14 October 2006

Singing styles

Three decades ago I took voice lessons while a student at Bethel College in Minnesota. I thus learned to sing in the bel canto style associated with classical western music. Of course, bel canto is hardly the only vocal technique in existence. For example, the singers of Greek folk music, or δημοτικά τραγούδια, generally have raspy voices that seem to have been filtered through the rocky soil of the Peloponnese. Most, if not all, folk singing is far removed from a style more suited to the Italian opera house than to the village.

Commercial popular singing differs from one place to the next as well. In North America I have noticed over the years that male singers tend to sing loudly and at the top of their range, thereby seeming to suppress the masculine character of their voices. (The Bee Gees are perhaps an extreme example!) This I have never been able to understand, but it seems to have begun just over half a century ago with the birth (or perhaps the mainstreaming) of rock and roll.

By contrast Brazilian singers take an entirely different approach, as heard in this video of João Gilberto's exquisite rendering of Ary Barroso's classic Aquarela do Brasil and in this one of Antonio Carlos Jobim singing his own Desafinado. Both sing softly and very nearly at the bottom of their range. Of course these are men of an earlier generation. Has the Brazilian popular singing style come to mimic the North American in the intervening decades? Someone closer to the genre may be able to answer this better than I.

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