Friday, April 5, 2013
Time marches on and cruelly leaves a trail of souvenirs behind. Unsentimental Time does not distinguish the plaster from the gold. Its job is to keep moving no matter what - keep marching and stomping on everything including some things it should take along. No, Time believes in traveling light. It is more interested in what's ahead and barely glances back. Time will undoubtedly stumble upon marvelous wonders as it steps lively toward tomorrow. But what it leaves in its wake can be cause for sorrow and regret.
I am presently bemoaning the demise of singing - the art of singing.
The human voice was the first musical instrument. It is the greatest musical instrument. Singing, of course, is still with us. It will always be around. The art of singing is dying. Artful singing is no longer relevant. I think it will never be relevant again.
Now, I am not referring to Opera. That has sadly become a specialty which means a comparatively small following. My concern is non classical singing - Jazz, Broadway, Country and especially Pop singing. The music that touches our daily lives - that influences us more than we know. We have the likes of Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle, Esperanza Spaulding, Justin Bieber and that smarmy Michael Buble' doing a rancid imitation of what I revere. Oh, there are so many more getting rich on artless singing. On Broadway we have Idina Menzel getting standing ovations for screeching out the most unpleasant sounds. I think "Wicked" was her fluke and anyway she played a witch which validates her cackles. Have you heard her tribute to Streisand? Oy Vey! Don't Rain On My Parade, Elphaba - please!
I listen to a wonderful Jazz station coming out of Toronto everyday. They play terrific vocalists from the past and the present. These newbies, unfortunately, haven't got a chance. Oh, they will play small clubs and venues and occasionally get a recording out but they will never achieve the fame and acclaim of Britney Spears.
Today glimmers of art flow from Jason Mraz, Adele, Justin Timberlake and their ilk. These artists do draw the stadium crowds and that's good. But, I believe they go against the trend. Time will not take them with him. Jason, Adele and Justin are remnants of what used to be. They are savvy enough to include ingredients in their music to grab a modern audience - which is what good Pop singers have always done. But music is devolving. Have you listened to a Broadway cast album recently - not a revival - a new show like "Newsies" or "Book of Mormon"? Going back a few short years were such anti-scores as "Hairspray", "Legally Blonde" , "Avenue Q" and "Fela'"
We will never see the likes of "South Pacific", "Carousel" and "Sweeney Todd" except in revival. And I predict due to the trend in taste - bad taste - these beautiful scores and the others like them will find themselves on opera stages in revivals only for the rich opera goer. I have already seen Broadway musicals in opera venues performed by opera companies. Not good. The Broadway musical belongs on the Broadway stage. These great shows won't have that advantage anymore. Shows such as these will not be written anymore. Time marches on and will leave the knack - the how to - the ability to do these shows AND most tragically the talent to know how to create these shows.
Give a peek at American Idol and The Voice. It proves my point. The "singing" lacks nuance, patience, true musicality and history. What we hear are ever so eager young hopefuls attempting to blow the roof off. They don't take the time to build the drama - to truly engage. What they do is begin at the end. We are left feeling nothing in our hearts. We may be awed by the bombast but is that art - artful? They come on like a bomb - BANG! "Love me - I'm great - can't you hear how great I am - listen how loud I can sing - hear that note I reached?" These singers have more in common with athletes than vocalists like Streisand, Kenny Rankin ( the great ), Dinah Washington, Morgana King, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Chet Baker, Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone. WE WILL NEVER EVER SEE THE LIKES OF THESE SINGERS AGAIN - IT IS OVER!
To me a good pop singer is like a fireworks display. The works wheeze into the sky - opens with a crackle and pop - spreads out its beautiful colors and drops its spent diamonds down to the ground with a cascading resolve. You want fireworks? Listen to Judy Garland sing "The Man That Got Away". Hear Neil Young sing "Philadelphia". Marvel at Barbra Streisand's version of Peter Matz' incredible arrangement of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered". Melt at Morgana King's "Lazy Afternoon" with Torie Zito's other worldly orchestration. And delve deep into your soul as Jane Monheit mesmerizes you with "Haunted Heart"
After you have listened to these GREAT recordings, tell me - PLEASE - is there anyone ANYONE today who can satisfy my longing for artful singing? I am prepared to download at your recommendation and will be forever grateful and especially happy that I was wrong. I so want to be wrong.
Jane Monheit "Haunted Heart"
Kenny Rankin "Where Do You Start"