The path of music has been a long one for me and is joyfully growing ever longer. Even when I wasn’t actively performing or writing, music was a big part of my life and had been since I was a child. I thought, therefore, that it might be interesting to write about some ideas I’ve had and observations I’ve made along the way. Thanks to Sean for inspiring some of the content of this blog entry. And as I think of new ideas to discuss, this may turn into a series.
First I’d like to start with a topic that’s less philosophical and more technical. I’ve been working on my singing technique since I was twelve or thirteen, which is more or less when I became interested in filk. Actually, I believe it was my interest in filk that really spurred my desire to become a better singer. There was something about filk that made me instantly passionate about it, and because of that passion I developed an urge be a filker myself. And I’ve never been one to do something halfway. When I decide to do things, I always mean to do them well.
So I joined choir in seventh grade. I was in choir again in eighth, and then in a different choir in ninth once I moved on to high school. As anyone who’s been in a choir can (I assume) attest, part of the general instruction given by the choir director is how to improve your singing technique. The director is trying to make you sound good for whatever concert is coming up, so they’re always listening for things that need polishing. My high school choir director was particularly adamant about this sort of thing, and so I definitely picked up quite a bit during that period.
At the same time as I was attending choir in school, I was also voraciously devouring as much filk as I could get my hands on. I was listening to it and memorizing it and then singing it on my own. There were no bardic circles I could join in Ohio, but that didn’t stop me from filking. And I was performing these songs on my own, I was doing my best to imitate the tone, timbre, and technique of the artists who were performing them in the recordings I had. Once I started doing that, it was only a matter of time before I began examining the stylistic choices the artists made during their performances and deciding that it would be fun to play around with other options. This is how I started to develop my own unique voice.
What’s the point of this trip down memory lane? The point is that if someone insists that you can’t be a good singer without years of formal training that you should laugh at them. It’s quite true that my method of learning will not work for everyone—but then neither will the method of learning that adamant proponents of formal lessons prefer. I just wanted to illustrate that if you want to be a singer and you can’t afford formal lessons that you don’t necessarily need them. Find a singer whose technique you admire and then imitate them. Your own voice will come to you in time.
And for the record, I have actually had some formal one-on-one vocal lessons with a voice teacher. I took one semester of these lessongs in college after I had already been singing on my own for years. I’m not sure how much I took away from that experience, but it was fun at least.
Also, I would like to point out that while I do have my own standards for my personal vocal ability, one of the reasons why I claim to be a good vocalist is because that’s what other people tell me I am. Let me state that if you are an aspiring vocalist, exterior validation is not a necessity. In my case I enjoy it because it’s nice to get feedback from people so that I know I’m on the right track. And in some cases it’s also amusing and incredibly flattering. One of the gentlemen who listened to some of “Cold September Ground” on Capstone night asked me how much formal training I had. When I told him I’d had only a semester’s worth, his eyebrows when up quite quickly.
So, why music? Or more specifically, why filk?
If there’s one thing I’ve been for my entire life, it’s a storyteller. As a child, games where I could put myself into another world as another being, often as another species, and act out that character’s story were always my favorite. I’ve been formally writing down narratives since I was eight (thankfully, my grammar and spelling have improved since then). And I’ve always loved to participate in others’ stories by reading them. I was one of those eight/nine year-olds who had their own library of books that they were actively adding to.
To me, music is a means to tell a story. It doesn’t matter what the genre, style, or instrumentation is. Music is about storytelling. So finding that I could actually do it—because for the longest time I was wondering if I was tone deaf—was like finding a puzzle piece I hadn’t realized I was missing. I can never stop being a musician. And that’s one of the many reasons why I’m constantly so ecstatic about getting to perform as part of Wax Chaotic.
So what if you feel the same way about music that I do—it’s as much a part of who you are as your arm or your genes—but you don’t think you’re any good at it? Or even worse, you’ve actually been told that you’re not good at it?
Important note: Everyone has their own standards for “good” and you can’t please everybody.
But say someone at some point told you you’re a bad musician and it’s discouraged you. What then? Give it up?
No. Fuck that. Fuck everything about that. Music is part of who you are—literally, actually. Anything that moves produces a vibration, including things like electrons. As you are comprised of things like electrons, you are quite literally made of music. So don’t give it up.
Maybe you’ll never be as wildly popular as, say, the Beatles because you lack a talent and that lack is holding you back from the bright lights and fame. But is that really what music is about? I’ve detailed what the purpose of music is for me, and everyone has their own views on the subject. Honestly I wish this blog had a bigger following so I could get some reader input on those other views. But so you might never be famous. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be a musician. You can still express whatever needs expressing through the vehicle of music. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise because you’re not “good enough”. Being “good enough” is not necessarily the point.
I have more thoughts to delve into, but I think I’ve rambled enough for this entry. So it looks like there will be a part two after all. Until then, I will leave you with this. Watch it and absorb it.
And remember the power of “unless”.
TEDxUW – Larry Smith – Why you will fail to have a great career