Gardner and other soloists were mid-song, when the reinforcement system dropped out completely.

Rather than laughing, like some folks around me, I said a quiet prayer for the sound team. True job stress comes in moments like that. The choir system never came back– even after a delay of what seemed like forever, but was probably ten minutes. But during that first number, an amazing thing had happened. In mid-song, after only a few measures, someone had plugged Joy Gardner’s mic into one of the onstage guitar or keyboard amps, and all 10,000 people could still hear the soloists– with that great choir singing backup–although in the "distance." That kind of creative response you can’t buy. Landy and the choir never missed a beat.

Recently, the main musical event at LA’s winter NAMM show was Yamaha’s lifetime achievement award to Michael McDonald. The former Doobie Brother, and a remarkable singer/songwriter, was joined by greats like Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Boz Skaggs, and Kenny Loggins in a huge concert at LA’s Shrine Auditorium. The President of Yamaha Corporation was there, and it was the hottest ticket in town. You guessed it– the wireless vocal mics began cutting out something awful! After numerous swaps throughout the show, Michael was joined by the other Doobies to sing their hits. During "What a Fool Believes" Michael’s vocal dropped out. After about four beats, Kenny Loggins ran onstage with another mic– singing the right words to the verse–then passed his mic to McDonald before exiting. There’s a performer on his toes!

Things happen to great artists in the biggest places to wealthy organizations that hired the best tools. Perhaps we humbler folk shouldn’t be shocked when things fail. But a little creativity, and above all, honesty in presentation to our worshipers– without apology for things beyond our control– can cover a multitude of mishaps. Keep the faith, and keep on trying. Those in worship deserve our agile best.

Tom LeFevre, Editor