Real Versus Fake

There is a lot of fake singing in the world. What is that?

Fake singing is what happens when people who aren’t very talented connect to other people who can “put some spin” on what they do and market them successfully. That means that they rely on technology to make them sound “good” and that they don’t really have much by way of a vocal instrument or musical expression on their own.

Sometimes other things are involved, too. These days young pop/rock singers are greatly benefited by being very physically attractive. It is much more important now than it was in the days when Barbra Streisand or Aretha Franklin were young. Beyoncé is a good example of someone who sings very well but who is also very beautiful. Stunning beauty really does help get those merchandizing deals where being a good vocalist is the “extra added attraction”. I don’t remember Babs or Lady Soul ever selling lipstick.

Another kind of fake singing happens in the opera house. I have been to the Met enough times to hear all manner of people who shouldn’t have been up on that stage woofing, bellowing, wobbling and just generally screeching, to have some some pretty strong impressions left in my ears. Loud is very popular at a house the size of the Met (around 4000 seats). Loud comes at a price when it is all you do and you do it a lot. Loud pretty is much harder to come by than loud ugly. Loud pretty is found in very few people with very unusual equipment. Loud ugly is much easier to find and if it comes with other things like knowledge of an obscure role, a cheap fee or an available schedule, it is also relatively easy to ignore.

You can get fake singing in a Broadway show, too. I vividly remember the production of “Carousel” that gave Audra McDonald her first Tony award. She was wonderful but Michael Hayden, the Billy Bigelow, just could not sing. He was awful. The night I went two elderly ladies sitting behind me were talking. One said to the other, after the Soliloquy, “Why didn’t they get someone who could sing?” Why, indeed? Hayden was a great actor but that is a show and a role for someone with a VOICE, like John Raitt or Gordon McRae.

There is a lot of fake singing on YouTube and sometimes it shows up on the competition shows on TV, too. Do we really need yet another preteen girl singing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” at the top of her lungs on America’s Got Talent? They should call it America’s Got Ambition. And when the judges of any of these shows do not themselves sing, and have not studied singing, and have no idea what a beautiful well-trained voice can do when it is in the throat of someone with a heart and a brain, well, it’s a wonder that they manage to find anyone to be a winner who can actually sing well!

I am on vacation at the moment. Every week there is a young couple of “folk singers” who play guitar and sing on the street in front of the coffee house in this small town. They can do neither very well but the singing is hard to describe. Unpleasant is what comes to mind. I’m not expecting miracles, given where I am, but they don’t deserve to sing anywhere other than their shower. Yes, I believe that everyone can and should sing, for their own betterment as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that I think everyone should stand up to sing in front of other people, no matter what. No.

And, of course, you have read here before about the fake singing at colleges. This happens when someone who can’t sing well gets a doctorate of some kind and ends up a tenured full professor. Scary stuff but very real. Some of these people actually believe that you are supposed to manipulate your throat into whatever behavior you have to create to get that loud ugly sound — the one that clocks in at 110 decibels. Some of the conversations I’ve had over the years with other singing teachers would make the hair on the back of your neck fall out. Leontyne Price “couldn’t sing”. Dietrich Fischer-Diskau was “boring”. “Luciano Pavarotti was just yelling”. I’m not kidding. We won’t even discuss what they said about singers who were NOT classical.

There is a lot of fake singing out there. Those of us who teach singing are supposed to know the difference. I wonder.

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