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BS: Poor diction

Dicho (Frank Staplin) 09 Jun 01 - 07:47 PM
Sorcha 09 Jun 01 - 08:14 PM
kendall 09 Jun 01 - 09:10 PM
catspaw49 09 Jun 01 - 09:37 PM
Maryrrf 09 Jun 01 - 10:16 PM
Liz the Squeak 10 Jun 01 - 04:33 AM
Mrs.Duck 10 Jun 01 - 11:44 AM
kendall 10 Jun 01 - 11:48 AM
Bill D 10 Jun 01 - 12:03 PM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 10 Jun 01 - 12:11 PM
Richard Bridge 10 Jun 01 - 01:59 PM
hesperis 10 Jun 01 - 03:54 PM
vectis 10 Jun 01 - 06:41 PM
kendall 10 Jun 01 - 08:27 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 10 Jun 01 - 09:15 PM
hesperis 11 Jun 01 - 02:22 AM
KingBrilliant 11 Jun 01 - 06:57 AM
Bagpuss 11 Jun 01 - 07:03 AM
Fiolar 11 Jun 01 - 07:13 AM
Hamish 11 Jun 01 - 07:58 AM
LR Mole 11 Jun 01 - 08:00 AM
Bagpuss 11 Jun 01 - 09:44 AM
A Wandering Minstrel 11 Jun 01 - 09:47 AM
KingBrilliant 11 Jun 01 - 11:00 AM
GUEST,JohnB 11 Jun 01 - 01:02 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 11 Jun 01 - 01:07 PM
GUEST,Phil Cooper 11 Jun 01 - 03:09 PM
A Wandering Minstrel 12 Jun 01 - 10:33 AM
Mary in Kentucky 12 Jun 01 - 10:49 AM
KingBrilliant 13 Jun 01 - 06:51 AM
Walking Eagle 13 Jun 01 - 02:17 PM
Uncle_DaveO 14 Jun 01 - 10:52 AM
KingBrilliant 14 Jun 01 - 12:19 PM
Mary in Kentucky 14 Jun 01 - 12:45 PM
Mark Cohen 14 Jun 01 - 03:18 PM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 14 Jun 01 - 08:21 PM
Noreen 14 Jun 01 - 09:48 PM
Whistle Stop 15 Jun 01 - 08:34 AM
Fortunato 15 Jun 01 - 09:59 AM
A Wandering Minstrel 15 Jun 01 - 10:21 AM
LR Mole 15 Jun 01 - 10:37 AM

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Subject: Poor diction
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 07:47 PM

A while ago, I was trying to get the lyrics of Long Time Ago, the old song arranged by Copland. I had three versions by well-known singers, and I couldn't understand the words that they were singing. Trying to get the words of particular versions of other songs, I found that some singers had good diction and others were terrible. Good diction seems to have little correlation with musical training. Andy Stewart, Kenneth McKeller, The Wolfe Tones, Thomas Hampson and Frank Sinatra, with very different training, have or had good diction (although I have trouble with Celtic words). I believe that a singer should make the effort to be understood. Ballad singers without conservatory training seem to average high on the scale. Opera singers are trained in diction, but those who sing clearly are balanced by many who get carried away by the notes. Who can you name as examples of clarity?


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Sorcha
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 08:14 PM

Not of opera singers, but Brewer & Shipley, Arlo, Andy M., and Bill Monroe are good. I'm sure there are lots of others........but you are right, lots sound like they have a mouthful of marbles. Makes it even more difficult for us "hearing impaired" folks.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: kendall
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 09:10 PM

A fan once told me that my diction is such that if I were singing in Greek he would be able to understand every word. I have always put diction above all else. Being a word person does that to you. Perhaps someone who has my CD would care to comment?


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: catspaw49
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 09:37 PM

Whoa up here Kemosabe........

You can run an entire thread on any number of singers such as Dylan and Dave Van Ronk and quite a few others who are damn near non-understandable at times but have a magical ability to deliver a song.

