I’m emerging from a few days of manipulating databases, and my right brain is out there foraging for food. So I was an easy target for this week’s YouTube phenom, Susan Boyle.
The incongruity is inescapable. Forget the fact that her stage savvy is non-existent. I’m astonished by the fact that a woman with so little apparent connection to the center of her body (listen to that speaking voice…) can somehow find a way to pump out sound and (generally) sing on pitch. There’s some crazy source of inner energy that only organizes itself when she sings.
All of that is curious to me, but somehow not as important as what we tend to do with someone/something like this. It’s the Paul Potts question. (Yes, I know, Paul had some professional credits, and in that way, it’s a different story. But bear with me.)
In my volunteer life I’ve worked with amateur (mostly teenage) actor/singers for 20 years now. I have a soft spot in my heart and my head for the way in which finding your voice onstage adds texture and value to your life, even if you aren’t headed for a professional career. I know that these folks on the reality shows want to be famous, and I can’t begrudge them that. What does rankle me (well, there are better words for it, but this isn’t a personal blog) is the way our culture doesn’t appear to value any of this unless it generates money or is done at the professional level.
Ms. Boyle couldn’t function in a professional theatre if her life depended on it. Mr. Potts is a heart-felt musician with a lovely voice, but he couldn’t sing Calaf in a real opera house without self-destructing. So fine. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to offer or that their talents and efforts are unimportant. But the message that gets out there – to those hundreds of thousands waiting in stadiums for the American Idol free-for-alls, to those beautiful and talented teenagers who can sing and dance, to regular people like Ms. Boyle who are chasing a dream – is that the only dream worth having is one where people pay you large sums of money for your music and a publicist and agent own your soul.
The professional music business is just that: a business. It’s not often a place to indulge your passions and follow your dreams. rather, it’s a place where your passion and dreams require daily protection and reinforcement so they don’t die.
So sing as if your life depended on it. Feed your soul with art, literature, music, theatre… by being around it, participating in it, supporting it. But don’t think that the only way or the best way to embrace it is to hit the big time.
That said, Ms. Boyle got the adrenaline boost of a lifetime from that crowd :)
For a blog rant on a higher level than mine, see this YouTube Symphony post from Greg Sandow.
And finally, on a much more somber note, see this news about the Orlando Opera. Although we’re doing just fine so far (knock on wood), we’re saving money by forgoing this month’s Opera America conference. I’m sure it’s going to be a difficult but important one for the industry.
Indeed… and Granite State Opera too, as well. Yikes…
Your message here really strikes a chord with me…eloquently said. Thanks for putting it into words, and sharing it!
Everyone I know has been asking me if I’ve seen it, if she’s actually a good singer, etc. My answer was pretty much yours.. that she’s good but not any better than all the people out there who are trying to make it!
My main issue with this story is that her shock value is mostly because of her looks. Apparently all good singers are young/pretty???
For me, the whole Idol and America’s Got Talent thing seems to be a lot about making people look bad and sometimes making other people look good in comparison which is very hurtful. I think that is a very bad message to have associated with the arts or with our society in general. Even with Susan Boyle, it’s not about whether people think she sings well but that they think her singing is incongruous with her looks, a very hurtful message indeed.