Stories compiled by Curt Taipale
I seem to regularly bless my church with marvelous technical blunders. Thankfully I’m not the only one in the world who does so. A while back I asked our ChurchSoundcheck Discussion Group to share their stories with us, mostly so I can feel better about my mistakes, and here are a handful of their war stories. To be fair, I'll offer one of my better ones first.
I was blessed with the opportunity to mix FOH for the 2003 Dallas Christmas Festival at Prestonwood Baptist Church. I have to admit, it’s fun to drive a $1.3 Million sound system in a 7,000-seat room with an exceptionally gifted music pastor leading the way and highly talented musicians and singers on the other side of the mic.
We did twelve presentations of this three-hour event over a span of two weeks, with a total of over 60,000 people in attendance. Obviously the entire tech crew went into this armed with a seasoned drive for technical excellence. We each worked hard to ensure that our own efforts were right on the mark for each show. Even though each of us knew our role, we helped each other to remember cues as we went along.
Mixing the FOH was enough of a challenge that the church invited three of us to do the mix as a team. Casey Sherrod did a submix of the orchestra on a Soundcraft Series 5, Steve Reed submixed all of the dialog and vocals on a Mackie digital console, and I got to do the master mix balancing the rhythm section, backing tracks, sound effects, choir and other inputs along with the submixes from the other two consoles.
In the closing moments of each show, our pastor led a time of prayer and invitation. There’s a hush all over the crowd, most everyone is praying for the lost to accept Christ, and the tech crew is quietly waiting for the next transition. During this quiet time at one of those shows, I find myself thirsty and tired. So I decide to reach down and grab my bottle of ice tea to sneak a drink. Apparently I wasn’t as careful as I should have been because it slipped out of my hand as I was picking it up and – you guessed it – the bottle dropped just 12-inches and shattered into a bizillion pieces. Now, had the production booth been located in some kind of tech balcony, it probably would have been fine. But no – this church was built right, and the production booth is on the main floor at the edge of the terrace seating, right out in the middle of the room.
So the glass bottle crashes to the vinyl covered concrete floor of the booth, but being the seasoned professionals that we all are, we all just freeze. No one says a word. No one acknowledges what has happened. We’re either true pros, or we’re in denial that I did something quite so stupid. Thankfully no one in the audience seated right behind me said anything about it.
So, the next night? I stopped in the parking lot and poured my ice tea into a plastic water bottle before walking into the church to get ready for the next show.
Contributed by Curt Taipale
I forgot to switch on a wireless mic on the stage before the service started. So I thought I would tell our MOM (Minister of Music) through his in-ear monitors before the soloist came up. I grabbed the talkback mic, punched into his monitor, threw on my headphones so I was sure I wasn’t blowing his ears out, and proceeded to tell him about it. When I saw him and half the choir jump, I suspected something was wrong. When I noticed that the whole congregation was looking back at me I knew something was wrong. In my haste, I forgot to check out the settings on the talkback. Someone had used it during rehearsal to communicate with the musicians through the stage wedges. Everyone in the building heard me loud and clear when I told our MOM to turn on the mic! Needless to say, all mics are now on and checked before the service starts, and I never use the talkback during a service.
Contributed by Al Gilbert
Lesson in Humility
Here’s one that serves to illustrate that you don’t need sound reinforcement technology to have an embarrassing moment in a church.
My father and his family attended a Baptist church in a small Pennsylvania town while he was growing up. The church was in a typical small-city neighborhood of quarter-acre lots, with the houses maybe fifty feet apart. The church was likewise only about fifty feet from the neighboring houses.
It was a warm day in May, and the windows down the sides of the sanctuary were open. The one neighbor was a hunter, and kept his beagle tied up in the side yard between his house and the church. As the soprano soloist sang, the dog began to howl. Note for note, the canine did his best to match the soprano as the pastor slid down in the deacon’s bench behind the pulpit, trying desperately to hide his heaving shoulders from the congregation, which was also trying hard not to laugh! Snickering teenage boys got a quick finger whack on the back of the head from stern-faced fathers who were biting their tongues to choke their own laughter.
My father, now in his seventies, still laughs as he recalls the incident. It seems that that one particular soprano needed a lesson in humility, as she thought herself to be the diva at the opera. The dog taught a lesson that no preacher expounding upon Proverbs could.
