6 March 2013

Bad Singing

I was informed by co-workers (I personally never watch the awards)  that Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for her performance in Les Mis.  I never saw Les Mis, so I can't comment on her performance, but I did find one of her songs from the show on YouTube.

This is a performance drenched in emotion and feeling.  It is also an example of terrible singing technique.  For all its expressiveness, Ms. Hathaway's voice is small and weak, barely more than a whisper for most of the song and would never carry off the stage in a live performance, inaudible over the orchestra.  Her singing here is made possible only by the invention of the microphone and the mixer, which allows bad singing to masquerade as good singing.

This is not a condemnation of using microphones per se.  Movies may accomplish whatever effects they may wish in their studios and sound rooms.  Modern rock concerts are utterly dependent upon electronic instruments and microphones and mixers, and- for many 'artists'- pre-recorded music. 

The problem is that this type of electronically enhanced singing and music has so saturated our culture, that many people take it as good and proper singing, and try and emulate it, singing in half voice or less, substituting volume for 'feeling!' where ever they go, including church.

Some songs written in recent years lend themselves to this kind of singing.  Think of the incopetent and incomprehensible schmaltz that is the old seventies standby: "His Peace is flowing Like  a River." There is a song that is meant to be sung like you have tears trickling down your cheeks at all times.  For other hymns, though, a little more technique and less feeling may be required.
I admit, I may not be the best person to discuss this.  I have been given a loud and powerful voice.  I can make myself heard in a full Cathedral. (Don't ask.)  I have been asked to leave choirs as I tend to drown them out, and my singing teacher has told me my voice really isn't well suited to choral work, at least not at this stage. I fully realize that not everyone has my volume available for their voice.  But most people can put out a decent sound without straining their voices with a little practice.  If entire congregations cannot do this, the choir at least should.  They are there to practice, and practice includes training whenever possble.

I see, in one church after another, singers using microphones as they mumble out their hymns.  I have sang with full choirs, twenty voices or more, that have had microphones placed in front of them so they may be heard down in the pews.  I have been in small churches in the countryside, some blest with beautiful acoustics, wherein the cantor and choir sing softly into microphones.  Meanwhile, the congregation joins in the singing, barely audible as they whisper their praise of God.  They are following in the choir's footsteps.

There is no need, and should never have been, any need for assisted singing in most churches.  Yes, there are some very large, carpeted, cushioned pew churches which have all the acoustics of a down filled pillow, wherein a microphone is a must.  But many churches, with decent acoustics, and not too large, have no need of them, yet are fully wired for sound.  A cantor should be able to fill a small church with sound without aid.   A choir of ten should be able to make themselves heard throughout a church easily.   We don't need to get training, but we do need to rethink what it means to sing well, and to listen to those who can project a voice.

1 comment:

Bro. AJK said...

I agree with this post. Better singing is essential.