Violence in Singing

I saw “The Hobbit” tonight at the movies. OK, as those kinds of movies go. Prior to it there were five trailers of upcoming films. All of them were full of violence, even in the short time of these teasers. There is a Disney film called “Jack The Giant Killer” which is just about as violent as the two films called “Oblivion” and “After Earth” both of which concern the remnants of the human race surviving some future doom and gloom. There is a new movie about “The Lone Ranger” coming with Johnny Depp as Tonto, but it surely doesn’t look anything like the 50s TV I grew up with! Of course, there was a ton of violence portrayed in the Hobbit, most of it computer generated. I would have been hard not to  notice that all of these films use violence and the portrayal of killing as a form of entertainment.

We all have come to accept violence in entertainment and in the media in general as being normal. We dare not question its presence lest we seem prudish or “up-tight”. No matter how graphic the violence, or how it is created (realistically or through computer animation) we think “that’s how it is”. We even purchase games that feature all manner of violent killing to while away our free time.

I, for one, do not go along with the idea that accepting any and all kinds of depiction of violence is just fine and dandy and that it has no effect on those who view it or participate in it. It isn’t great to watch mainstream TV for several hours and lose count of how many murders I’ve seen. Most of the cop shows feature serial killers who torture and rape their female victims and then murder them. Now, mostly, when I encounter these awful scenarios, many being very gruesomely enacted, I have to turn them off.

The old feminist in me doesn’t like this one bit. I can’t imagine that these shows are predominantly written, directed, produced or sponsored by other women. Perhaps they are involved, but when I can catch the credits, which fly by, I see a lot of male sounding first names. Perhaps this is coincidence. Perhaps. But then, that’s a different, although related, topic.

How has this to do with singing, you ask?

A lot of singing these days is violent. Women screaming at the top of their lungs in the loudest possible sound is a form of violence. It doesn’t represent the archetype of “feminine” in any way. The quintessential “female” quality of the voice and of singing is probably most commonly represented by what is called “celtic singing”. It could possibly also be found in Early Music but not a whole lot of other styles. Loud singing for loud singing’s sake is the name of the game in most styles, including classical. It has been true for several decades now that the singers with the “biggest” classical voices have the best chance at having a career. Angela Meade is a good example of someone with a truly beautiful voice who has no clue about emotional connection whatsoever to the music. Hasn’t hurt her career a bit.

Screamy singing, up to and including losing your voice as a badge of honor, is absolutely an aggressive  act. Singing in a raspy, ragged sound can be taken by both the vocalist and the audience as a sign that the singer is “giving it her all” or “not holding back in any way”. It would be very unusual for anyone to think “This kind of singing shouldn’t be necessary. It violates the integrity of the vocal folds and therefore the body, and therefore of my own being”. That would be a very odd thought indeed even though it is true.

It is so that strong emotional singing is possible in all voices, males and females. Woman can sing as powerfully as men and, conversely, men can sing as delicately and sweetly as women, when they choose to. Philosophically, however, as we live with more and more violence and justify its existence through many arguments, sooner or later singing will become part of the equation.

The next time you hear someone singing as loud, as high and as long as possible and you admire it, remember that the cost of such singing can be vocal fatigue, vocal strain and vocal injury. If this becomes the accepted daily cost of being a singer, something is wrong with the system and the people in the system who willingly go along with that cost.

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