“…When the master governs, the people are hardly aware that she exists…The master does not speak, she acts. And when the work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing! We did it all by ourselves!’…”
– Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching, Ch. 17)
It wasn’t quite ‘Murphy’s Law’ (‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong’).
It was really just one thing – though in that moment, it felt like everything.
It was ten minutes before the downbeat of that Sunday’s worship, and all was well – except, well…
No one had yet arrived to run the sound for that morning’s service.
It was no one’s fault in particular.
It was simply an unfortunate instance of crossed wires on the schedule that had a handful of us hovering nervously around the operator-less sound board.
It was like a small conference of the birds in the rear of Sanctuary C.
An Assistant Minister, Youth Director, Sunday Coordinator, and Guest Musician all pacing. About-facing. Bracing.
Whispering quietly (but quite urgently) on cell phones. Peering into wildly unfamiliar cabinets and storage closets in the sound booth.
Contemplating the ‘ifs’ of the worst case scenario – a fully unplugged hour of worship.
No pulpit microphone for speaking or preaching. No mics for musicians or instruments. No mic for Joys and Sorrows (or the Time For All Ages). No speakers. No monitors. No amplification devices (for those with hearing challenges). No recording. No nothing.
The sound of silence.
Sound is one of those things that most people take for granted – and this is the desired effect of most sound techs, ironically.
‘No news is good news’ was the mantra I remember living during my days governing the sound board for my high school’s tech crew and drama ensemble.
I knew I’d done a good job if the people hardly knew I existed.
(This is also the ‘wind beneath my wings’ mantra of bass players, baseball catchers, sous chefs, football centers, Taoist priests, air traffic controllers, etc.)
Success = anonymity.
Because if someone was aware of the audio (if they knew my name), it almost always meant that something was wrong.
A microphone was not turned on – or not turned off.
It was too loud. It wasn’t loud enough. Feedback. Missed sound cue. Wrong song.
And I could be sure I’d get screaming feedback about every error I made from my drama director in my headset. The sound and the fury.
Spoken immediately (not in between acts), and often loudly enough to draw a sympathetic glance or two from an audience member seated near the sound board.
Conversely, my reward for a night of flawless (arguably masterful) sound?
A front row seat to a chorus of amazing actors appearing to many as if they’d done it all themselves – and for me, that was just as well.
Sound is lonely that way.
You frequently work by yourself. You often work in the dark, in siloed trenches.
99.9999% of the souls you see behind a sound board are not there for glory or praise (They know the odds of someone actually singing their praises are slim to none).
More often than not, they love what they do. The art and craft of amplifying creative expression is, for many sound people, a ministry unto itself. They are spirits called to support, with hearts wired for service – particularly those who volunteer.
It was never more apparent to me than that Sunday morning – on the opposite end of the spectrum – how vital the ministry of sound was to our ministry.
And to the Sunday morning experience of hundreds.
Our sanctuary is no small territory – and they are up to the task of governing it.
Sound is an invisible blessing.
Blessed are those souls who volunteer to show up quietly every Sunday (usually 30 to 40 minutes before the hour) to help shape the soundtrack of our spiritual lives.
So – how did the story end?
Your Sunday Coordinator (Amanda Bates) quietly enacted a Plan B – masterfully.
She sounded a few bells (made some calls), and in walked Ken Schaffer at the 11th hour (almost). He very quietly began bringing the board to life and setting
up the vast array of moving parts – under the close counsel of Richard Gates via phone (helping from out of town).
And by 5 minutes after the hour, we were in business. Worship unfolding like normal. The process was pretty amazing.
And if you’d walked in at 6 minutes after the hour, you might’ve thought we (the ‘up front’ people) had done it all by ourselves.
All’s well that ends well.
The moral of the story?
Sound is not nothing.
Take the time (make the time) some time to thank them.
Next time you speak a joy or sorrow, listen to a preached sermon, hear the music offered up in worship, pick up your amplification device, or listen to a recorded service on the website – take that moment to ‘not’ take the audio folks for granted. Take a second to marvel at all the moving parts they have to govern at once on a Sunday morning.
Waive your right to remain silent.
Imagine what it might be like to serve faithfully and quietly in such an important role – and to only hear from the people you serve when something is wrong.
I invite you to notice their quiet masterpieces and speak a word of good news to them.
It’s likely the only time in the life of an audio tech that feedback is a good thing.