If It’s Too Loud…

Can you hear me now?

Backstory…

Late Friday night, my good friend Alan Brown called me in a panic. He was playing on Saturday for the St. Vincent De Paul National meeting here in Atlanta. The closing mass was with Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Zarama. There was a song scheduled for mass that really needed a guitar, so that’s why Alan reached out to me. I made arrangements for someone to cover my regular Saturday Vigil Mass, and drove up to the Marriott Marquis that afternoon.

Soundcheck…

When I arrived at the Marriott, I met Ican. He is the FOH (Front Of House) audio lead that is making sure that we all have what we need. He quickly gets me setup with a DI and makes sure we are all comfortable. Alan (Keyboard), Sam & Janice (Vocalists) are running through the songs 30 minutes before mass. When my song came up in the lineup, I start running through it. The sound is nice. I hear Ican make a few quick EQ adjustments and the sound of my guitar got very warm and pleasant. We are good to go. Here’s a picture of my friend Ican…IMG_0603

What happened next…

As I am finishing up the run through of the song I was leading, I notice that the volume of the guitar dropped to almost nothing. Because I work as an audio engineer, it wasn’t alarming to me that the volume of the guitar dropped so much. I thought that Ican must have gotten a level he was comfortable with, and then temporarily dropped the volume for the remaining time leading up to mass. It’s not at all uncommon for me to do the exact same thing, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

Here’s what actually happened… Debbie Downer showed up.

You know Debbie Downer. She goes to your parish. She always, always wants the music turned down. She thinks the church should be a “nice place”. A “quiet place”. No talking in church. She shush’es kids and adults alike sitting around her at mass. Did you just identify an image of a real person from your parish in your mind? Me too. Oddly enough, Debbie Downer doesn’t give a second thought to an Organ being played at Holy Mass at over 100 decibels.

Debbie Downer showed up, heard the music, and walked straight to the tech booth where Ican was working. Here’s how the conversation went (I’ll paraphrase)

Debbie Downer (speaking to Ican): “Have you ever been to a Catholic Mass before”
Ican: “No Ma’am.”
Debbie Downer: “We like our music very quiet”
[Ican lowers the volume of the guitar]
Debbie Downer: “No, even quieter than that”
[Ican reduces the volume again, rendering my guitar almost useless in the mix]

Mass beginsIMG_0601

Ican had a great mix going during soundcheck. Debbie Downer showed up and interfered. During the gathering song, Alan our pianist couldn’t hear his piano well, and neither could the vocalists. Alan asked me to run back to FOH and ask Ican to turn it up, which he gladly did. I’m pretty certain he brought the guitar level up during mass as well, which saved the day.

Moral of the story…

At the end of the day, it was a beautiful mass, and I was delighted to be there serving this group of people. The music in worship isn’t entertainment, it is a great vehicle for praying and praising God. The volume of the mass was being set by a group of professionals. A professional and skilled sound engineer, working with professional & pastoral musicians that have served thousands of people with music. At the time Debbie Downer was complaining about the music being too loud, the gigantic conference room was nearly EMPTY. This would have had a great impact on the sound, and would change as the room filled up.

What is the correct volume for a mass? If we look at the USCCB Document “Sing To The Lord“, we really won’t find any specific guidelines for volume of instruments and voices. However, if we read item 41, we will see the following…

41. The primary role of the organist, other instrumentalists, or instrumental ensemble is to
lead and sustain the singing of the assembly and of the choir, cantor, and psalmist, without
dominating or overpowering them.

So, for me to interpret this, I say that the piano and guitar needed to be loud enough to “lead and sustain” the singing of the people, but not so loud that we overpowered them. The levels Ican had set were fantastic, and would have facilitated exactly what paragraph 41 called for.

Instead of leaving us to do our work, Debbie Downer interfered. When she said “We” like our music quiet, she was speaking for herself and imposed her preferences on the situation. Her interference distracted the musicians from our role and took our minds from the sacred liturgy to anxiety because the vocalists we were supporting couldn’t hear us confidently which created a few timing issues for us to work through. We worked through it beautifully.

Conclusion

It is my express opinion that people should feel music. The music shouldn’t dominate or hurt people, but you should be moved by it. A pipe organ resonates through a church or cathedral. A congregations collective voices move the air enough to be felt by the people of God. I’d also say that feeling the bass guitar or kick drum through a subwoofer has it’s place in the church. Let our praise be expressed in joyful hope of the goodness of the Lord. After all, the mass is a celebration. Amen?

Ican – You’re awesome and I appreciate you, wherever you are today. Be blessed.

How loud is too loud? Leave a comment…

 

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