Dealing with a Booming bass
As requested by many of you, here is the "Booming Bass" compilation. Thank
you to all who responded. Most agreed that there was really only one
solution, so please wish me luck as I try to handle the situation as
delicately as possible.
Messiah Lutheran Church
BOOMING BASS COMPILATION
This sounds like a toughie! You haven't mentioned anything about
your minister's reaction to the situation. This is important: first,
he may know a way to handle things based on this man's personality
(if he knows him better).
And even if he has no suggestions, his reaction is important because
if you DO get forced into some unpleasant action, you will need his
backing. You also haven't mentioned how this guy is perceived
generally in the congregation. Is he a well-liked "pillar" of the
church, or is he a big-ego type in everything he does? And what is
his age in relation to your own? If you are a get deal younger, that
will affect the dynamics of the situation too.
I think I would favor talking with him in private about this--and not
just a few minutes in a hallway before or after rehearsal or service.
If you actually made the effort to call on him at his home where you
could speak with him in an unhurried way, it would be best. I'd
limit it to the fact that his voice is just coming through far too
loud at this point--louder than he must realize--and that perhaps you
two could work out a secret signal in choir to let him know that he
needs to soften up. You might even couch it in terms such as "the
rest of the section just can't support tone as well as you seem to,"
if he's real fragile in the ego department.
I say this because I assume it's the high volume aspect of his
singing that is most troublesome. If he's softer, he'll probably be
forced to hear others and sing more in tune.
But if your minister and worship committee are the types that simply
shy away from any type of conflict, you must know that whatever you
do, you'll be on your own--until it succeeds. It amazes me how some
churches will allow one person to poison the efforts of an entire
group until it dies. Only churches do this. Usually they do it under
the pious cloak of "charity," when in reality they are just too
afraid of conflict.
Forwarded to you by the moderator:
Ouch! You have a tough situation - one that I've faced many times over
years. Last September I had a young guy singing what I call "whatever
notes" and very enthusiastically ( in my grade ten choir). I worked
him for two weeks - tried all my tricks - and, when improvement wasn't
being made, I asked him to switch into another class - a class more
to his abilities. It's hard to do this in a diplomatic way and it's
unpleasant in any case. Some of his peers thought I was the Grinch.
However, one singer can easily ruin the sound of many and make your job
real nightmare. Now he walks by me in the hall without even saying
That hurts! Well, it's not my job to be friends with everybody,
wish it was possible. There's work to be done, deadlines to meet and
Incidentally, I worked with six choirs from grade 8 - 12 and tried my
to help this fellow during the previous two years.
I used to think that I could teach anyone to sing - that there was no
thing as "tone deaf". Now, twenty years later, I admit that I was wrong
and research would also make that point. Good luck Sheryl. I'm curious
know what the outcome will be with your basso profundo.
I have been a church music director for 30 years, and have had this
experience just one time, back in my second year of church music.
The bass was an 80-year old retired Methodist minister whose wife had just
passed away; people wanted to keep him busy, so he started with swimming
lessons and got into the choir. He was a dear man but musically inept; the
first week he was in the choir we processed together in the service, and
while everyone else was on the first half of verse three in one key, he was
on the second half of verse two in another key.
After six weeks, the eight other basses in the choir came up after choir
rehearsal and circled around me; in no uncertain terms they said that if I
didn't get rid of Fred they were going to quit. I am not one to be bullied,
but their request was entirely reasonable.
I arranged for a meeting with Fred. When we were together I read him the
scripture that says, "When you are gathered together, each one brings a
hymn, or a prophecy or an interpretation, or another gift as the Spirit
leads." As gently as possible I let him know that music was not his gift.
He took it somewhat hard, but soon got over it and we were friendly
throughout the rest of my tenure there.
Having a scriptural basis for your discussion with this bass will make it
less a personal affront; and after all, you are the music director and your
assessment of a person's talent and trainability is to be respected. Make
sure your minister, choir president and other important support people know
your plans, but don't be hesitant; even though this is difficult it is a
necessary task in order to maintain the morale of a vital ensemble.
I had that exact type of guy in my choir last year! He was flirting with the
sopranos and arriving after having consumed one or two cocktails before
rehearsals. I sweated what to do for several weeks, then finally realized I
would lose other members if he couldn't be reined in. Like you, this guy had
been recruited heavily for some time. however, he was quite a liability.
Finally, when he was up to his usual tricks one night in rehearsal, I very
politely and courteously asked him to sing more quietly. First I gave
several instructions to all the basses, then I said, "don, please sing more
softly", and then went on with the rehearsal. Not only did he sing more
softly that night, but he never came back. And I was the hero of the choir
for restoring the enjoyability to their weekly endeavor.
