Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - A Song to Sing

If you have ever participated in music festivals, you know that the adjudicators can be - well let's say - interesting.  I remember so clearly my sister and I getting ready to leave for a Music Festival Competition and Mum saying that it was important to make our best effort and that winning was not as important as feeling good about our singing.  My sister took it all in and simply said, "---but mummy, I'd rather win."  And of course, she did.

However much positive thought you use, adjudicators are very subjective in their judging.  One year, my choir was up against some particularly fine choirs.  One of my rules has always been that the choir watch me and sing what I directed.  If a mistake was made, then it would be mine.  The piece we were singing had 3 verses and wouldn't you know that I went right into the 3rd verse after the first.  It had different accompaniment and harmony, the works.  Oh dear.  Well we had an amazing accompanist who took all of 3 seconds to realize where we were and the choir followed with only a raised eyebrow or two to show their discomfort.

The dear adjudicator in his summary said that our choir was amazing.  The only critiscism he had was a few words were indistinct and went on to point out 3 words that were in the missed 2nd verse.  Now, my eyebrows went up to warn the students to stay mum.  You guessed it, we earned first place.

We were lucky that the adjudicator hadn't picked up on our mistake.  However, I am convinced that he was enjoying the music and thus, not tied to the copy.  The song choice in this case kept the interest high and let us perform well if technically somewhat deficient.

Another year, I had a 12 and 13 year old boys in a choir.  As you know, changing voices are fun to work with because what you have today is not what you may have tomorrow.  I had to choose something that would keep the boys' interest, remain possible for them to sing in 3 part harmony no matter what their voices did, and create a fun performance.  The song was a medley of television commercial jingles.  We had such fun and yes, they aced it.

In the adjudication, we were told that the choice of song was a dangerous choice.  He felt that such popular songs could be hard to present as the audience would have a mind set as to what they should sound like and the performance might not be able to replicate that sound.  The headline in the paper was, "Teacher Makes Dangerous Choice to Sing".  Really.

Chris Rowbury has a great article on why singing "pop" music is not a good idea. He feels strongly that most popular music isn't worth considering. I agree that you do have to be careful that the songs you choose have good musical qualities.  We in ETS have sung some fun popular songs including Purple People Eater.  It is repetitive but it is the story that is the point of this song.  We didn't wear costumes but we really worked to get the words clear.  It was suggested that we play kazoos at the end in place of the saxophone.  It was fun.  Sha Na Na does an acceptable job and the words here are the focus as well.

I think you can severely limit our options when you make pronouncements such as "no pop music" or conversely "no classic music".  There is good and bad in all musicial genres.  Like the adjudicators, conductors get to use their subjective judgement in music choices.  Personally, I like a wide range of musical styles and eras.  Try it, you'll like it - or not.  Like Mum always said about your veggies, "If you don't taste it, how will you know you  don't like it."  She was so right.  So go ahead and "taste" lots of kinds of music and see what kind of sound banquet you can create.

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