Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If a Little Is Good, Must More Be Better?

Have you ever heard one of those “hog-calling” contests where competitors give off those high-pitched shouts that are meant to call the pigs in from the field?  It’s how farmers let the animals know that their slop is set out, and it’s time to feed. I’d describe it as a combination scream and yodel, and it does take a certain amount of vocal ability.

You can get a taste of some hog calling techniques here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TShDDK4LvEY&feature=related

Or you could just tune in to American Idol, since that program seems to spawn that type of singing performance. Talk about cookie-cutter presentations—some of these young people have great vocal range, but when did the imitation of hog-calling become trendy in pop music circles?

I can recall Eydie Gorme hitting some high notes back in the 60s (listen to her penetrate the ceiling on What Did I Have That I Don't Have and you’ll understand), but, like most accomplished pop singers, she did this only occasionally; and the Barbra Streisand/ Céline Dion ear-piercing scales can have their appeal on certain numbers, but too much of anything gets annoying.

I once told one of my students that I didn’t care for his favorite singer—Whitney Huston—because she “screamed” so many of her lyrics. “She has a great voice,” I admitted, “but why does she shriek everything?”

He disagreed with me, and was even crestfallen to hear that there was someone who didn’t think Houston was the greatest singer alive. I told him to listen carefully to her rendition of I Will Always Love You.

“She yodels it every bit as much as did Dolly Parton,” I said.  “Even more. She sounds like those people who enter hog-calling contests.” That exactly how I described it.

He came in the next day and sheepishly admitted that Houston did scream her way through I Will Always Love You.

“I never noticed it before,” he said.

I didn’t mean to burst his bubble. I told him that I felt she—like many other great voices—had abundant talent, and hitting the occasional elevated octave was a fine adornment to a suitable song.

But just because a little is good, more isn’t necessarily better. That’s kind of a…hoggish approach…to anything!

Eydie Gorme, Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, Dolly Parton…these are people blessed with superior vocal chords, and just about every young hopeful today wants to emulate them.

The latest star in this line might be Jennifer Hudson. I love the song, Feelin’ Good, but I don’t need the over-the-top yodeling touch at the end of each bar. This woman has a powerful voice. She, like the others, is gifted.

I’d really enjoy hearing her resonance without a herd of hogs coming in from the north pasture.

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