My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Singer envy

Cartoon by Charles Hawtrey, from Wikimedia Commons
I admit it.  I am dealing with a major case of singer envy right now.  I don't envy having to learn lots and lots of languages, or being extra sensitive to every sniffle, every drip of mucous down the throat or in the nose, or having to face the audience to perform.  What I envy is quite simple, really - I envy each and every word they get to sing.

This past week I took a car trip all by myself which meant that I could listen to whatever I wanted for 5 straight hours.  Bliss!  Being a pianist and cellist, one might think that I would have spent that time listening to instrumental this and instrumental that or even classical this and classical that, but I didn't.  Every single CD was of a singer of some sort - there was Fernando Ortega, Josh Groban, and so I didn't forget that I was mainly a classical gal, I threw in a set of the complete Fauré songs.  You see, when I'm on my own like I was, in a car, I have this thing for singing along with songs that I love.  I will listen to a song over and over again, frequently backing up the CD so that I can clarify a word that I'm missing and I will do this until I can really, really sing and understand it.  I must be quite amusing to observe, really.  As is usual during one of these belting fests, I got hooked onto one song in particular - Fernando Ortega's "All That Time."  I had always loved this song by this incredibly talented artist, but I had never really understood what the song was about so I was determined this time to finally "get it."  I listened, I sang, I backed up and started again when I lost the meaning...and then wham!  I figured it out and when I finally got what the song was about I bawled.  Yes, in the car, while I was driving.  In the end, when I felt that I had truly learned the song, I felt like I had just experienced some life-changing, soul-cleansing event.  I know, I know, crazy, corny, but whatever - it's the truth and isn't that so like some music? 

Especially music with words.

Music with words is such an incredible gift for everyone involved, but only as long as those words are acknowledged, loved, and shared.  I have worked with too many young singers who haven't a clue, or seemingly a care about what the words they are singing actually mean.  I have a difficult time accepting that type of attitude and I never let it go in a rehearsal situation.  In my mind, singing without meaning is practically criminal since words are like gold to me.  Rob a song of its meaning and you've stolen something from the composer who wrote his composition using those specific words for a reason.  Sing a song without knowing note for note, word for word, what you're saying and your audience is being cheated out of what really matters.  Singers should not only sing to sing, they should also sing to say something.  When they do, they have the power the take an audience, and perhaps even themselves, to a place that is rarely visited by instrumental music alone.  

So if you're a singer and you need another reason to pay attention to those words, keep this in mind - if you don't, I might take you for a drive with me singing at the top of my lungs the whole way...but I promise you, I'll be singing with meaning and loudly, but not very well!

And if you are a singer that loves words as much as I do, thank you for that.  Consider yourself envied.  


  1. Sooo true!! I remember hearing a story about the great jazz tenor saxophonist, Ben Webster, who was (and still is!) widely revered for his ability to develop his improvised solos in such beautifully lyrical ways. On one of his recording dates he stopped playing in mid-solo, even though things seemed to be going really well up to that point. When the producer asked him why he stopped, Ben replied, "Sorry, but I forgot the words for a moment." In short (as you so clearly stated), you can't separate the meaning of the music from the meaning of the words (n the case of the good songs, anyhow).

  2. Bill,
    That story about Ben Webster is fantastic! I'm grinning from ear to ear and let me tell you, he now has my complete respect :-) And I completely get what he was saying, especially with the little jazz experience I've had. I marvel at how jazz musicians can keep track of where they are in an instrumental version of a tune. I wonder if the drummer and bass player especially have the tune, with or without the words, going through their heads while they're playing. I think I would have to.

    Wow, I really do have to give it a go sometime...for real!

    Thanks, Bill, for your comment. Love it!


  3. So, I am a pianist... and a desperately-wanna-be cellist, and a huge Fernando Ortega fan. And tonight I came across his song 'All of Time', quite by accident. It is haunting! I, too, listened many times. And then I googled it, to try to find a meaning, and up popped your beautiful post! So, please share! What was the meaning that you gleaned from the song? -Stephanie

    1. Well you sound a lot like me - pianist, wanna-be-cellist and all. Plus you are a Fernando Ortega fan! I'm glad you discovered "All that time." I may be interpreting it differently than Ortega intended but for me it's about a loved one dying with his or her family there. In all honesty I can't tell if it's a woman or a man that's dying but the spouse is there by his/her side as well, along with their grown children possibly.

      I suppose the song could also be about losing a lover, not by death, but just by a parting of ways. But because there seem to be others in the scene this doesn't seem quite as likely to me.

      So there's my interpretation! Feel free to share one that you have as well. And now I think I'm going to listen to it again. It's been a while!

      Thanks for reading and sending in your question.

      All the best,