December 10, 2007

Horse 839 - Why People Can't Sing

People are often surprised that for almost no apparant reason I can pull 9000+ scores on Singstar; this is made all the more surprising when you consider that I don't sing up the front at church. So why is this? And if I am "so good" at singing, then why don't I?

I subscribe to the theory that virtually everyone can sing. Sounds stupid? Let me explain: I honestly think that in most cases it's a simple matter of attitude and confidence. If only a few people believe that they can sing, then only a select few will. The belief determines the action etcetra etcetra etcetra...

What is singing, anyway? Well, it's not speaking, that's for sure. Singing uses a different part of the brain than speech. Most people who stutter uncontrollably can sing just fine. People who cannot speak due to strokes can sometimes sing. People with Alzheimer's disease who can barely remember their own names can sometimes be capable of hideously complicated and beautiful song. The answer must lie somewhere else other than raw ability.

Imagine you have a dog named Harry. Say his name - "Harry", it's not much is it? Now imagine Barney is outside and you are calling him. "Haaaaaareeeeeeeey". Better? Different? It could be argued that the first is speech; the second is singing (albeit rather boring). Linguistically the human voice is carried on vowel sounds and the consonants are modifiers and stops. Singing relies on placing tones on these vowel sounds; hence the reason why it's very very easy to call the dog. That's all there is to it, seriously...

Well, actually there is quite a lot more to it, but most of what people lack can be learned and developed over time. For most people the major hurdle is the mental one. They think they can't sing, and their lack of faith in themselves makes them shy. They develop weak, breathy, tremulous singing voices. Yet when they call the dog, they do it with power.

I see this in church all the time. People with powerful speaking voices can barely raise their voices in song. The problem isn't physical, it's mental. People haven't grown up singing and they are unsure of themselves. They have psyched themselves out.

This mental block is due, in part, to the growth of electronic media in the 20th Century. In days gone by, people created their own entertainment; they got together in groups, gathered around whatever instrument was available, and sang songs. People sang their way through their household chores. They sang their way through their joys and sorrows. They sang songs to teach their children. They sang songs to put their children to sleep. Their children sang songs at play. Singing was part of everyday life.

Then came records, radio, movies, & television, Compact Discs, DVD, HD, Blu-Ray. Suddenly the world's greatest entertainers were available almost on demand. Instead of making their own entertainment, people could simply purchase it. Why listen to the warblings of your own friends and family when they pale in comparison to the greats? How many times have I heard "it doesn't sound like the CD!" - newsflash people, it doesn't have to.

Good voices are everywhere, but few people believe they posses one. Great voices, by contrast, are quite rare. Great voices are freaks of nature, kind of like extreme intelligence or being seven feet tall. But great voices are few, so few that they stand out. In the days before electronic media, people could go their entire lives without ever hearing one of these freakishly gifted folk. Now, the record shops are full of them. It makes it seem like we, the merely adequate, are somehow lacking, being born with a voice that is merely "good" isn't good enough. I'm not seven feet tall, and I'm fine with it. I can't sing like Sinatra, and I feel the ache of it; Australian Idol makes it worse. Odd.

While you and I could never posses a voice like Pavarotti, and while we may never make women swoon like the Beatles, we certainly could learn to use the voices we've been given. It's simply a matter of believing in ourselves and not feeling bad because we can't be great. Actually when you think about it, the greatest and most powerful bouts of singing are in congregations, football crowds, Welsh Choirs. The intermingling of thousands of voices more than makes up for the shortfall of the individual.

It's one of the reasons I'm waiting for the end of the world, imagine that choir. It's going to be the most glorious and thunderous song ever heard.

PS: Singstar Popworld - Let Me Entertain You by Robbie Williams, I scored 9960 in the shopping centre and had a crowd watching me do it! Why? I jumped over the mental hurdle, and even I realise that technically, I'm not one of the greats.

And now:

One Word Weather With Nelson Mandela

Fiendishly accurate; so precise with his word selection. Thanks again Mr Mandela.

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