Saturday, August 10, 2013

re: Should all of Jackie Evancho's songs use all her singing range?

On a Jackie Evancho forum I was talking about the need for her to perform songs that exploited her range. I said:

Giving a songwriter Jackie to work with would be like giving a violinist a Stradivarius to play.

It is a double-edged bow, though. A song that fully exploits the "instrument" that is Jackie--from a songwriter's POV--would be a song few others could sing, whereas if they write a great one-octave song with catchy hooks and the like, a million singers could perform it.

But the songwriters Team E wants are the songwriters who want to write for the Stradivarius.

Then a fan said he didn't see why Jackie had to avoid the normal one-octave song (and most songs are pretty much one-octave songs) and only sing song that exploited her whole range every time. This was in response to me talking about the need for her to do wide-range songs. My reply:

I don't understand the logic of requiring that everything she does show off everything she can do, either. That's why I didn't say that.

Mariah Carey is a good comparison, since she has--or at least had--a very wide range, like Jackie. And I don't think all her songs always show off all she can do...just the ones we remember. Just the ones that set her apart.

I said that the Lion King song (that she sang for the PBS Capitol 4th celebration on the 4th of July 2013, and which isn't a wide-ranging song) was probably appropriate for the occasion, and that something like Nessun Dorma wouldn't have been.

At the same time, Jackie fans should understand that it didn't distinguish her as much as a more fully Jackie-exploiting song would have done. This fact isn't incompatible with accepting the limitations of the occasion.

"To make the best of life as it is--and as it can be made to be."

As for what's "the most important," it's true that I've heard plenty of wide-range songs that weren't good songs, and a lot of one-octave pop songs that were.

But if Jackie's next three albums comprised nothing but one-octave songs--no matter how well-written and Jackie-appropriate they were otherwise--it would be like seeing a concert on the loveliest grand piano on Earth, played by the best piano player, but where the whole concert only used, eight of its 88 keys.

I can't believe any of Jackie's fans have such a tin ear that they'd find that acceptable.

re: practicing one's art, using Jackie Evancho as an example

A Jackie Evancho fan said: "If they need a tremendous amount of practicing to play a difficult technical piece then they aren't a prodigy."

I replied:

Yessish...but we have to acknowledge that out of all the singing that's out there, Jackie performs within a very narrow range.

I've no doubt that she could quickly master, say, Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras" (Western classical), or "Summertime" from Gershwin's light opera "Porgy and Bess." Or anything from the American Songbook--anything.

But I'm equally sure that even if the Queen of Night's big aria from "Magic Flute" were pitched down to a mezzo range, Jackie couldn't do it with her current chops. I've no doubt that she could figure out how to do it at some point of course.

With a lot of study/training, though. (That is, even if she could pick it up by herself without instruction, she'd still need to put in many hours of work to get there.)

I could name dozens of songs that she also couldn't pick up without a whole lotta work. Tom Lehrer's "The Elements," in which the singer has to rattle off the names of all the element in the Periodic Table (as of 1960) to a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song tune--with a light, jovial tone. Screamin' Jay Hawkins' crazed, bluesy "I put a spell on you." Annie Ross's Mach 5-velocity part of the Lambert Hendricks & Ross jazz classic trio "Airigin." The ferocious "Marat/Sade" that Judy Collins nailed in one of her early albums. Janis Joplin's Dionysian war cry "Ball and Chain" as she did it live at the Monterey Pop Festival.

And that's all Western music that uses the familiar Western tempered scale. She's probably never even heard anything like "Kalimankou Denkou (The Evening Gathering)" ( ).

This is a slow song, like Jackie likes. And it doesn't require a big range. But if you listen closely, you'll see that the sound-shaping is extremely sophisticated and like nothing in the Western music Jackie's familiar with. Ditto many of the harmonies with the chorus. And it's not just exotic. I find the piece profoundly moving...poignant and evocative of the Balkan mountains it comes from.

Or the exquisite ghazal "Yuhn na thi" ("My love and I were not destined to be together in this life"), as sung by the queen of Indian Classical Crossover (as it exists there), Asha Bosle ( ).

It is, again, a slow song (like all ghazals), without a wide range. And again I guarantee you that as brilliant a musician as Jackie is, it would take her a looong time to learn how to sing this competently.

There are two Jackie Evanchos: the musical interpretive genius (MIG-Jackie) and the normal 13 year old girl (N13-Jackie). Her parents are obviously fully committed to nurturing both Jackies.

This interferes with the amount of practice MIG-Jackie needs to get to the next level. Meanwhile N13-Jackie reasonably argues that she's packing them in at this level of attainment and there's the trampoline and the pool and her friends.

