What’s Reasonable and What’s Possible

If we think for a moment about extreme sports, some of which will be in the Olympics this year but weren’t there even 10 years ago, we have a good analogy with what has happened with CCM singing. Sports like the half-pipe skateboarding and winter sports like ski jumps with aerial maneuvers are very risky. The athletes are risking not only serious injury but also, possibly, their lives. In the last winter Olympics someone was killed on a trial run of a one-man sledding event. This will, unfortunately, happen more frequently because human beings always have to push the boundaries.

We can say the same for professional sports of all kinds. Look at the controversy over brain injuries to football players (and their decimated knees), look at the damage done to boxers and downhill skiers and gymnasts. The faster they go, the harder they train, the greater the likelihood of injury, both temporary and permanent. Yes, the pros are paid well, sometimes very well, but what is the price of a brain or a spine? Are they paid a lot because they are expected to end up damaged? (Yes, I think so).

Nevertheless, the public, as always, likes the spectacle of it all. They like the hockey fights, they like the risks the players take. It’s not far removed from the Roman Coliseum of long ago.

How does this have to do with singing, you ask? Just listen some time.

We live in a time when people on Broadway write whatever they want to write and have the attitude, “well, that’s what I want and I don’t care if it’s dangerous to sing it”, because they can get away with it. The public enjoys the excitement of hearing all the “high notes” and doesn’t know (or care) that those same high notes are very likely to cause injury to the performers unless they are both highly skilled and experienced, but also just plain strong and lucky. The singers find out soon enough that their two small vocal folds have a vote in the matter and that Mother Nature isn’t going to put up with much insistence when she really isn’t interested in complying. It doesn’t stop the next person and the next from deciding to sing as high and as loud as possible because it attracts attention, maybe gets them a job and could lead to “fame and fortune”.

When Sir Edmund Hillary was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest supposedly his reply was, “Because it’s there.” If you ask a young vocalist why he or she would want to scream out a high note over and over again even if it’s dangerous the answer might well be “why not?” We might not be able to influence the composers, the casting directors, the conductors or even the performers, but we can certainly try to influence our students, educating them to understand what the risks are when the music is badly written for the voice or is just badly written for that particular student. (See 4/21/12 post).

No one is going to go back to writing music that is sweet and simple and also be successful commercially. We have all become accustomed to the screaming as the norm. Basic musical communication has been largely overtaken by “hyped” music presentation. Can you imagine a rock show without fireworks, confetti, explosions and all manner of “production values”? Would you even go? Vaudeville, human beings just singing, telling jokes, juggling and dancing, without amplification, in a small theater, without anything extra, would seem like something from another planet!

Still, I am for human values and would like to know that young performers will be able to sing and survive.

No answers. Just thinking out loud.

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2 thoughts on “What’s Reasonable and What’s Possible”

  1. My sense is that you can only go so far and then the pendulum swings the other way. It may take decades, but it will swing.

    During the 60’s, it was anathema for classical composers to write anything but tone rows. Melodies? That had to wait 30 years. Now composers are writing them again. We may have to wait awhile for contemporary music on Broadway to catch up, but it’s more likely to happen than not. Does this help singers in the short term? Perhaps not. Operatic singers face the same thing actually. Bigger; louder and am impressive sounds are what they think they have to make. But you can only do that so long before the voice rebels.

  2. Nice post which the last winter Olympics someone was killed on a trial run of a one-man sledding event. This will, unfortunately, happen more frequently because human beings always have to push the boundaries. Thanks a lot.

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