Her name was Octavia and she was a sweet senior adult lady that sang in the choir and in the older adult choir as well. And every time – and I mean EVERY time – we had a special concert or program, right before we left the choir room that precious lady would raise her hand and say,
“Hey everybody! Don’t forget to smile! No one wants to listen to an ugly choir.”
I believe Octavia was on to something.
The truth is choirs should pay more attention to how they look when they sing. How many times have you heard a choir singing, “I’ve got the joy of the Lord down deep in my heart!” while looking like they had eaten one of Aunt Bee’s pickles?
So what it is about singing that makes many choir members look miserable when they sing? There are some reasons that help explain it.
Focus — The level of concentration required to sing (especially from memory) can cause unintentional scowls from a choir.
Fear – Maybe the choir doesn’t know the song very well, and there is real concern about messing up. It’s hard to look pleasant when you feel like you are on the verge of a musical disaster.
Solution – Both of these can be addressed by a systematic and thorough preparation plan; one that builds confidence and frees the singer to unleash expression in their voices and faces.
Technique – Often the best position of the jaw in good singing can require an expression that doesn’t lend itself to happy smiles. Use your eyes to express in those moments.
Or how about this?
Oblivious — Simply put, the choir has no idea they look like they are in the waiting room of a dentist office when they sing.
Solution — Take time, in a rehearsal, to watch a video together of the choir singing without the sound. Ask them to rate their effectiveness communicating the lyric visually. You could even have a little fun with this, but be careful not to draw attention to someone who might be sensitive about appearance. You might even look at videos from other churches that might provide more freedom to evaluate without offending.
We Just Want to Be Real — You might hear someone say, “I’m not going to put on a face when I sing. I just want to be real – nothing fake about my expression.” Often that’s what people will say – they simply don’t want to appear fake when they sing.
Certainly, it can be overdone and no one is calling for that. But consider this – looking like you were the last person on the Titanic as it was going down when you sing is probably not real in and of itself. Do you believe the things you are singing? Are you happy about what God has done and is doing?
If so, your joyless, painful expression as you sing about the grace of God is about as fake as you can get. Your face actually is not expressing what you are feeling in those moments.
Lastly, I encourage any singer to remember that people listen with their ears AND eyes. Think about the people you love to hear sing. There are probably things about their expression that contribute to the connection they make when they sing.
Before we go out to lead worship, I want to call on Octavia one more time (since her hand is up).
“Hey everybody! Don’t forget to smile? No one wants to listen to an ugly choir!”
Mike Harland is the Director of Lifeway Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.