Or there's Option #2........What about the singers who sing in an a dialect of English or "American" where marginal diction is actually a part of the dialect? As an example, let's take Frank Proffitt. If you "clean up" some of his words, it ain't Frank Proffitt! On the other hand, if you try to imitate him you lose on that count too. You can only do the song justice though by letting your own voice carry the words. Somehow though, I have a real hard time with Placido Domingo singing "Blackberry Wine" accompanied by the Cleveland Symphony.

My point is that diction may be important, but it doesn't always make the singer good or help in delivering the song.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Maryrrf
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 10:16 PM

I like it when a singer has good diction and I always try to sing so people can understand everything. I've often been complimented on that. I always liked that about Joan Baez. It can be really frustrating when you can't understand the singer because he or she is mumbling. If they're singing in a dialect (think Jean Redpath) that's different than mumbling or slurring the words. Just my two cents!


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 04:33 AM

Good practise is to sing hymns for 18 years.... I've always wanted people to know what I'm singing about, and it does help a great deal in enjoying a song, otherwise it might just as well be scat, mouth music or a tune. A song that tells a story should be understandable, otherwise, what is the point of the story. That's why - shock horror admission here - I've NEVER LIKED DYLAN!!!

Over enunciation can also lead to problems though, BBC English (This is thee Elexendra Pelece) in song can be difficult to follow. Sing as you would speak, to be understood.

LTS


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Mrs.Duck
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 11:44 AM

It stikes me that if someone has taken the trouble to write good words I have a duty to sing them as clearly as possible.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: kendall
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 11:48 AM

Language was created so we can communicate. If we cant understand what the words are, well...


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Bill D
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 12:03 PM

well, some of you know Andy Wallace, former director of the National Folk Festival (when it was at Wolf Trap, VA)...he has always stood out as a marvel of understandibility. He does such patter songs as "Richmond" (is a hard road to travel, I believes)..and without diction, singing that is worse than useless.

Andy is on a few records, but has no solo albums of his own, or I'd direct you.

Although many performers can put a lot of feeling into songs, it is always a bit sad to me when someone with a heavy dialect to start with proceeds to mumble and slur and make me wonder what the song is even about.

Of such things are Mondegreens made, hmmmm?


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 12:11 PM

Slightly off topic I know,but I think Charlotte Green has a really nice voice.(she is a BBC Radio 4 newsreader).


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 01:59 PM

Can Brian Sewell sing? I could listen to him talk all day even when I disagree violently with what he has to say!

Charles Windsor is nice to listen to too.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: hesperis
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 03:54 PM

No'me!


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: vectis
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 06:41 PM

I am a fairly traditional singer so try hard to sing the words clearly so that people can understand the song and (hopefully) enjoy it.
I hate listening to highly trained, melodic and tuneful voices when I can't understand a bloody (sorry) word. It is intensely frustrating.
I must be a words person too.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: kendall
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 08:27 PM

The tune is the vehicle, the lyrics the passengers. Unless it's Rock, then all bets are off. I cant deal with that stuff where the drums carry the melody.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jun 01 - 09:15 PM

Can't abide Rap because I can't understand what they are saying- even with a written cheat sheet in front of me. The same is true of many hard rock purveyors. The best singers using dialect or local speech variants have good diction. Has anyone had problems with Jean Ritchie, Bill Monroe, even Leadbelly? The odd word is missed, but the message gets through. Dylan's message comes through if you listen long enough but I also get turned off by him because his presentation can be downright sloppy. He sometimes shows a lack of respect for the people who have paid to hear him. I do have problems with the dialects of Scottish-Irish North-of-England singers, but once I comprehend the words, (sometimes with the help from Mudcatters and by using word books) the message is heard- in other words, most of them care about their song's content and try to put it across to their audience. I guess what I am saying is that good diction does not correlate with the level of academic training and that respect for the paying audience is important.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: hesperis
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 02:22 AM

So sorry to hear about your affliction, hesperis. That must be sad.

"Wel' is li'e dis, ah juzgant speak da wor's righ wen ah dry to sing'em. I's a li'l har for peo'le to unnerstan."

Smile and nod...

(Ok, so I'm bored tonight!)


