Saturday, August 10, 2013

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.

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