Monday, September 15, 2008

There's one in every crowd

I like singing in choirs. It's not something that I want to do ALL the time, and I'd prefer to avoid being pigeon-holed as a choral singer if I can avoid it, but I've sung in choirs since I was seven years old, it's something I'm familiar with, and something that I enjoy, most of the time.

For awhile I avoided them. I was trying to find my "own" sound, and given that ensemble singing obliges you to blend and fit in with those around you, finding that in a choral situation is difficult. Choral singing also exercises a different part of your brain, too - it's very much a left-brain exercise that requires a lot of problem-solving (count, intonate, watch the conductor, let's see if we can decipher that tricky bit with the syncopation etc) and solo singing is very right-brain - it's almost closer to being an actor than it is being a musican. In solo singing you're communicating, emoting, maybe moving about on stage, and all the nuts and bolts of actually getting the notes right should be so well-learned that it's almost instinctual. Thus, I've found that choral singing, when you're learning how to be a right-brain singer as opposed to a left-brain one, can mess with you a bit. I guess a good analogy is trying to perform a task with your weaker hand. Until you've mastered it you probably don't want to do it with your stronger one, because you can confuse yourself, and next time you try to do it the other way around you've forgotten some of what you've learned.

Clear as mud? Thought so.

Anyway. Lately, I've found another reason why singing in choirs isn't always a good idea. To whit, THERE'S ALWAYS ONE DICKHEAD WHO TALKS TOO MUCH. Always. Without fail, there's some guy who sits there with his thumb up his arse and a self-righteous expression on his face, trying to give the impression that he knows everything. And I say "he" because that's nearly always the case as well. It's nearly always a man, and nearly always a tenor, as well. He asks questions designed to show everyone how clever he is. He second-guesses the conductor. He points out others' mistakes. He makes little self-depracating remarks that are designed to make you notice him. He's like the guy in the meeting who sits there and nods and goes "Mmm!" whenever the boss says anything. Ever wanted to punch that guy? REALLY hard? Oh my God, I have. Just SHUT THE FUCK UP, ALREADY.

I think it's borne out of a need for self-justification. Particularly in an artistic situation like a Conservatoire, people can be desperate to prove to others that they deserve to be there. Or that not only do they deserve to be there, but maybe that they're so Goddamned fantastic that they SHOULDN'T be there, because this is all so elementary to them. I think it's also driven by the fact that the arts are seen to be an "elite" past-time, so you attract people to it that use their singing (or acting or dancing or whatever) as some sort of exercise in self-grandiosement. "Look at me! I'm SINGING. And I know stuff! Aren't I clever?" And you'd think that when things get close to being at a professional level that people would learn to leave that sort of thing at the door a bit more. Unfortunately not. Sometimes it's worse.

I think it was Bill Watterson, of Calvin & Hobbes fame, who said "I like art. But it sure as hell attracts its fair share of pretentious blow-hards".

Hear bloody hear!

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