Monday, January 11, 2010

Performance Insight

I had an eye-opening (ear-opening?) experience yesterday. I was driving along, listening to the radio, when I heard the orchestral introduction to a Ron Hamilton song I knew well. The song itself has a lovely melody and is easy to sing, but as the song progressed I was struck with the way this man sang: robotically, with no feeling, no passion and obviously no comprehension of what he was singing. It was as if he did not like the melody and sang only syllables of text, unheeding of content. I did not know it was possible to sing any song that way. It’s possible to play notes that way if you’re not into the music—but to sing so insensitively, unfeelingly, is a feat in itself, because singing is such an intimate extension of one’s inner life compared to playing an instrument. I’m quite sure I’ve never heard anything like it. Absolutely robotic.

His vocal technique was low-to-average and he carried a tune well, but he did not produce any music. I do not know the name of this particular “artist,” and that is well.

Mary Jane and I have been discussing what it means to really get inside the music and portray the attitudes and the message the composer intended—so that your audience can experience the magic. It was most interesting to hear an extreme example of “what not to do.”

Are there any other musicians who have had a similar experience? Or perhaps you’ve just happily experienced something quite the opposite?


Jeff said...

There's a lot of music out there (especially of the kind that would sing Ron Hamilton music) that seems like they were going for fidelity to individual notes than love for the truth being sung. Or maybe it's that odd Fundie fear of exhibition. At Fundamentalist churches, you can be exhibitionist on the piano or violin, but not when singing. (Strangely, though, you're encouraged to listen to exhibitionist singers as long as they're only singing opera). It usually leads the singers to over-concentrate on diction, especially... "Gotta get every single T and D in there or... something bad will happen... like people won't understand what you're saying." Of course, all the while missing the fact that people think you're clueless or lying about what you're singing about. I'd rather hear a gravelly old saint singing about something he knows and loves than listen to some Fundie perfectionist singing with smarmy hyper-diction. "Memorize the notes so you can forget them."

Sorry... just venting...

Nicole said...

Most of those poor Fundie kids had no clue about formulating a philosophy on the arts, Jeff. =) I can't wait to see what your kids come up with--lol!

Actually I have a lot of pent-up frustration with the Fundie anti-aesthetic too so I can sympathize. The world is so much bigger than that. =)

I'm reminded of a pastor who was frustrated with his dwindling congregation. One day, in an exchange with a professional actor who happened to be visiting, he expressed his concerns. The actor offered him a valuable insight: "I present my fiction as though it were fact, but you present your 'fact' as though it were fiction." [Whoa!]

Jeff said...

Sounds like George Whitefield. He said that he brought all the arts of the theater and public speaking to bear to help people understand how REAL his subject was. He wanted to help them see it, to feel it. If he just impassionately intoned about doctrine, he would have, essentially, lied about what he was saying.

That's a message the fundie music movement needs big time. Stop over-producing a tinkly, purist, lock-step automaton music and make something we can believe.

Venting again...