Throughout grad school I sang in a choir that performed Siberian folk songs that were basically impossible to describe without using the word “shouty.” We worked hard on the songs, and there was a kind of precision that was important to them, but at the end of phrases, the idiomatic delivery was for everyone to do a sort of glissando into a grunt, and for that not to be synchronized, and that was secretly everyone’s favorite part.
[Here’s an example but it’s from years and years later and I feel like kids these days have taken the edge out of Siberian folk music]
To my delight, there was such a choir here in the Bay Area, but it turned out to be 1) terribly inconveniently located and 2) filled with people enough older than me that it didn’t feel much like a social thing. I mean yeah from here it’s basically one undifferentiated slide into the grave and all, but like they were retired and stuff.
So I talked Dave into going to a Sacred Harp Singing. If you’re not familiar, it’s an American protestant vocal tradition now enthusiastically taken up by a set of dorks who are about my speed. It has its own folkways, to say the least. And the performance aesthetic is one of loudness, also to say the least. Actually the director of the Siberian choir use to tell us that Sacred Harp alto parts sounded much like what we were doing. It’s shouty.
The title of the posting is of course wildly overstated. I don’t think any of this stuff is ugly. But it hits the same pleasurable nerve for me as some singing that verges further into the realm of the more undeniably ugly. Oh here’s a thing.
I can seriously watch that over and over. That is million-year-old Slovak soprano Edita Gruberova singing with the remains of a once rock solid but, to my ear, always ugly voice. The great thing about opera from this period is that it’s written as a showcase for beautiful singing (“bel canto” is the name of the style) but the only way to make it truly enjoyable is to gild it with ugliness. Callas, who had a hand in bringing these operas back from obscurity, had an undeniable curdle in her voice that made these roles tragic and real instead of sounding like conservatory exercises.
It would be easy to do a million more operatic examples, but also dull.
I don’t need to speak to you people of Dylan.