Contributed by Kenneth W. Reighard
One embarrassing, but funny, moment we had a couple of Sunday’s ago, had to do with my husband. He plays guitar and sings on the worship team. The team had just finished our morning praise and worship line-up and sat down while the pastor had prayer. The prayer ended up being a bit long and my husband had forgotten to turn off his headset mic. Well, he fell asleep and started to snore! I eyeballed the team member who was sitting beside him and motioned for her to elbow him, which she did. However, it was too late, snickering had already started. Not only that, but the soundman said he got a really nice recording of it on tape too!
(Hmmm...I wonder what the shut-ins will think?).
Contributed by Carolyn
The Guns of Raro
My most embarrassing moment was accidentally playing “The Guns of Raro” (kind of a pacific-island-reggae song from Raro-Tonga which somebody had bought back from a holiday) through a pastor’s foldback wedge while he was reading notices – the problem being a Sony CD Player playing its contents automatically upon being switched on. Unfortunately, being at the back of the auditorium, it took me a couple of seconds to click as to what the people in the front few rows were laughing at and kill the CD player.
Contributed by Dion
I had been lobbying to get a new CD player and was able to get a very highend Marantz with all the whistles and bells. The day before the Sun service, my young protégé was using it to assist a puppet seminar. For background music, he taught himself to put the CD player on random mode. He didn’t teach himself to take it OFF random mode. The next morning, I learned how while 500+ people heard the first 25 seconds of the choir song. I never could take it off random in the heat of the moment so after the second try the worship leader gave up and we went on to the next thing.
My eye is twitching less and less everyday and I can talk about it now without sobbing uncontrollably. I’ll be fine I think. I wonder where that young protégé went off to.
Contributed by Bob Ingelhart
It’s Sunday morning, and we have a huge Mother’s Day crowd. Our worship leader starts reading ascripture. Halfway through, on cue, the tech pushes the play button on the tape deck (a Denon dual tape deck, one side used for playback, the other used for recording, with two quasi-independent outputs.) We hear the first three notes of the music and then it goes into mega loud distortion/electronic feedback! I jump across the booth and hit stop. The worship leader keeps reading. I check over the settings on the tape channel, everything is fine. Then I eject the tape, everything is still fine... Not totally back together I push Play again (with the mains pulled down, but the monitors still cranked way up.) Another Loud Noise!!!! Stop.
Now the worship leader is starting to be a little shaken. The soloist is standing up on the stage not knowing what to do. So they start making jokes about how that was not planned. They ask if the track is not working. Meanwhile I eject the tape out of the record side, swap the output cables on the back of the deck and start the track on that side of the tape deck. It started somewhere in the song, so it took a while for the soloist to catch on where they were in the song. We made it through to the end of the service, although still shaken from the events.
After much troubleshooting, I figured out what happened. The record send from the console was turned way up from recording a wedding the day before. Even though the tape deck is somewhat isolated to keep from feeding back like that, apparently when an input signal is too hot, it bleeds over to the output from the other deck. This is the first time I have ever had anything like this happen before with this deck. I guess we need to watch the level on that matrix send./p>Contributed by Jeff Jones
The New Guy
I have just recently accepted a part-time position at a local church as Sound Coordinator. The person I am replacing is very capable, and the church is in the middle of a major upgrade. All for the good. I’m thinking that my biggest challenge will be to match the technical expectations that this congregation has, based on the abilities of my predecessor.
My first official night was Christmas Eve service (although I’d mixed the previous Sunday). Rehearsal went well, and I had the soloist’s track cued (a big thing, as I had never used the Denon player, and was still at the hunt-and-pray mode for finding the controls).
Ten minutes into the service the choir stands and my boss, the worship leader, stands in front of them and points back at me. My first thought was, “why is he pointing at me?” followed by “I’m supposed to be starting a track” followed by “What track does he want?”
I knew the CD from their musical (performed two weeks prior) was somewhere in the booth. I scrambled around, finally found it (congregation and choir waiting patiently), and found the note from the prior Sunday, with that Sunday’s info scratched out, and a new note “Christmas Eve, 48”. I ejected the soloist’s CD, loaded the Choir’s, and hit 10-10-10-10-8 and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the machine found track 48 and started playing, with no sound.
The CD channel was muted. I hit back scan, and hit the channel’s ON button, and the song started. At this point, I still don’t know if it’s the right song, or even the right CD. However, the WL, the choir, and the soloist in front all nod their heads slightly, as if to say, “it’s about time.” Which is much more comforting than, “What the heck are you playing.”
