The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #106314   Message #2196790
Posted By: Mysha
18-Nov-07 - 12:19 PM
Thread Name: Do you sing from Memory?
Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?

Well, I myself, I sing from memory. That's a matter of (in)ability. I've sung both classical and close-harmony, at some times even at the same event, but for classical I can't read notes fast enough and for popular I can't read text fast enough. Folk I only sing at sessions, and out of habit I sing it from memory. If I'd try to do otherwise, I expect I'd be unable to find any given point in the text fast enough for texts to be of any use.

From an audience point of view, I'd say this is about the combination of ability and audience. I've been in the audience of a club in Paris once, one song each, where one of the performers broke a snare while tuning. We had ample time to see how nervous he was while he replaced it, and his performance, once he started playing, wasn't very good either. But I guess we all felt he was courageous for trying anyway. To make matters worse, another snare broke while he was playing, and he had to sort of improvise his chords around that. If there's an absolute scale of performance, his piece can't have been very high up, but we as an audience we considered him playing as well as he was able to at that time, and he got one of the loudest ovations of the evening.

I can't recall whether he had music in front of him - probably not, or he would have knocked it over - but the point is that the audience wants you to perform to what it considers the best of your ability. Folk is an oral tradition, but that's not by choice; it's simply that folk music didn't have the money for writing, where court music did. If you give an audience the best performance when singing from paper then you'll have pleased the audience to the best of your ability. It's only if you do considerably less than that, that you will insult the audience.

Note that I didn't write "sing", but "give performance". Some folk audiences will cling to "tradition" so much that having music in front of you will weigh heavily against your performance, and to them you might in fact be superior when you have no paper and skip a verse you can't recall, or show you're human and gesture to the audience for help. Nor did I write "sing the words". Those in the audience that notice will usually understand an occasional honest slip, but will appreciate that you keep performing, whatever your way of coping. Even restarting a song, though it absolutely degrades your performance, can be forgiven if you redeem yourself in that second try.

Yes, some people sing poorly from paper, but they might sing even worse from memory. Yes, some people set up standards a little late, and a few whispers might go a long way towards speedier future sessions. No, sing-a-longing and folk-song performing don't get along too well, regardless of whether paper is involved. Etc.

But it's a matter of ability and audience. So if you're the artist, think about whether the best you're able to perform for this audience is with paper or without it. And if you're in the audience, consider in what way everyone would appreciates the performance of this artist best.