It’s So Loud

by Aaron

Today I received an email from someone who USED TO attend Element. Your first question is probably, “what did you you do? Why did they leave?” Well, they didn’t leave because of something I did, they left because of something Uncle Sam did when the Air Force moved them away. This is now their second transfer since leaving the Central Coast and we still keep in touch periodically. Today he sent me a question about Element’s stance on volume of music during services.

He said that for the first time ever he, “had to leave a worship service after having had my fingers in my ears for a few minutes…I talked with the sound guy afterwards, and encountered a relatively prideful position of ‘this is how we do it.’” He pointed out that this isn’t him trying to put his tastes upon the whole group, “If I don’t like a mix, or the way the drummer is mic’d, or the style of a song, or how silly an electric guitar player is acting...I can get over that (and have).” But then he says, “the ringing [in his ears] didn’t stop until later that afternoon.” If you are wondering if he felt this way at Element, he did say, “I never had even a moment of this issue at Element. There might have been a time or two I put my fingers in my ears, by they were transient and not a pattern” and his wife didn’t feel the same and thought the volume was always fine. 

I found his email interesting because he asked how Element would like to be approached about this issue by people who feel this way. Last week a blog actually came across my feed where the writer said the volume needs to be low enough that you can hear your neighbor sing because that will make you want to sing. It also said volume needs to be low enough that OTHERS can hear YOU sing because that will make you want to sing. I actually totally disagree with the blog writer as we have found the quieter that the band gets, the quieter that the congregation gets. Everyone actually seems to be afraid others will hear them be like an off pitch American Idol reject.

At Element we believe volume should be in a place that you could feasibly sing comfortably without worrying about others. What is pretty cool from a band side of things is that when people enjoy a song and everyone truly joins in, we (as the band) can actually hear that OVER the instruments. All of these things are a tough line to find and sometimes we do it right and sometimes we don’t. The problem is everyone has an opinion and we all feel our opinions are correct and that those who don’t agree with us are wrong (it stems from the little thing called sin).

At Element we have done a couple of things to try and alleviate some of the volume issues. First service is typically turned down a bit as first service is usually lower in attendance and when there are less people there are less bodies absorbing sound waves. Second, we supply ear plugs for anyone who wants them back at the sound booth (some kids have tried to eat them thinking they are candy…they are not). Third, we have various staff members walk through the room on occasion to listen for volume levels. We hope that over time we as a church have become more consistent in our levels and our approach. I have even had people say that the electric guitar needs to turn up at times (you almost never hear that and I am happy to always oblige).

How should my friend approach it where he is now? How would Element like to be approached about it? I do not think approaching the sound guy is anyone’s best bet. Sound guys get the short straw every week. Anything that goes wrong in a service they are automatically blamed for, even if it had nothing to do with them. They get a lot of complaints (and in-turn) shut off and can become territorial because people don’t usually ask them questions, they usually get people’s opinions foisted upon them. Find out who is over the service from an “arts” point of view and talk to them instead. Approach the music leader and speak with him/her about your issues and the volume concern.

From Element’s experience, there have been some people who have shared their concerns and we have dismissed them (we did listen though), but there was nothing we could really do about it (this was more along the lines of style). At other times people have shared and we have taken their words into account and tried to change. When the band hits a first chord and everyone kind of moves back a step, it is too loud, but something to understand is that many times the music leader doesn’t even realize the volume issue because they are on the other side of the main PA speakers than the congregation.  

In everything we must be those who extend grace and try to see the issue from all sides, not simply our own. Zac Hicks wrote, “Regardless of your tradition, volume may be one of the top three perennial ‘unsolvable’ problems in worship planning and leading. No matter which way you go, someone is unhappy.”

We are told that when we worship through song it should be LOUD:

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3);

“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1);

“Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:5).

Hicks writes, “Joy, again and again in the Psalms, seems to be associated with pushing the faders up, pressing the organ volume pedal to the floor, and turning the amps up to eleven. The joy of salvation and deliverance is expressed in shouts (Psalm 20:5; 27:6; 32:7, 11; 33:1; 35:27; 42:4; 47:5; 65:8; 66:1; 81:1; 89:15; 126:2; 132:9). Trumpets (no mutes in the ancient Near East) were blasted (Ps 47:5; 98:6; 150:3). So it seems that the loud end of the dynamic spectrum is appropriate for worship music.

We are also told that when we worship through song it should be SOFT:

“I have calmed and quieted my soul” is what one worship song sings (Psalm 131:2).

Hicks again, “Psalm 95 verses 1-5 express loud, thankful, jubilant worship. But Verses 6-7 encourage a different posture: bowed, quiet, reverent. Alongside the admonitions to leap, clap, and shout are the edifying words that whisper “be still” (Ps 37:7; 46:10) and “wait” (Ps 25:5, 21; 33:20; 37:7; 130:5)…In the Psalms, therefore, we hear that low decibels, even a zero reading, are appropriate for worship music.”

In the end it is how we approach Jesus in our attitude of worship that matters, but let us never forget worship is all that we do…so it matters how we approach one another as well.