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 06:57 AM

Yeah - diction is very important (but as Liz warns - not to the point of the BBC english).
I'm one of the worst offenders, but I'm working hard to overcome the problem. People say I make a nice noise, but the words aren't clear enough. So I'm taking lessons & working on the clarity, and the results are much better already. Mark can understand the words now & says that the songs are way better for it (and he's a really harsh critic usually).
Its not so very hard - its just a case of remembering to sound all the consonants properly & put some breaks between words. Its largely a question of remembering that what I hear inside my head is NOT what other people are hearing & then making some adjustments accordingly.
I hold up my hands & admit it was sheer ignorance and laziness on my part that was making me indistinct. Its definitely worthwhile putting in the extra thought & effort if you want people to listen to the song, rather than just being a nice noise in the background.
I need to be taught how to do it - but I expect a lot of people get there by instinct. Hence no direct correlation with training. On the other hand - if you have the problem then its worth getting the training to fix it.
One other thought is that some of the clarity is to do with taking time over the phrasing & being relaxed and confident enough to do so. So lack of clarity is probably a bit correlated with nerves? I'm sure that was part of my problem - rushing through & belting it out in a nervous panic!!!

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 07:03 AM

Poor diction isn't really a feature of many accents/dialects. You can speak in a very clear geordie accent, a clear, scouse accent, a clear cockney one etc, just as you can mumble in each of these accents. Some people may not understand the accent, but that is different from poor diction. Poor diction in singing is the equivalent of mumbled speech.

If you want an example of indecipherable singing, the best has to be Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Though I think it is a deliberate style in her case.

Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Fiolar
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 07:13 AM

Diction is not the only thing in which people "mumble." Reading through many of the postings on Mudcat, makes me wonder if some of those who post ever learned to spell. No good blaming the "spell checker." It's like the kids who grew up using calculators to find the answer to a mathematical problem. If a person has no idea what the answer should be in the first place, blindly accepting what is displayed doesn't help.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Hamish
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 07:58 AM

All of the above, plus phrasing. I spend ages over getting the words and the tunes to agree. Coming in a beat early, changing to odd word so the line scans properly are two examples of how to use phrasing to help get sense into and out of a song. And (I like to think that) it pays dividends. Even my mum says she can understand the words - double edged sword tho' that might be!


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: LR Mole
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 08:00 AM

Someone (Jonathan Schwartz, perhaps) said that one of the main things Sinatra brought to song was the illusion that he was making up the words as he sang: that his lyrics were occurring to him at the moment of vocalization. But, of course the key word is illusion, and like all tricks it requires complete mastery before the trick works. "In llamaland there's a one-man band and he'll toot...his flute..for you..." in tune! and across the rhythm! It ain't easy to do.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 09:44 AM

Fiolar -

Some of us can't be bothered to check each and every post we make for typos and spelling mistakes. Some of us may be dyslexic. Some of us just have difficulty with spelling, and dont have time to keep checking spellings. I very rarely come across posts I dont understand because of poor spelling here on the mudcat. I think its important if you are typing something formal, to make the spelling correct, but on an informal discussion group like this, I don't think it's much of a problem.

Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: A Wandering Minstrel
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 09:47 AM

One of the big contributing factors to poor singing has to be the use of directional microphones. The practice of singing so close to these results in the complete loss of plosives, fricatives and hard consonants with the result that the lyrics seem to be totally composed from vowels.

Another modern habit sems to be the stuffing of so many grace notes and vocal pyrotechnics into the song that again the words completely disappear.

Accent and phrasing can't be blamed for poor speaking and singing habits


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 11:00 AM

Oh No!!!! AWM - you've just listed another of my sins..... over-ornamentation - I'd forgotten that one!

Are you going to Caversham Folk Festival by the way?

