While there is no question about the value of instrumental music, singers enjoy a special relationship with the listener: the ability to communicate directly through text. I would say not only is this a special gift, but a special responsibility. Since we have text (and the instrumentalist does not), our job is to make sure the lyrics are understandable and accurately portray its meaning and emotion.
If the audience or congregation cannot understand our words, we’ve fallen short of the reason for having text. 1 Corinthians 14:7–19 speaks to this idea. Verse 19 says, “I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (New Living Translation). Singing is supposed to make an impact on the listener and will only do so if the listener understands the message. The choir must carefully unify vowels and precisely execute consonants to clarify diction.
But not only should the audience understand the text, they should get its expressive meaning. Listeners should be moved by the singing they hear. How is this connection made? The singer must first be inspired by the text and then allow that inspiration to freely emanate through facial expression and song. A singer or choral musician must feel safe and uninhibited—even vulnerable—to allow this honest flow of expression. The director creates this safe environment and ministry opportunity in rehearsals and performances. Moreover, the singer must communicate the text expressively by appropriate syllable and word inflection.
Finally, to have maximum impact on our listeners, the singer should give attention to the “color” or word nuance of the text. When we speak, we naturally convey the deeper feeling of words such as “touch” versus “caress” or “love” of a food compared to the “love” of a family member. The singer must internalize the important words then reflect them through emotional inflection and facial expression.
As singers, we must approach language earnestly—text is what sets us apart from all other musicians. Lyrics provide a mode of direct communication with the audience. With words and music, we can have life-changing effect.