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  • Sam Darling

Sing Talking

Pop singing isn’t really singing.

I love pop music, don’t misunderstand me here. I love dancing to pop and playing it in the background at home while I’m doing chores. I love bluegrass and funk; that is the soundtrack to my life as much as any classical music. [Cause you can’t wiggle your hips to opera the way you can to funk.]

I don’t have time for pop at the moment as I’m rehearsing for a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion.

Pop and classical music are radically different from one another. One fundamental difference is in the singing. In the vast majority of singing what you hear is what I’ll call Sing Talking. The extreme of this is what you hear in rap or bluegrass stories; the singer is fast talking their way through a slew of lyrics but doing it rhythmically and on a limited series of pitches. The more simplistic the pop song, the fewer the pitches and the more the “singing” is really talking. In many cases it becomes Sing Shouting.

As you move through the spectrum you find there is more singing in the talking, particularly when you start to reach the divas on the dial like Christina Aguilera or Whitney Houston. The slight operatic flavor to that singing is why someone like Houston was well-suited to a stadium setting and can even redeem a crap song like the Star Spangled Banner.

Some of those pop singers will even try to get operatic. With mixed results:

People will talk about how Houston’s voice was loud, but actually, what it was was resonant. There is a cavern of sound inside an opera singer’s body. Even a tiny person can generate huge resonance. Consider Diana Damrau, an itty bitty woman with an enormous sound. Do bask in the most perfect live rendition of Queen of the Night. She is ghastly terrible and awesome in her fearsome sound.

Now, consider that even the best recording devices have trouble capturing the full resonance of a singer’s voice, particularly in the higher part of the range. This is why live opera is even more spellbinding than any of the recorded versions you can find. In a great operatic performance you will feel the orchestra and singer’s voice move through your body–vibrating your very blood and sinew–in a fashion that pop stars can only simulate with electronic amplification and extreme bass.

Queen of the Night Diana Damrau

Pop singers are all Sing Talking. Every last one of them. When someone finds out I’m an opera singer they’ll sometimes declare, “Oh, you’re a real singer!” I think this is what they’re getting at. Classical singing has a wider range of sound and the voice will move to fill an entire theatre with resonance without the need for a microphone.

Unfortunately, once a singer has learned how to sing properly it’s hard for them to toggle back to Sing Talking.

And there is a place for Sing Talking. I really enjoy the hell out of Sing Talking, and this Etta James song is still the one most likely to get me dancing. [It ain’t opera, but it’s all right by me.]

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