Sunday, 18 September 2011

Singing? Me?

Singing is one of my passions in life.  I've been a member of a choir all of my life.  When I was a child, I loved watching "Johnny Young's Young Talent Time" and idolised Tina Arena  who first went on the show as a contestant and later joined the Talent Team.  (I vividly remember that she wore an American Indian's costume and sang the ABBA song, "Money, Money, Money".)

In the days before karaoke, singing along with Tina on the television or to the latest single on the record player was fantastic.  As my proficiency playing the piano developed, I would buy sheet music for all the latest pop songs and sing along as I accompanied myself.  The piano part never sounded as good as a band - how could it capture the drums, bass and guitar all on the piano? - and all the songs sung by men were in the wrong key all together.  Female singers always ended up singing it at the pitch written which was impossibly high to sing without doing the full soprano sound or put down an octave it was far too low.  I laboured over so many pop songs, swinging wildly between my high and low voices,  before giving up and switching to jazz.

In this genre I played and sang all the jazz standards for hours on end, channelling Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and later, Shirley Bassey and Liza Minelli.  Such romantic and swinging songs and passionate songs.  And as 12 year old, I sang with the kind of  commitment any judge on Australian Idol would demand.

Then I discovered music theatre and borrowed entire scores from the State Library for musicals that had won Tony Awards on Broadway, but which I hadn't really heard of.  I'd order in the CD's and learn all of the songs, doing full mini-performances of the shows.

Then I discovered the ultimate female singer, kd lang, and focussed on vocal technique and learnt to play and experiment to discover everything my voice could do.

I didn't have an ipod.  I didn't even get a Walkman when they were cutting edge.  If I wanted to hum a tune while walking around, then I would.  I didn't want, need or have the perpetual soundtrack to life that most people seem to walk around with now.  Whenever they leave the house, the have to be plugged in and wired up.

On one hand I think it shows an amazing confidence to be able to go out into the world and walk around with one of your senses effectively disabled - that is, so absorbed in what's coming through your ear buds that you wouldn't hear danger approaching.  Granted, we are not at threat from sabre tooth tigers or hungry, gigantic dinosaurs these days, but there is traffic and other people who could pose a threat as we go about our daily business.

On the other hand, I admire the lack of self consciousness that seems to happen when people are cocooned in their own world of recorded sound.  Some of the best entertainment I've had recently has been listening to people singing along with their headphones.  At its best, it happens in an enclosed space, like a train carriage, that doesn't have many people in it and the person succumbs to the illusion that they are alone.

First the seep-through sound of the music turned up too loud starts to invade the shared space with its tinny vibrations.  Then the person in question starts a quiet hum.  Then they let go a little for the first verse.  By the time they've reached the chorus, they're in full voice, but think they are singing quietly.  Other people start laughing.  And I've even heard some people join in or seen them play air guitar or drum solo.

Then there's the quieter person who doesn't really let go.  In many ways this is worse.  They think they are singing along in their own head and so can not hear that they are actually making sound which other people can actually hear.  In these cases the sound made echoes a small, ill animal - perhaps a kitten, or a frightened guinea pig.  Hang on when they reach for the high notes!  These kids are squeezing sound out of such a constricted aperture that the dogs in the neighbourhood start to stir.

This week, I was exposed to a performance of this genre by a tall, skinny, Asian boy.  So concave was his chest that his long white t-shirt looked like it was draped over a square piece of cardboard.  He was afflicted with a bad case of acne and had the self-conscious gait of the awkward teenager who has to walk alongside embarrassing parents.  And then there was this sound!  Not at all pleasant and a little bit like listening to Chinese opera, with the tonality that my western ear isn't trained to appreciate.

And then this afternoon, while I was sitting in the car in a friend's driveway after dropping her off, we heard gorgeous, effortless and joyful singing.  A teenage boy was plugged into his headphones and singing in full voice as he walked.  He was singing for no one but himself, uninhibited as he walked past where we were parked in a smooth and lyrical voice.

I can only conclude that for some people, the "privacy" the headphones provide, is like that provided for nose pickers in a car.

Keep singing!  It's one of the gifts we humans have.

1 comment:

  1. Very good. Why not join Tongue n Groove?

    Oh... too late