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 01:02 PM

I almost agree with LTS but only with 16 years of choral singing. Listen to someone who sounds good, spitting those consonants out, then try to emulate them. Lousy technique for close miking though. You have to stand back a bit and project. JohnB


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 01:07 PM

A W. M. brought up a point that has often bothered me with cds I buy. Don't know the technical side of it (microphone pickup patterns and all that) but the engineers have a lot to do with the final sound. They look for overall effect and sometimes almost drown out the vocalist.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: GUEST,Phil Cooper
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 03:09 PM

I, too, believe the words should be comprehendable to deliver a song effectively (unless you're John Martyn). I also agree that ornamentation shouldn't be allowed to diminish the meaning of the words.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: A Wandering Minstrel
Date: 12 Jun 01 - 10:33 AM

I went to see HArvey Andrews do a studio gig a while back, after the first song he went to the front of the stage and had a shouted exchange with the sound box regarding the guitar volume and the reverb on his mike. Result, for the remainder of the evening we heard every syllable and every note.

Kris I hope to be spared on Sunday and may get to Reading for an hour or two


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 12 Jun 01 - 10:49 AM

With Hubby's business we've used a telephone message recorder for years. I've noticed that people tend to mumble their names and telephone numbers. There have been times when I would replay the recording many times, but simply could not figure out the person's name. Do we tend to mumble over familiar phrases more than others?


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 13 Jun 01 - 06:51 AM

AWM - I'll keep an eye out on Sunday.

Back to subject...
Mumbling is a big issue in our house at the moment. Hammerite mumbles appallingly & half the time we can't understand what she is saying. Our singing teacher said that she's speaking much lower than where her real voice is - so I keep reminding her to lift her voice up a bit (which goes down like a lead balloon I can tell you!).
Last night we were doing one of those game-book things like dungeons & dragons, where you go to differnt paragraphs depending on dice etc. We are trying to get her to read more, so I made her read it out to me & I was absolutely HORRIFIED. When she was younger she used to read very expressively, but now she is really monotone, mumbly, speaks too fast & runs the words into eachother. How the hell did that happen?????
I can only assume it is down to me not reading to her anymore, coupled with trying to race through her reading thinking fastest is bestest. So now I can see I've got to spend a lot of time reading with her again to guide her back to reading slowly & expressively and actually absorbing the content. Bad mother points or what!!
Anyway - that is probably where her bad singing diction is coming from & hopefully the reading together will improve her singing diction as well.
The point of this being that lazy singing habits probably derive from lazy speaking habits, which in turn is probably related (in kids anyway & probably adults too) to sitting passively in front of TV instead of actually communicating. It is like a revelation to Hamm that she can sit with her eyes shut and visualise what I am reading to her & that she can return the favour.
I'm beginning to think I should throw out the damn TV & listen to the radio instead. Ha - the lengths I'll go to to improve our singing......

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Walking Eagle
Date: 13 Jun 01 - 02:17 PM

I used to have trouble with Emmy Lou Harris until she switched back to playing an accoustic guitar. So sometimes the instrument is the problem. She sang in the same tone as the electric guitar she was playing and her words were very hard to hear.

Sometimes pronouncing the entire word, especially those with g in them are hard as it is a hard consonant sound such as finger. I sort of sing fingah instead.

Clear voices:

1. Iris Dement 2. Stan Rodgers


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 10:52 AM

King Brilliant:

You might have her hearing checked.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 12:19 PM

Good point DaveO - I'll check that out, cheers.
She did improve dramatically when we started reading alternate paragraphs together. I think she'd just forgotten how to read with expression since I gave up on the bedtime stories. Heartless witch that I am.
Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 12:45 PM

When I had a severe MS attack, my speech dropped to a monotone. I was mostly unaware of this, but friends who knew me were alarmed. My point is...I don't think she has anything like this...but I know from experience that what I hear in my mind is completely different from what others hear. During my recovery I could puposely throw in inflection. I'm still shocked at my voice on a recorder. Perhaps if she could hear her speech on a recorder?

Also, I've seen teenagers who went through drama training versus ones who have not. I don't know what the drama teacher does for those kids, but it's quite remarkable how they can speak fluently.


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 03:18 PM

Anybody remember Vin Garbutt? Now there's a master mumbler...fun to listen to, though.

And KB, I think there's a generational/developmental thing going on...seems like monotone mumbling has always been considered "cool" among adolescents. Remember James Dean? I agree that reading aloud (with encouragement and emphasis on drama and meaning) would be a great way to go.

