Once upon a time in the ancient days of the middle of the 20th Century, we had the idea that singing sounds should represent the sounds found in life. This unique idea, that what people sound like when they are emotional in real life might also be how they sound when they are being emotional while singing, now seems quaint. Nevertheless, it was the standard for many years.
What we have now is loud for loud’s sake. That has been so for about 60 years, so it isn’t going to go away. We have lost something in that, however. When people get passionate, or angry, or frightened, the pitch generally rises, the volume increases, and the vocal quality changes in each case. Angry doesn’t sound like frightened. We can recognize similar differences in our pet cats and dogs. My pet cat had a “I don’t want to go to the vet” moan, he had a “feed me now” meow that was very insistent, and he had a “hiya, Jeanie, welcome home”, chirp. Once in a while he would go into a kind of cat serenade which always struck me as his being very pleased with his catness. Occasionally he did this while I was teaching and the students always remarked, “what’s up with him?” I would laugh and say, “he likes himself a lot”.
In losing emotional clarity we lose the capacity to be honest. It’s really hard to find someone who sings from a place that is direct enough to touch the heart. When the volume is high and the pitch is high it seems “exciting” but in what way? Exciting good? Exciting angry? Exciting frightened? Anyone’s guess.
What is it that is being expressed in Idina Menzel’s version of “Let It Go?” If it were in a foreign language could you tell at all what feeling was being expressed in this song by the vocal quality alone? Happiness, encouragement, hope, admonishment? Yes, Ms. Menzel’s rendition of the song is impressive but that’s because the key is so high that it is amazing that she can sing it at all. If you watch her do the high notes you can see that she is at the max of how much her mouth can open and her jaw can drop. What this expresses is discomfort but it’s hard to say if it is the character in the song or the songstress who is singing.
If you listen to the young Judy Garland sing “You Made Me Love You”, the emotion in it is unmistakable. There is a sense of longing, of wistfulness, of teenaged “angst” in it that was just beautiful. Same with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” sung with direct feeling about what the words mean. I can only imagine what would be done with this simple beautiful song if it were being produced now. It makes me shudder to think of it.
Without all the amplification, how would “Let It Go” read? Would anyone want to hear the song in a lower key? What does it really convey in terms of what the words mean? It’s not the song that’s the problem, it’s what is being done with (and not being done with) the song that is the issue and what all that is doing to the singer. Does she have to sing this way? I have no idea. Does she want to sing this way? I would imagine so. Why? Maybe it’s the money or the fame or both. Maybe it’s a feeling of “I can so I will”. Maybe there is no answer, even for her.
I am just giving everyone some food for thought.