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by Bernadette Yarnot

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Sing the Song

Did anyone else wince when Celine Dion fluttered her way through God Bless America at the benefit broadcast, or was that just me?

I will say that she embellished it much less than I would have expected. However, I have a gripe with certain singing styles today. Actually, it’s just one thing that bothers me.


Taking a straightforward melody and pitching your voice above, below, anywhere but on the note.

A certain amount of embellishment is not a problem. Classical singers are often directed to add a few "grace notes" to enhance a vocal piece. The key phrase here is "a few."

I object to this for two reasons. The first is that it usually comes as an attempt to seem more skilled... but unfortunately, few vocalists have the voice capable of making such movement seem natural. Whitney Houston is one of the very, very few who can flutter through a piece and make it seem natural, because it is for her. (Even if I don't like it.)

What’s worse is the fact that such fluttering is not as difficult as these singers would have you believe. Sustaining a single note over a period of time with only minimal vibrato is much more difficult, and very rarely attempted in pop music.

The second major objection I have follows from the first: When a style does not sound natural, it calls attention to the singer rather than the song. Now, in the case of various "boy bands" this is actually a good thing, because they are popular because of who they are. If a bunch of unshowered geeks performed the same songs with equal skill they would not be as popular. But in many cases this detracts from the experience.

It is bad in particular when a big artist performs something such as a patriotic song. When he or she flutters through the song, they steal the message of the song and change it to "Look how I’m performing. Doesn’t this song make me look good?" (There is a difference between this and someone who deliberately changes the song so as to send a message, as in Jimi Hendrix’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock.)

Once, just once, I would like to see a famous singer perform the Star Spangled Banner without embellishment, just straight melody. It could be stunning, and perhaps longer lived than the fluttery interpretations of today’s crowd. But unfortunately, everything today has to be a Performance, rather than just a song.

What do you think?  Talk to me.

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