Have you ever multi-track recorded your own voice covering all the harmony parts? Or used one of those vocal harmony machines?
Once you get past the blissful intoxication of your own 3-part harmony and reality sets in, you make a very important discovery: one voice covering all the parts is kinda boring. Of course you’re going to blend with yourself, and the inflections and dynamics might be spot-on, but there’s usually no “magic.” Just layer upon layer of the same sound.
In contrast, there’s a wonder and a beauty in distinct voices that sound incredible together. The parts can be great … but the sum of the parts can be way beyond great.
Think about your favorite vocal groups…and the distinct individuals that make up their signature “Unified Sound” (the “Us”). On the secular side, the Eagles harmonies are legendary. (Yes, they’ve always been my favorite.) And there are many great examples in Christian music as well. Remember 2nd Chapter of Acts? I don’t know if there’s ever been a more “distinctive” singer (and a more fluid singer…did he ever actually land on a note?) than Matthew Ward. Yet the blend with sisters Nelly and Annie is angelic. Point of Grace has a phenomenal blend. Take 6 is in their own league. I’ve always loved Selah.
The point is…it’s the vocal differences that make the “Us” beautiful. But those differences have to be carefully analyzed, crafted and honed for beauty to happen. Like I said in the previous article, it happens best in a small circle…far away from stages, microphones and sound systems.
Check out the Selah video, “Hope Of The Broken World,”
It’s a great example of exceptional blend, along with flawless inflections and dynamics. It’s also a great example of when to sing and when not to. Sometimes I think that many worship vocalists automatically assume that if they’re up on the stage, they should be singing into their mics all the time. Not true. Consider Selah’s example. Their arrangement starts appropriately with Todd (the lead singer) by himself. Then, at the perfect time, Amy enters with a second harmony line. They build and build…and then Alan adds the 3-part in the 2nd verse and chorus. They sing with passion…perfectly honed and blended, and they add (and subtract) parts over the course of the song so there’s always motion, momentum, dynamics. Amazing.
OK…back to reality. What about your once-a-month vocal team that’s fallen into the “same-ole, same-ole” routine patterns and hasn’t really thought about vocal blend? Well, the answer is the same. Get in a circle, away from microphones and sound systems. Sing. Honestly analyze and hone each part. Adjust. Re-arrange. Listen for the “Us.” And the “Us” will emerge.