Wait! A soloist in front of the choir? The one now singing into a dead mic? Quick, which mic? Stupid console with no input indicators.
Afterward, the worship leader apologized to me for forgetting to tell me ahead of time about the choir song, and the soloist tried to apologize for grabbing the wrong mic, while complimenting me on how clear the sound was. These people are great people.
We have three services on Sunday mornings, each a different worship style, and I’m supposed to be there at 7:00 am to start setup. For two weeks I’ve been sick. Last Saturday, I purposely did not take any drowsy-inducing medicine, and set my alarm for 6:00 am. So I woke up, noticed with alarm the daylight coming in through the window, and saw that it was 7:45, and I was 15 minutes away from Church. I grabbed my clothes, neglecting even the most basic hygienic duties, and hit the road.
I walked (ran?) into the sound booth just as the 8:00 am service was starting. The amps were powered on, the booth unlocked, the system running, and the wireless lav mics handed out to the pastor, courtesy of a couple of the guys that have been there awhile and know a bit about the system. The associate pastor came upto see me – not to berate me, but to suggest that I call my wife, as they had just done so, and she didn’t know where I was (she was still asleep when I left).
I apologized profusely to both the associate pastor and the senior pastor, promising it would not happen again. Both of them accepted the apology, and specifically granted me grace. The embarrassment still lingers, but beyond that, my chagrin in realizing the number of times I should have granted grace to others, and did not. In the meantime, I’m shopping for a better alarm clock.
Contributed by Kurt Duncan
Guess I Shoulda Read the Manual
So, it wasn’t just me having a bad day!?! Here’s my story from our first service. Mind you this is only the third Sunday with our new board, a Soundcraft Series Two.
Everything is going fine. The soloist steps up to the mic. I push play and only hear the monitor mix. No house. I panic. The faders on the new board are really smooth compared to the old Yamaha. I push too hard. All of a sudden the background music kicked in at about 120dB and scared everyone, including me. I quickly regained my composure and crawled out from under the console only to come out to another blast of background vocals. So I just turned the monitors up and took it out of the house.
During the sermon, I did what I should have done and took out the manual and read about the stereo channels. You see, unlike the mono channels, you don’t have to pan when assigning to a group. The pan works like a balance control so I was sending nothing but background track to the mains. I fixed it for the 10:30 service. My ears are still ringing.
Contributed by Rick Dean
Surely It’s My Fault
Yesterday, being “off duty” for once (I am in the process of trying to retire from active sound duty), I was in the foyer during the last service, listening to the end of the sermon over the remote system that we installed not too long ago. Just after two elders finished giving me praise for all my work, the sound system, the music and the reliability of this newfangled thang – immediately then the foyer speakers went dead. Completely dead.
I’m thinking that perhaps the board operator turned off the amp to the foyer??? Please.
Nope. As I open the door to the auditorium, it was complete silence. Then POP. What’s worse than silence? A giant pop right after it. The rest of the morning was damage control. Turned off the lapel mic that minister was using and caught him with an SM94 that I keep at the pulpit (most of the time).
But wait, there’s more. The organ also went completely dead during the communion. At this time I’m standing in the aisle, helping serve the communion. Maybe she will switch to the piano? But it comes back online after a few long seconds. Being the main sound/technical person, whenever something odd happens, everyone looks at me. Even when I’m sitting on the stage pretending I’m just in the band.
You can run but you can’t hide.
Contributed by David Lehman
Doing live sound is one sure way to stay humble.
Finally, our friend, Tom Young, wrote to share his perspective on our perilous search for technical excellence. He wrote “We would all like to think that our work ethic, our spiritual devotion, huge amounts of research and planning, mentoring from our heroes, etcetera drives us to achieve greatness in our live sound activities. But we are just human and therefore being ‘shamed’ in front of our brethren and peers can oftentimes be a great motivator to excel in the future. For those of you who haven’t caught-on yet: live sound is one of the most insecure, infinitely complex and fleeting specialties that God has created. But it never, ever gets boring!”
Did you enjoy living vicariously through these stories from other church techs?
Click here to enjoy reading My Most Embarrassing Moments, Part 1.
Click here to enjoy reading My Most Embarrassing Moments, Part 3.
Click here to enjoy reading My Most Embarrassing Moments, Part 4.