Singing – Am I Really that Bad?

Singing, as most of my friends and family will say, is not a strong suit of mine.

Singing was also not an activity I was particularly interested in either.

However, as this blog generally poses questions to accepted norms, it is only fitting that I ask, am I really that bad a singer?

Actually, I think I am not a good singer but definitely not a bad one. Here is why.

To start us off here is a clip of me singing.

 

It is obvious that I am not a technically gifted and by that I mean I don’t have the natural ability where my voice apparatus, vocal muscles etc, creates sound that matches pitches. Of course this was no big deal before the modern recording age. In fact, many communities before modernity were communal and their music activity was centred around participation, think Amazonian or West African village life, so no matter your voice, you sang!

What modernity did though was create the professional singer. And the recording of the professional singer gave value to a certain kind of singing which in some ways eroded how people considered singers globally, this ultimately made singers like me…

 

BECOME BAD!

 

Listen to the following clips, first up is Wendy Moten then Beyonce.

 

 

 

These songs are damn fricking hard to sing.They also have a certain history and tradition behind them that many people globally were not a part of. So for example, if a Tuvan tried to sing these, he might not succeed, even though he might be an excellent throat singer.

In other words, Wendy Moten and Beyonce are not only PROFESSIONALl singers, they are also showing a CERTAIN TYPE of good singing based on the values of their music culture. It does not make the Tuvan a bad singer. If you are unsure what Tuvan throat singing is let us reverse this now and take a listen to some Tuvan throat singing.

Here is a clip from American Idol where this guy was dismissed.

 

The judges and audience thought he was crap but was he? They were just using the value system from their music culture which was totally inappropriate to judge Tuvan throat singing. If I used the Tuvan method, Beyonce and Wendy Moten were rubbish because they only produced one pitch, in fact where was the drone Queen Bee!!!???

In short, there are no universal values when it comes to singing. Singing is dependent like all value systems on who makes the rules. So if I someone calls you a bad singer, just ask them if they understand the discourse of power at work in aesthetics. If the look at you blankly, continue singing just like I will now…

 

* This post does not condone karaoke. Any suggestion that it does is just a coincidence. 🙂

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What is so great about Whitney Houston?

Whitney Houston

February, 2012, saw the passing of Whitney Houston and along with the outpouring of sadness especially here in the Caribbean, there were numerous TV segments describing how great she was.

But how was Whitney Houston great?

This may seem like a pointless question, as you must be screaming because she could sing, but yeah she was great because she could sing, like REALLY sing.

Whitney’s greatness differs from other artists coming from the United States because unlike let us say a John Lennon or John Coltrane, Whitney Houston was not the pioneer of any musical genre, did not play an instrument (to performance standard that I have seen) and did not write any of her songs.  So what is it then?

Whitney was a stylist, a REALLY REALLY good stylist.  A friend of mine once said that artists can be either great innovators and/or great stylists. Innovators are easy to identify because they start stuff; stylists on the other hand are more difficult to work out.   In short, innovators are those that open the doors to new sounds, while stylists decorate the inside their own way; so while Whitney did not create R&B pop, NO ONE sounded like her singing it.

Whitney’s style is based on traditional African American gospel singing.  Her greatness lies in the way she makes musical choices within this style. So Shakespeare used English, which he did not come up with (I don’t think), but it was how he used English that made him great. Whitney did not come up with gospel singing, but to me she made some GREAT stylistic choices using the musical vocabulary.

The key element to Afro-American gospel singing is vocal improvisation; what the layman refers to as runs/riffs. An important part of this approach is that the melody is hardly done the same way twice. Of course the changes made between melodies are not random and are based on stock phrases. It is the performer’s use of these phrases that determine their mettle, along with, of course, singing in key. Check out a great example below by Dr H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Now here is Whitney singing the US anthem. 

One of Whitney’s other performances that show me her stylistic greatness, and this may come as a surprising choice, is her rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear.”  I have chosen this because it displays Whitney’s complete command of the gospel tradition as she makes some highly creative changes to the melody, especially if we consider the original. To understand what I am saying, listen to the two versions below. The first is done by Bing Crosby and the second by Whitney.

Wow what a vocal performance!

Some may argue that others did this as well, others may even argue that some did it better, but hardly anyone would say Whitney did it badly!

To end, thanks for living Whitney and thanks for showing the world what stylistic GREATNESS really is.

For further discussion, leave a comment!