Perhaps you might record a rehearsal and play it back, asking the choir to
listen for balance and blend. Perhaps myour "basso" may not be aware of
his boisterous quality and volume level.
I sympathize entirely, because I went through a similar situation with a
soprano having a horrible vibrato that couldn't be rectified. To resolve
the situation, I decided that good choral sound and group cohesion were
more important that tolerating one bad bass, at the expense of losing other
(and good) choir members. So I went to the minister, explained the
situation and got his support. Then I went to the singer in question, and
phrased my ulimatum in terms of dynamics/balance - that unless this person
were to sing more softly and blend according to my prescriptions, then I
would have to ask her to leave. She got all huffy and dropped out of the
choir, and her husband came to talk to the minister - but he had been
prepared, and fortunately stood behind my decision, so it worked out in the
end. This is not to say it was easy, but it was indeed the only way to go.
Stop beating around the bush. It isn't worth it. Tell him out right, "This is
not the activity for you." You, the choir director, have a long professional
career ahead of you. Matters like this sap you of your creative talents.
Either you must come forth or have another choir member level with the
singer. I am sure that some of them are most anxious to do it. We all have
been through the experience where one of our singers has heard another person
sing. They think that person should be in the choir. When it is too late, we
have remorse. One of my fine basses said to another one night, "Your are not
singing the part!" The culprit replied, "I'm not???????" He never came back.
Good luck. Chuck Matz
I do not have any constructive ideas, but I'm very glad to hear that someone
else also has these problems. I thought they were ALL visited upon me!!
Sometimes, depending on the age and health of the singers, the best you can
hope for is a well-placed funeral.
I can understand you frustrations. As you know church choir members can and
are very sensitive
with their emotions and feelings about singing in the choir. You must work
easy with this man
to save him and the others. This is a very delicate situation. I have had
lots of experience in working with
church choir members. My father is a pastor so I know just how you feel!
Try taking him aside one more time and when you work with him
one on one again, tell him how glad that you are to have him in your choir
and tell him
how thankful that you are for his willingness to participate and encourage
him. Tell him that you
would like to help him develop his talent that God has given him. By
approaching it in this way may
possibly help save his feelings and help the other choir members.
I hope that this works for you. I know that you are in a tough spot! I will
pray for you and
ask our Heavenly Father to give you peace and wisdom concerning this
Father, I come to you today bringing one of your children to your throne.
Father, you tell
us in Your word, that You are the author of peace and not confusion. I ask
you to let Your
Spirit come and take Sheryl's heart and give her peace. Lord, she needs you
to help her
deal with this delicate situation. Lord, please go before her and prepare
the way for her!
Give her the blessed assurance that can only come from you! In the name of
the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit! Amen!
First, my sympathies. Not fun.
I guess what I'd do would be to schedule a one-on-one and tell him that you
are glad he joined choir, you think he's a great guy, and you want to work
with him on a regular basis so that he can stay in the choir. Otherwise,
you're sure he won't want to, because his learning curve and lack of vocal
training would certainly cause him to want to drop out, and of course, you
CERTAINLY don't want that!! SO, you have decided to dedicate some of your
own time to the goal of making him able to stay in the choir.
Then, when he realizes you are serious, begin to teach him vocal technique,
tuning, using his parts in the music upcoming to do the teaching. That way
you kill two birds with one stone, in that he is getting more exposure to his
part, thus increasing his chances of retaining more of it.
By using your time in this way, he will become your greatest fan, and he will
do his best to do everything you ask him to, not only in your private
meetings, but in rehearsal, too. You may have to continue regular private
time with him for some time. I have done this with three people in my choir,
and it really does keep them in choir, and it keeps everybody else happy,
too. A win-win.
Make a recording of the choir and play it back trust me it works.
1 - Put him next to the people who conned you into taking him without an
2 - Send him over to my group. He'll be right at home.
3 - (Seriously) level with the guy, face to face, in private, preferable near
a piano: "Look, Jake, let's face it, your huge, powerful voice is really out
of control, way too big for this choir, and your ear problem isn't getting
any better either" (be sure to demonstrate this at the piano). If you
haven't shown him how severe his pitch problem is, do so, at the keyboard.
Tell him that choristers (and congregation, if this might be the case) are
complaining about his presence in the choir and are threatening to quit, and
that you hate to see him embarassed in this fashion. Ask him if he thinks he
can manage to clear up his problems so that he can contribute to the group,
and if he does so think, give him a probationary period to do so.
