On a Caribbean cruise back in late January I heard quite a few singers in various venues on board the ship. Most were quite good and a few were superb. In one of the lounges we caught a duo (man and woman) a few times who both sang and while they were not blessed with fantastic voices they sang in tune and their use of sophisticated backing tracks along with his guitar made for some very enjoyable music. The room was always packed and everyone had a great time.
At the motel where we stayed pre-cruise we happened to be there on karaoke night and as usual with those things the talent on display was quite variable, to be kind. But you know what? It didn’t matter. Everyone was having a grand time and there was no shortage of eager participants.
A couple weeks later we went down to Dallas to visit our son Matt who lives and works in that city. We spent a great evening down in the Deep Elum section of town where there are dozens of bars and restaurants featuring live music. My wife and I realized we were probably the oldest people on the street (!) but no matter. But as you might expect, the music was heavily tilted toward the younger age group. So screaming thrash rock and post punk was on full display, which I am way too old to understand or appreciate. OK, maybe I do understand. “It’s only rock and roll but I like it! I like it! I like it!” as some skinny old singer once sang.
We did hear a very good jazz group at brunch the next day in the same section of town that featured two women singers who were quite good, although I have a thing about too much vibrato from a woman singing jazz. But in any case, the small audience was appreciative and the jazz group clearly loved the music and the opportunity to perform.
So what’s the point here? Tony related how he came to singing gradually but now really enjoys it. Putting aside for a minute the conundrum of singing and playing at the same time that all beginning guitarists must go through (in a nutshell, one must be totally confident their playing is solid rhythmically and structurally before they can “forget” about their hands and just sing….) I believe the biggest hurdle singers have to cross is accepting their voices. I always warn my students who are beginning the singing/playing process to avoid listening to any recording of themselves. No matter how much one thinks they are aware of their voice, I promise you that you do NOT sound like what your ears and brain are telling you. That does not necessarily means your voice is bad….just different. Big problem #2 is the natural tendency to compare our own voices to the artist who recorded the song. No, most of us will never sound like that but remember: not only does that person have a level of quality that resulted in a recording contract but they also worked with recording engineers whose entire job is to make them sound good. Now more than ever, studio tricks make even mediocre singers sound good and good ones sound even better.
I absolutely believe that humans are genetically programed to enjoy music. And audiences are much more forgiving than you might imagine.
That belief is reinforced in me just about every time I play in front of someone. Although I was a voice major way back in music school I never had that great a voice and these days between neglect of my singing chops due to my concentration on instrumentals plus my advancing years I’m probably not even as good as I was back then. That doesn’t matter!
A few days ago I went down to Connecticut to visit my daughter and her husband and of course my precious, lovely granddaughter. As always, I brought my guitar. As I began playing and singing “You Are My Sunshine” little Clara instantly began bobbing her head and grinning. Absolutely the best audience I will ever have! And even though she is only eight months old, almost every time she looked at me for the rest of the weekend she smiled and began bobbing her head again.
Whether it’s a professional show singer on a cruise ship, a jazz singer in a bar, a fairly inebriated karaoke singer, a purple haired punk rocker or some old guy singing an old folk song to his granddaughter, singing forms a connection between people that we should celebrate. So do it. Just sing.
Peace & good music,