A wee public service announcement for people who accompany singers (mostly violinists and fiddlers)

It’s flat-out idiotic of you to accuse singers of being poor musicians for not being able to sing in any key that’s convenient for you, since you’re too poor a musician to be able to change key comfortably on your instrument. You are supposed to be able to play in any key. Singers can’t perform in any key. For someone whose voice sits in the B-C-D area, singing in G will damage them. You can buy new strings or a whole new instrument. They can’t.

In nearly all cases of sung music, the singer sets the key for their convenience and comfort, and if you don’t like it, tough. Either stop accompanying singers, buy another fiddle and tune it a half-step flat, or learn how to play the damned thing.

Sit it out, or suck it up.

I’m not even a singer and this irritates me. Maybe it’s just another instance of violinists getting on my nerves because they always assume that no one else on stage matters. Maybe as a pianist I’m like the cat who walks by itself, and all key signatures are alike to me. But when a singer is on stage, they drive the bus, people.

“Vivaldi’s Women”

The entire documentary can be found on YouTube:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Note the continued, dead-wrong-as-usual insistence that people can’t sing in the voice commonly believed to belong to the other gender, as mentioned 3 minutes into Part 4. It’s a direct parallel to the insistence, in the face of massive and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that men cannot naturally sing alto without recourse to falsetto. Just as classical Voyse Expurtz suffer from selective deafness when listening to Smokey Robinson and Neil Sedaka, their ears also apparently shut off when they hear Aretha Franklin or the Pointer Sisters. Yes, such voices are rare, but so are good operatic sopranos and baritones. Rarity is not the same as nonexistence for pete’s sake.

The choir featured in the doco is also online and carrying out research into female vocal range; a concomitant research into male vocal range would also likely explode the absurd paranoid myth that voices come in pink and blue only.

Jesus, are there no other string players who are inspired by singers?

It’s so bizarre. I’m listening to some of the interviews on RBP’s Violins Rule podcast, and they are quite interesting, but man. One of the big things that people always say about stringed instruments is that they sound like voices — and yet every single string player in these podcast interviews, and most other interviews I’ve heard, talks about how they love guitar players and find inspiration in guitar players, etc. etc. etc.

Jesus. I seriously am the only string player in the known universe who found the majority of my inspiration from singers, inspiration to play this box with strings on it that supposedly sounds like someone singing. Crap.

The hell with guitars! I admire the living daylights out of EVH and Neal Schon, but seriously. Art Garfunkel! Cass Elliot. Frank Sinatra? Steve Perry! Aretha Franklin! Jesus on toast! I simply cannot be the only string player who see this, on this instrument that’s big claim to fame is that it’s a replacement voice.

If he sings this live …

… I’m going to explode:

This was written in 1691. Sixteen-freaking-ninety-one. Three hundred and twenty years ago. Please don’t tell me that music from thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago isn’t “relevant” to you.

What it must have been to hear it at its premiere.

I’ve listened to a decent amount of that era’s music and earlier, as a fan of the high male voice, and I’ve been lukewarm toward some … but not Purcell’s stuff. Every single time I’m listening to Assorted Real Old Stuff Sung Up High By Guys and my ears prick up, it turns out it’s always something Purcell wrote. What a shame he died so young — another Mozart-level loss.

And the Nomi version for comparison:

What an incredible piece of music … Props to Nomi for grabbing it and bumping it up into a register that truly works with the music and the message, and its glittery, freezing atmosphere. Another one who died way too young.

Gawd, I hope he sings this when I see him live with the English Concert. It says they’re doing some stuff from “King Arthur,” so I can only hope this will be included. If it is, I will have heard Michael Maniaci do “Cara Speme” and “Ombra mai fu” live, David Daniels do “Furibondo,” and now this — and I’ve heard Scholl do “Vivi, tiranno,” “Va tacito,” and “Dove sei?” live in a recital with the Australian Chamber Orchestra! *fist pump*

Musicians and left-brain logic

I’m going to say something rude.

On most musically inclined blogs, a post about left-brain logic would proceed to rip into scientific reasoning and deride it as insufficiently fluffy. I’m about to defend it.

Returning — briefly, so relax 🙂 — to my pet annoyance of the entrenched and completely indefensible hostility to left-handed string playing, that was a strong clue to me that musicians don’t reason like I tend to. Not the ones who do it for a living, as opposed to the hard scientists and mathematicians I know who are amateur musicians, a lot of them.

When someone says, “You can’t play a string instrument left-handed!” I tend to interpret that “can’t” as a scientist would, which makes sense given my training. “Can’t” means “is physically impossible.” My arguments immediately move to the target of demonstrating that it is not only physically possible, but completely reasonable and would change nothing whatsoever in the pedagogy, bowing, or fingering, as long as the instrument is also mirrored. “Is string playing affected at all under a parity reversal?” is the question in my mind. The answer is, of course, no.

The problem is that the string players who say it aren’t thinking in those terms. “Can’t” to them means, “Dear, it’s just not done by the right sort of people!” It’s the same flavor of “can’t” as “you just can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day!” It’s also a conveniently impervious statement to logic. Like the science fiction monsters who are always impervious to bullets because they exist in another dimension or something, these statements exist in a logic-free dimension, so logical arguments pass right through them.

“Why not?”

“You just can’t!

“Look, I’m doing it right now.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Yes, I can — look. Are you blind in the eyes or blind in the brain?”

And on and on it goes.

This is also why my viola teacher was fine with it; although a full-time professional musician and music teacher, he was trained as a computer engineer. His definition of “can’t” is the same as mine. (The sensible one.)

It also struck me that this was the issue with voice “experts” who are convinced that men can’t sing alto, despite having heard Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, and Steve Perry do it for years. Again, I’m hearing that “can’t” as “is not physically possible.” They are not hearing that way.

“They’re physically capable, listen.”

“But they aren’t classical singers! They don’t count!”

“Not always, but listen to this particular passage — how is that different from a classical singer?”

“Because he’s in jeans!

“Listen to him talk — he sounds like Russell Oberlin.”

“Russell Oberlin is a high tenor!”

“So is a tenor also a high baritone?”

And on and on it goes … I’m talking physiology and taxonomy, and they’re talking white shoes in October.

I know that it’s fashionable among musical types, which I consider myself to be, to disdain the left brain and logic. Eew, icky logic. I’d advance the idea that professional musicians or self-styled “experts” can stand to learn a little of it, so they would stop saying dumb things like “you can’t play a string instrument left-handed” and “men can’t sing alto.” Especially not when rampant proof is under their very noses.