A few weeks ago I played for an outdoor wedding in St. Augustine. One of the staples of wedding ceremonies now is the officiant with a wireless, the assumption being that no one would be able to hear him without it. This wedding was an exception.
Think of Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album.In this case, the minister, a preacher in his 80s, was unplugged!
Would we hear anything he said? Would we just be watching his lips move?
Guess again —
Everyone had to pay attention and everyone listened. Everyone could hear him and he wasn’t shouting. We were listening and I was in the very back of the pavilion. Even more interesting was the fact that we could actually hear the exchange of vows between the couple. Normally my experience at weddings with a wired clergyman or notary goes somewhat as follows:
“Now Bob, repeat after me…”
Maybe a mumble.
“Now Suzy, repeat after me…”
Instead here we heard everything. I believe was because our ears were already tuned in and balanced for natural speech volume.
And I think there’s more to this than simply determining how weddings should be conducted. Consider your experience at church on Sunday. The minister or priest has a wireless; the reader and lead singer have microphones. There’s no need to pay more than half of your attention because the sound is blasted from multiple speakers.
Further, everyone knows that the people with the microphones are the ones count – the ones who really have something to contribute. Consequently, you might conclude that your spoken or sung responses are not very important. You’re just there to be talked at. At best, you can join in on the choruses like a Pete Seeger concert.
Now I’m not saying that anyone consciously thinks this or that this was a planned outcome. And yes, I know that there are large gatherings where amplification is a gift. At the same time, it might be worth considering the extent to which that which is meant to make things easier to hear in fact makes it harder to listen.
What if we pulled the plug on the unnecessary ecclesiastical wireless? What if singers learned to project properly? What if we built spaces designed for active listening? What if we valued paying attention, even if it took a little work?