Each style has its own set of parameters that people who are expert in that style know. They have a kind of “feel” for what’s right, what works and what belongs. They can tell if someone is really part of the style or just “trying hard”. They can tell if a person is really excellent and doing unique and special things that most people, even professional level people, couldn’t replicate or if the singer is “just getting by”.
Why did the classical community not embrace Michael Bolton’s classical album? What was wrong with his “Nessun Dorma”? Why is it that they mostly don’t like Andrea Bocelli? And why did the rock community not rush to celebrate Renee Flemings’ Rock Album or the jazz community jump up and down about her jazz records, or the Broadway community absolutely love her Broadway songs? Why is it that Alison Kraus isn’t regarded as a great country artist by other country artists? I don’t know anyone who liked the album of standards recorded by Rod Stewart, even though it sold well enough for him to try another one. And why would these any of these artists go where angels fear to tread? All of them had recognition in their “home” styles. Why not stay put?
One reason is because they are successful enough and wealthy enough to do whatever they want, whether or not it makes sense. Another reason is because they probably don’t have anyone close to them to say to them, “What, are you kidding?”
It’s very interesting to “hang with” people who have lived with a certain style for decades, sometimes for many decades, and who understand pretty much everything there is to know about it. Who were the important artists? Who were the influential people who left a permanent mark? Who is still revered even if they are gone? Who are the people who became legend in their own communities? Who were the people who broke the rules so that others, who came after them, were playing in a brand new game? These experts take their art form seriously. They don’t like the idea that people who don’t know what they are doing can come in and trash it, camp it up, disregard its forms and traditions or generally walk all over the parameters that have been passed down one generation to another for over one hundred years here in the USA.
We all know that if you aren’t an expert in any given endeavor, you can only pick up the most general information about it. If you took me to a tennis game, I probably wouldn’t be able to see the strategy of the players. I would be impressed at how often they could hit the ball, and not miss like me, and how fast they could send it back and forth. Same with almost any other sport. I can follow baseball (mostly) but I wouldn’t know much about which player was the best at hitting or stealing bases or saves. My cousins, on the other hand, would be able to fill me in on the smallest details, as they have followed baseball intently since they were kids.
If I played you several opera singers singing the same operatic aria, and you were not familiar with opera, you might think they all sounded the same, especially since that form doesn’t like too much variation from what is written by the composer. If I played you old style country vocalists, a lot of them would also sound the same if you were not used to listening to that style. They would certainly sound different than the classical people, though, and you would probably be able to tell that even if you didn’t have much interest in or experience with singing of any kind. If I played you some female Broadway belters, doing mostly older shows, you would think they sounded similar, but different from the opera singers and the country singers. And if I played you some jazz females, doing songs in a similar feeling and tempo, you might think there was some similarity, particularly if I was careful to pick singers I knew to have similar vocal and musical characteristics.
On the other hand, if I played the same exact selections to a group of people who were expert in any of those styles, within seconds they would know which vocalist and maybe whether it was from an early time in their careers or a later one. They would know the song or the show or the particular arrangement and when it was done. They would know if the rendition was one for which the vocalist had become famous or whether it was a more obscure selection. They would also know what the differences were between the singers, which might be too small for the inexperienced listener to hear, but which would loom large to those who had sophisticated listening skills.
I don’t think I have ever seen this topic written about anywhere. I want to know what the “it” is that those in a profession recognize that others do not. It has to be there, but we don’t know exactly how to define it.
If you have any ideas, post them here.