We've all been there at one time or another. It's Sunday morning and the praise and worship portion of the service is done. Now we've reached the time for "special music." Sometimes the choir sings, other times it might be an instrumental piece. But inevitably, at least once a month, there will be a solo.
Yes, the church solo. It seems that no single event in a worship service can elicit such a contrasting array of emotions in a congregation. There's joy and encouragement from a solo well-done. But then there's the utter awkwardness and, quite possibly, physical pain of having to listen to someone who obviously is waiting for his or her talent to blossom in the heavenly choir.
We all know the person I'm talking about. It usually begins the minute you scan over your bulletin and see so-and-so's name written by the words "special music." You let out a subtle, under-your-breath groan, and from that point on, you're attention is distracted as you anticipate the inevitable. And then it comes. The soloist takes center-stage, and with microphone in hand, prepares to drop this bomb of blessing on the congregation, annihilating everything in the room. It's at this moment, while the seemingly endless intro to the song is playing, that you brace yourself for what's about to come. Will you survive the blast?
First, it's important to note, do not be confused by what you perceive to be others' enjoyment of the singing. One of the most confusing aspects of the bad church solo is the apparent delight that others around you are taking in it. Do not let this throw you off. You may see smiling faces, nodding heads, people grinning from ear to ear, feet gently tapping to the beat, all in an apparent blessed state of rapture. But there are several reasons for this. First, remember that there are people who are genuinely tone-deaf, and therefore, they are totally oblivious to what is going on. Secondly, there are others who have mastered the art of surviving the bad church solo, an art I hope to teach you here. And thirdly, there are those that are convinced that anyone can do anything in the church so long as his or her heart is sincere, despite apparent gifts of lack thereof. People in this third category would take delight in nails on a chalkboard so long as one's "heart was in it."
So if you're not tone deaf, and if you're not one of these people that thinks anyone should be allowed to sing a solo in church, then here are some survival tips for you.
1. The Tongue Bite - Are you tempted to burst out laughing? The tongue bite helps. Begin by lightly biting the tip of your tongue, not too hard, but hard enough to make yourself feel a little uncomfortable, thus distracting you. Combine this with a contemplative subtle smile and a gentle nodding of the head.
2. Head Slightly Tilted, Eyes Squinted in Contemplation - If the solo is no longer comical, but has moved into the realm of the painful, you can prevent revealing your apparent agony by slightly tilting your head to one side and squinting your eyes just a little. This gives you the appearance of pious contemplation, a look that says "I'm thinking deeply about this profound truth before me."
3. Big Grin - If the song is supposed to be a happy one, and you're tempted to laugh hysterically, just put a big ole grin on your face, look directly at the singer, and nod to the music. Everyone will think you're really into it. If the temptation hits you to move from grinning to laughing, control this with a "yes" or an "amen" or even what I call the Presbyterian Grunt, a firm but unobtrusive under-the-breath "hmmm" that signals affirmation of an important point.
4. Eyes Closed in Deep Meditation, Think of Green Peas - This one is the most extreme, especially when the solo is very very long, very very slow, and is supposed to be very very profound. In these types of songs the soloist is usually holding long, sustained off-pitch notes, and we've probably passed the 6 minute mark with no end in sight. This one is simple to do. Simply close your eyes and imagine a big pot of green peas. The first part will give everyone the impression that you're so blessed you've been driven to a state of deep meditation, and the second part, the green peas, will keep you from going crazy. I suggest green peas, because they're a neutral object. There's nothing funny, profound, or particularly interesting about green peas. If this doesn't work for you, think of a neutral object that works and focus upon it.
5. Take Your Kid to the Bathroom - If you have children, there's nothing like dragging them in to your charade. Whether he or she needs to go or not, make it seem like your kid is about to wet his or herself and you need to make a beeline for the potty post haste. No one will fault you for this one.
6. Coughing Fit, Leave the Room - This is the worst case scenario. Use this one when all else has failed and you just can't endure one moment more. Sick or not, you must have a coughing fit that will signal your need to leave the sanctuary. Start with a small one, then several more, then proceed to an all out conniption while unobtrusively heading toward the exit. Do this while holding a hand over your chest conveying a look that says "Man, I don't know what that came from. I must be having an asthma attack or something." Once outside, head straight for the water fountain. The only disadvantage to this one is that only one person can use it in the service. If someone else beats you to it, you're going to have to revert to some of the other methods.
There, I hope that helps next time you find yourself in the throes of musical purgatory. There might be other methods out there. I encourage TBNN readers to share your stories of how you've endured bad church solos in the past.