I attended a performance a few nights ago. It was in a small theater, probably an old Vaudeville theater that had been revamped. The show was “Hair” and it was decently done, although it seemed a bit chaotic. The biggest problem was the volume. Although the band was in a space high above the stage in the back, and the performers were miked, I suspected the actors couldn’t hear themselves as they spent the entire evening shouting. It got worse and worse and in Act Two, it was all I could do not to hold my ears.
This problem made it nearly impossible to understand lyrics, it also killed some of the artistic finesse in a few of the songs that help give the show some ups and downs. Just because it was a 60s rock musical doesn’t mean that all the music should be screamed.
It was a first performance. Who knows, maybe it will get better? There are only a few performances scheduled.
I come to events as a singer and singing teacher. My head, my mind if you will, wants to hear singers sing. I do not object outright to actors whose singing isn’t terrific but I do object to pitch issues, unintelligibility, and consistently ugly sounds that do not have to be ugly to convey something unless what is being conveyed is meant to be — ugly. Sometimes it’s as if the people who deal with the music are “voice deaf”. They do not know what a well-trained voice sounds like or how it works, and, what’s worse, they don’t care to learn…….after all they are already in charge without knowing. I’m speaking here, folks, of well-trained pop-rock vocalists, not opera singers or legit music theater voices. There is such a thing as singing any kind of music well. It not only cuts down on the possibility that the vocal folds will be injured or fatigued it actually facilitates the clarity of the text and the impetus of the music to move the drama forward.
The people in the show were, for the most part, professionals. The presentation certainly was meant to be done as professionally as possible. Why, then, pay zero attention to the singing? You can assume that the people in charge didn’t think it was worth paying attention to.
We have lost the idea that singing has parameters having to do with real life. Screaming, in life, is a sign of alarm. If the music isn’t meant to be alarming, why scream? Happiness, joy, exuberance or surprise can be loud, but that loud should sound different than anger, fear, or sadness. These days, you can’t tell anything in a sound because so much of everything is loud for loud’s sake.
What’s worse, quite a few young people do not know what they are missing. They don’t know what the experience of hearing someone sing well in a live performance without screaming, particularly one that is acoustic, is. How can they fix things they do not know are wrong or could be better? They can’t and they don’t and they won’t unless somewhere along the way they wake-up.
Education derives from the word “educare” which means ‘lead out’. It is related to educe that means to bring out (as something latent). If you are not educated by someone who leads you out of the darkness and into the light (in this case of singing) you can be in the darkness and not know you are there. That is a tragedy.