The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #106314   Message #2198087
Posted By: Joe Offer
20-Nov-07 - 04:23 AM
Thread Name: Do you sing from Memory?
Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
I'm a choir singer. I've sung in choirs since fifth grade, usually twice on Sunday and once or twice during the week. I sing from hymnals, and occasionally from sheet music. I've never been expected to sing choir songs from memory, although I know many of the songs I sing by heart.
So, that's what I'm used to. I don't look at the music all that much, but it does give me a measure of security. I think it makes me a better singer, not to have to worry about screwing up the words.

I've also always sung campfire songs, and you really can't sing from pieces of paper at a campfire. So, I sing those songs by heart, and make up lyrics to fill in what I forget. In my community, a Sacramento suburb with a population of 70,000 people, I was known as "that guy who sings."

But about fifteen years ago, I started going to song circles. The first one used the Rise Up Singing songbook, and I soon became the dominant singer in the group because legend has it that I know all the songs in the book (I think it's more like 3/4 of them).

After I started posting at Mudcat in early 1997, I found out about other song gatherings in my area and in various places in the U.S., and I found myself in an environment of people who looked down on singers who used a book or even a cheat sheet. They were quite tolerant of people who'd forget a song midway and have to start over three times, but they firmly believed their doctrine that a person who uses a book, can't sing well. Well, I have to say I find that doctrine intimidating and unfair - and usually I do my best to ignore it. Out of self defense, I keep my Rise Up Singing book hidden - I've been tempted to conceal it inside a copy of Penthouse or something. Usually, I sing from large-print sheets I keep in a black folder that looks like what I use for choir.

I guess I have to admit that the pressure to sing from memory has made me a better singer, because I've learned to look at my notes only when I really need to - but I'm glad to have the security of those notes.

I do the same thing as a public speaker - I get nervous if I don't have my yellow legal sheets of notes, but I rarely look at them. So, forgive me, but why not judge my singing on how it sounds, and not on whether I'm holding a piece of paper or not? Over ten years, I've learned a lot - thanks in great part to the majority of people who didn't get huffy about my shortcomings as a singer.