My pet peeve in popular speech these days is "like". As far as I can tell, this started with the beatniks in the 50s and was resurrected by the hippies in the late 60s, along with lots of other "beat" phrases. But it seems to have taken over the English-speaking world, a kind of verbal kudzu.

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 08:21 PM

I agee with Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Noreen
Date: 14 Jun 01 - 09:48 PM

Mark, yes I remember Vin Garbutt- and he's still going strong, doing the clubs as ever. Love his singing.

Yes to the reading out loud, Kris and Hammerite, and to recording yourselves singing, then playing back and working on one particular aspect at a time. Scary, but productive. Makes you realise what other people hear, and gets you to concentrate on what you're doing when you're singing. And just sing- all the time! :0)

Noreen


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 15 Jun 01 - 08:34 AM

Well, I suppose someone has to offer a dissenting opinion.

Good diction can be important, but I don't believe it is always essential, or even necessarily desirable. Some of my favorite singers don't have particularly good diction, yet I feel that they put their message across very effectively, and I would not want to sacrifice the overall effect of their presentation in order to improve their diction. A lot of blues singers come to mind in this context -- Muddy Waters, for example, was a very powerful blues singer with fairly poor diction. Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Gregg Allman, and Elvis Presley are (or were) great singers also, in my opinion. I'm sure I could come up with a number of other good examples given a little time.

Drawing analogies to other arts may help illustrate the point. I would consider diction in singing to be synonymous with accuracy in painting. There have been some very fine "precise" painters throughout history -- from the Flemish painters of past centuries (Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc.) to more modern day realists (Wyeth). But there have also been some very fine "imprecise" painters -- most or all of the Impressionists, as well as the abstract expressionists. What they conveyed may not have been particularly clear, but I consider it to be just as valid and ennobling. [Actors might provide another useful analogy -- Marlon Brando, anyone?]

I also frankly enjoy listening to songs that "reveal" themselves only through repeated listening. There are some truly great lyricists out there that one can only absorb over time. There is joy in discovering a lyric that was never quite clear enough to catch before; it leads to a process of continuing discovery, partially because all was not revealed the first time around.

Is this making sense to anyone else?


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: Fortunato
Date: 15 Jun 01 - 09:59 AM

I must assume that we are all defining diction as the degree of clarity and distinctiveness in speech and singing.

But it is not clear to me that this definition is employed when the phrase "Poor Diction" is applied to singing in the title of this thread.
Absolute clarity is, no doubt, a criterion for evaluating Kathleen Battle singing an aria.
Absolute clarity is less likely to be a criterion for evaluating the singing of Dave Van Ronk.
Distinctiveness, the second part of the definition of diction, has I think be left out of the discussion above.
I think we would all agree that Kathleen Battle's singing is distinctive, but so is Dave Van Ronk's.
I believe that Dave Van Ronk's diction is to a great degree distinctive and to a lesser, but appropriate, degree clear.
The intentional or unintentional lowering of the degree of clarity has several effects. When the words become indistinct they are reduced to musical tones. Also, they have a secondary effect of drawing the ear to listen more closely. Emotionality may be conveyed through the texture of the indistinctness. In fact, this very lowerering of the degree of clarity may be the distinctive quality we admire.
If I were to call a singer's diction 'poor', I would mean that the clarity was inappropriate for the genre or the song and distinctiveness was lacking as well.
regards, Fortunato


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: A Wandering Minstrel
Date: 15 Jun 01 - 10:21 AM

I don't have to remember Vin Garbutt since I saw him perform only last week!

He being from Middlesborough and I from Newcastle, I understood most of what he had to say. The illusion he gives of being somewhat absent minded Is I believe, part of his act?

His pronunciation of the salicacae species "Populis Negra Betulifolia" was spot on (The Wisdom of Trees)


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Subject: RE: BS: Poor diction
From: LR Mole
Date: 15 Jun 01 - 10:37 AM

Q: What was Marlon Brando's first guitar?
A: A StellaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA


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