My proposed solution is to expose Jackie to a wider variety of music. She needs to know what's really out there. And that might inspire her, help her see where she wants to take her musical life.

I have no idea where that is, apart from thinking that doing something to get more 18-35 year olds into her audiences--something that also satisfies her musically--could easily become a priority for her out of all her options.

She might also feel a little constrained about experimenting when doing what she's now doing is supporting her household. Here again I have no idea whether this enters into her calculations. It's just a possibility.

re: Classical music at church

re: classical music at church

I understand that many, many churches now use "Christian rock" / "Praise music" instead of hymns. Most of it is pallid feel-good stuff I can't stand. At least the equivalent that the black Gospel churches do is interesting to listen to.

The Mormon church still uses mostly 4-part hymns with a hymnal and an organ accompaniment, so people can listen to at least quasi-classical music and work on their part singing. At least half the hymns are stodgy old-timey songs but the other half is pretty good--there's even one harmonization by Bach, and some gorgeous Thanksgiving hymns dating back to the 17th century.

On the other hand, I attended a Catholic funeral a few months ago and the music comprised us all listening to a soloist accompanying himself on a guitar. Our job was just to sit there passively. And the music was "modern" Praise stuff. It wasn't bad, I have to admit, but I missed the "audience participation" element.

In the 19th century all the churches had good stuff--lots of songs about Death and our Eternal Reward or Punishment. They got serious. But now that death has gotten so less frequent and so more explicable, church music--even in mainstream Protestant churches--has gotten to be more what I'd call Happy Face music.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Jackie Evancho a prodigy?

A prodigy is someone who exhibits some kind of skill(s) considerably earlier than most other people do.

A genius is someone who exhibits some kind of skill(s) that most other people can't do regardless of their age/training/experience.

You can be a prodigy but not a genius, a genius but not a prodigy, or both.
And if you are a genius, it might be in just a narrow area--or in several--or in many--leaving you pretty normal otherwise.

I believe Jackie is both in the area of vocal interpretation of Classical Crossover music. She seems quite intelligent in other areas, but hasn't demonstrated actual genius elsewhere. She strikes me as a genius in this specific area because I think she does what she does better than any adult I've heard--not in every single aspect of CC singing, but overall.

Seems like a lot of singers who are also quite intelligent develop several areas, as did, for example, Linda Ronstadt (pop/rock, light opera, Mexican traditional) and Renee Fleming (opera, jazzy pop).

So here's a question--if Jackie goes that way and develops a second area besides CC, what do you suppose it will be?

Are gifted kids' parents always gifted? Are Jackie Evancho's?

On a Jackie Evancho fan forum I once said "when her mother speaks for her I listen, but reserve judgment."

Jackie Evancho's mother Lisa is revered by nearly all of Jackie's fans, so I felt constrained to explain that reservation:

Because parents don't always know everything about their kids. None of us are omniscient. When I was teaching gifted students I belonged to the California Association for the Gifted (a support group), and one study I saw compared the assessment of teachers, parents, and test on evaluating whether their kids were gifted.

Teachers came in at about 50%--mostly because, I think, they couldn't tell the difference between docility and intelligence, or between unruliness and stupidity. Bright kids forced to plod along at the pace of the rest get bored, and many then start making trouble for the teachers.

And parents? Off the top of my head I recall them coming in at around 2/3 to 3/4. Meaning a substantial number of them didn't realize their kid was gifted. Mike E said honestly that he and Lisa didn't realize Jackie was gifted until the grandparents and the stunned audiences at local performances told them otherwise.

When you're a parent it's tough to be objective. You want so much for your kid...or you get involved in power struggles with your kid...or you try to get a do-over for your own thwarted dreams with your kid...or you see your kids at a reflection of and on you rather than seeing your kid for who he is.

Having kids is humbling. So much of who they are was set in stone at the moment of conception, and more was locked in long before they could even start talking.

Lisa said a number of things that gave me high hopes for the parents' parenting of Jackie. That Lisa believed kids shouldn't be totally insulated from the harsh realities of life. That she wanted to support Jackie's childhood AND her aspirations. That she tried to be really honest with Jackie about her singing. That they watch The Walking Dead together. That she took the kids to see Phantom of the Opera when Jackie was just 7.

This gives me a picture of a warm but not sugarcoated parenting style. Hard to ask for better.

But none of us can know if everything Lisa says about Jackie is true. Kids grow up and surprise us. I'm sure Jackie will surprise Lisa at some point if she hasn't already.

So when I say I reserve judgment on what Lisa says about Jackie, it's not a slight of Lisa in any way. Just an acknowledgement that even the best parent isn't a telepath, and human being are complex organisms--especially geniuses/prodigies, because there's so much horsepower packed into those little kid bodies.