The point being that he has to understand the consequences of his lack of
ability to meet the standards of this choir, and that his continued failure
to do so is bringing him into ill repute with the choir and the congregation.
You must take that position because you have the responsibility for the
quality of the music heard weekly by the congregation, and also a
responsibility to keep the choir together, in musicianship and morale.
The real problem is that he loves to sing, and may have trouble dealing with
the facts of his lack of ability. Also, you love to bring your singers the
joy of music and singing, and you hate to offend any of them who are under
your care and responsibility. Nevertheless, your job is to do whatever
necessary to keep the choir at the highest possible level, and that includes
not accepting singers who will lower that standard. Sad to say, but if he is
offended by your frank but reasonable approach and walks out in a huff, the
problem is then his, not yours.
I've been there, done it, and the singer was quite ticked off, to say the
least. She quit and joined a much larger choir, where her voice would not
make that much difference. I hated to do that to her, but, at least, I
didn't lose any sopranos.
I realize you're in quite a bind here, but a "tough love" approach might be
the only avenue left for you, after having spent the time trying the remedial
4 - I was only kidding about #2.
5 - Good luck. Let us know what happens.
I had a similar situation in my church choir in California--an alto who
played the piano and, I thought, had good potential. She sang the part,
but was always a quarter step sharp. I finally took her aside and told
her that I did not believe her gift was in singing, and that we would
welcome her in some other avenue of service in the church. She left the
church and never came back. I still felt it was the right thing to do,
however, since I was about to lose the rest of my alto section. Up to
this point, I had firmly believed that anyone who wanted to should be
allowed to sing in the church choir, but this and a couple of other
experiences changed my mind and thickened my skin a bit. You cannot let
your choir be held hostage by one person, no matter how hard it is to ask
that person to not sing in the choir. By all means pray about the
situation, and try to be as diplomatic as possible, but some people have a
very skewed concept of how they fit into various situations, and you
cannot take total responsibility for their lack of insight.
Oh, the number of times have I heard this problem.
If possible, have the people who recruted him to sit
by him :)
How long has he been in the choir? It often takes a
year (at least) to develop a choral sense especially
if you meet only once a week. Suggest to him he join
an additional choir in the community for experience.
If he has not been in the choir more than six months,
you may suggest he find another area of service.
Find a church committee that meets during choir
rehearsal that he "must" be part of.
What about solos? Find a bass solo for him and see
what he does with it (with your direction).
Finally, I'm sure you have thought of this. You may
have to live with it. Unless your church choir is
quite different from most, he joined at the urging of
his friends and has found a place of service and
belonging. We can't all preach like Paul, part the
waters like Moses..., well, you get my point.
The final word will be "tact". Be gentle with him.
Irreparable harm can be done if this isn't handled
I had a similar situation (booming bass). I finally made tapes for him,
of his part, and then him w/sop, then bass/alto, and then all four parts,
playing his part loudest.
It seemed to help as he could play it in his car, or at home, and he was
able to retain most of the parts from rehearsal to rehearsal. He often
'carried' the section, when he was wrong--because the others couldn't
compete with the volume. He loved 'to soar'-- as he put it! And so we
talked about other parts get to soar more frequently than the bass line
Seems to me the answer is quite obvious, but you need to figure out the
best way to tell him! No other alternative, and it's the least favorite
job of the director. Good luck.
It is an awful situation to be in. I have been there. This is church and I
know that there is the whole philosophy behind being a volunteer in church.
We should make a joyful noise etc... But. IF you look at Christian doctrine,
remember that the truth shall set you free. If this were my church, I would
invite the choir member to my office and politely explain to him the truth.
1. You are having a lot of trouble staying on pitch with the Bass part.
2. Others are complaining about the problem.
3. I am afraid that I will lose some of my better singers.
4. You are a beloved member of our congregation and of this church family. I
hope that we could find another place within the structure of the church for
you to be of service.
5. If I showed up as a helper on the carpentry detail for our church's
Habitat for Humanity blitz without knowing how to hang dry-wall, I would
expect to be serving lemonade to those who were actually hanging the
So... um... can I ask you to perhaps serve in another capacity so that we
can be a stronger unit for serving the mission of our church.
You see, If you try anything other than the truth.... terrible things may
result. I am not saying that this will be easy. Being a Christian is
certainly not a walk in the park. But you owe it to your out of tune bass to
share this truth with him so that he can make his own adult decisions and
maintain his own sense of self-respect. You may just do him a great favor
in this way if you allow him the opportunity to save face.
I hope that you situation resolves in Christian love.
Thank you again everyone.....I'll let you know the outcome....wish me luck.