If you know anything about storytelling, you know that stories have an arc. They start off with introductions, the characters and tension builds, conflict grows, we have a climax and finally a resolution. The shape of the arc can be different for each story, but the basic tenants remain. Songs typically follow an arc. We start with a musical introduction, a verse, a chorus, build to a bridge, sometimes a breakdown, then a big chorus finish followed by a resolution.
When lighting for worship, our lighting should follow the arc of the song. Today, I’d like to look at a great example of a lighting arc that follows a song arc very well. The song is Rhythms of Grace from the latest Hillsong United CD, Aftermath. It’s a great song, with a nice arc. The lighting design was done by one of my two top-notch lighting volunteers, Daniel Cullen. It should be noted that Daniel is a senior in high school. He and our other lighting guy, Thomas Pendergrass (a junior in high school) do a great job every week.
Rather than try to explain what we’re talking about, I’m just going to tell the story through pictures. Let’s take a look at the opening.
The song opens with percussion and drums. Everyone else is backlit with either the on-floor SourceFours, or with our Martin 518s in the truss. We also have about ten ColorBlast 12s on the floor to uplight the band in color. After a 16-bar intro, we bring in some front light (and when I say "we" I mean Daniel did...)
As you can see, we have a limited amount of front light coming in to illuminate the worship leader and singers. The feel of the song is still pretty mellow, so the lighting is following suit. Nothing is moving, and we're just setting the mood. As we build to the first chorus, we add some color.
At this point, we've brought up some more front light, and bring in some colored backlight. We have about 20 Parnells in the truss with color scrollers on, along with another dozen or so Parnells with either red or blue gels on the. This gives us a rich color palate to choose from, and you'll see more of that shortly. The second verse holds at this look; when we get to the second chorus, the song gets bigger, so the lights follow suit.
The white fabric that was previously only washed in a deep blue is now brighter and a cool blue-green color. He's also brought up our blue back light, which adds more color and light upstage. The song is clearly building here, and the lighting is following along. Right after the second chorus, the song breaks down into a piano bridge. We put some scripture up on the screen and gave everyone a moment to breathe and reflect. The lighting sets the mood.
As you can see, the color drops out, and the band vamps for a good 20-30 seconds. This is not a time for animation, color chases or anything else. We are creating a space for people to reflect on what the've been singing and consider the implications for their life. The third chorus is a big one, so we light it up when we get there.
As the biggest point in the song, it's also the brightest. Everyone is lit up, there is a ton of color and the sound is huge. This picture doesn't really do the actual look justice, but you get the idea we were going for. After two trips through the chorus, the song breaks down rapidly, and the light follows.
If you haven't heard the song, I recommend you go give it a listen. As you do, consider how you could create this type of an arc with your lighting rig. Obviously, we all have different lighting kits with varying tools in the toolbox. But hopefully, this gives you an idea or two on how to use what you have to support the message of the song. Again, big props to Daniel who did this pretty much on his own with very minimal input from me or Isaiah.