The Best Instrument of All

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I was unable to finish my research for today’s article, so it’ll have to be NEXT Wednesday’s article.

I have had occasion to hear tons of music being performed over the past few weeks. Martinez is a terrific music town, with music everywhere you turn, and there have been concerts and jams all over the place as well, with a variety of genres.

A theme bubbles up when I observe so many performances – the human voice is at the heart of music’s appeal much of the time. On a language level, it’s what narrates the story of the song, of course. But it’s also a contributor to the tonal palette. And thirdly, it’s a major contributor to the emotion of the performance. If vocals are a triple contribution, they’re also a triple challenge.

First and foremost, singing in tune, for most of us, isn’t all that easy. It takes concentration, practice, and sometimes, some specific training. If you can’t sing in
tune, the performance will be diminished. The listener’s ear doesn’t demand perfect pitch, but you need to be in the neighborhood of the notes, or everything sounds sour.

Then there’s the words. Bluegrass has a huge selection of wonderful songs with very interesting lyrics. Who can memorize all of these? What if you mix the verses up, or skip one? The story is the thing – some songs are not linear in their storytelling, so mixing up verses is no big deal.

Other songs tell a specific story from beginning to end, and mixing up verses or skipping them destroys the power of the story. Throw in some onstage nervousness, and recalling lyrics can be pretty tough!

Lastly, the emotional aspect. Have ever heard a performance where the singer was spot on, pitchwise, and knew the words, but the song lacked any punch? Singing a song is not just reciting words in tune. The singer has to inhabit the story, and be persuasive the listener. Some folks are concentrating so much on hitting the notes and remembering the words, they miss this part.

Singing is inherently fun – almost everyone does it, even before they learn to talk. And using singing to express emotion is just as instinctual. If we pursue music, we naturally want to play and sing better, and work on it. Just don’t let emotion take a back seat to precision! I’d rather hear a singer feel the story, even if pitch wanders a little!

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