I’ve had a few days to really think about this one and it had me kinda stumped… You see there’s no real “formula” for finding one’s own voice. It’s like finding your true identity or finding out the real purpose for your life. Sometimes it feels like either you know or you don’t and there’s no in between. It’s either obvious or it’s something that you had to have a serious “Aha! Moment” to discover. I had to really think through a couple versions of this one cause I was all over the place. It's kinda long (sorry) but I believe it will be beneficial to you if you stick with me. :-)
I've established (in earlier blogs) that when I was young, I did a lot of singing. Most of the time though, I just wanted to be “normal.” You see, once I entered middle school, it wasn’t so cute to my friends that I was talented. I stuck out and I was disliked by total strangers. The people that I thought were my friends sometimes misrepresented me, saying I thought I was better than everyone else. I tried very hard to hide my light and silence my voice. I joined band instead of choir. “That’ll satisfy my musical jones without singing…” But once the choral music teacher found me out, I was forced to make a choice for choir. Wait- did I say forced? HA! Let’s call it “strong encouragement.” Whenever the band and choir had conflicting dates my parents “encouraged” me to attend the choir functions instead… UGH!!!! #younotgonforceme….
I left high school very indecisive in what I wanted to do with my life. My argument? “Just because I can sing doesn’t mean I want a career in music. I might wanna be a doctor or a lawyer,” is what I told my freshman advisor at the University of Alabama. “Sure,” he said. “You can definitely get an undergrad degree in music and go on to some other professional school after… People do it allllll the tiiiime…"
So I reluctantly began my undergrad career as a Voice Performance major. I remember trying to hide in the alto section of my assigned choral aggregation and having the head of Choral Music personally take me to the piano to find my range. "OH NO MA’AM! You are a soprano. A FIRST SOPRANO at that!” Great….
BACK STORY: I love(d) singing alto because it is easier on my voice in a group setting. I sang soprano in the church choir all my life and then somewhere between 7th & 8th grade my upper register began to cap off due to hormonal voice changes. (Shoot, I could whistle tone with the best of them!) My mom became über overprotective of "all things Benita’s voice" to the point of limiting some of my activities if she felt I was going to be screaming. So I took that as my one-way ticket out of Soprano-ville into Alto-land! ...Psych!
My vocal professor would tell me during my lessons that I had to take the “gospel brass” out of my voice, because ultimately I would ruin it. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I did my best to assimilate to my surroundings at UA but found I was going through the motions most of the time.
Outside of my college courses, I continued to “practice” at leading worship. I mimicked other people, other gospel artists. Using their exact adlibs. Telling their stories. God blessed me in that, because I was trying. I relied heavily on the minister of music to cue me on what part of the song to go to and all that. Kind of a remedial worship leading class cause I didn’t even have the basics. There was no “YouTube” for me to glean from others. I did the best I could.
After a while, I was appointed the Worship Leader at Cornerstone and I served there as a volunteer for years; faithfully. I remember feeling sick to my stomach every single time I had to lead, but I knew I couldn’t stop. Eventually, I began to be more comfortable while leading but I still made many mistakes! I had lots of “train wrecks” as I like to call them; but because God is faithful and true to His word, He let them all work for my good.
I started learning songs differently. Instead of learning every possible bit of everything the leader would say, I learn formats and sequences.
I found that learning everything hindered ME. Instead of the authentic Benita showing up to lead worship, it would be the lead singer from whatever song I had learned. Once I have my song-
map, I’m the captain of that song-ship.
It’s important to have a mentor, whether this is someone you have immediate access to or someone you’ve adopted from afar. Your mentor should guide you in the way that you should grow, but you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of mimicking them. There is only ONE YOU. God wants you to be the BEST YOU that YOU can be!! He already has a Dr. Judith McAllister; He already has a Donnie McClurkin. Watch your mentor for technique, execution, style and skill. Take away what you need but hone it to fit who you are.
When I started, the concept and practice of Praise & Worship was so new in the black church, which afforded me the opportunity to evolve(TM) into the worship leader I am today. I went through many years of mistake making before I felt confident in who I am and how I lead. Don’t get me wrong; I was a student of many great worship leaders, namely, Dr. Judith McAllister. I would listen to her songs and listen to how she commanded the worship moments. As I kept going, God granted me favor to be able to witness other great leaders; Byron Cage and William Murphy, III, to name a few. Then I was able to watch and learn first hand from Dr. Judy (after I moved to Nashville) and then eventually CeCe Winans. Now, I not only stand on the shoulders of these great worship pioneers, but I am counted as a contemporary among them as well. Although I gleaned from these greats, I purposely did not imitate them. I was asked why I didn’t emulate other people; you know… “It’s alright to be a copy cat as long as you copy the right cat…” I believe God in His infinite wisdom has created us in such a fashion that we don’t have to copy anyone but Jesus. Worship leaders (like many other professions) get better with time and practice. The people that you lead in front of from week to week will appreciate being able to connect with who you are as you lead them to who God is. The world needs the authentic YOU! You have to practice listening for God’s voice. You have to practice doing what He says do. You have to practice trusting Him. You have to practice following and flowing in the Holy Spirit. You have to practice the posture of surrender.
Ask God to help you in whatever area you need it. Whether it’s finding your own voice or the reason why you were born. He will reveal it to you. He wants to see you succeed and so do I!
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. ~Romans 8:18-19 AMP