The Innocence of Song

Have I mentioned that I really don't like children's choirs? Probably not, but here's an entire blog post dedicated to griping about them!

It's odd, because from what I can gather quite a lot of people do like children's choirs; they like to hear the little angels singing, to be a bit patronising and snarky about it. They like to hear the sound of innocence, I think - at least, that's what I would say if I wanted to sound pseudointellectual. You know what? I'll be perfectly honest: I don't know how people can stand children singing, let alone listen to them for fun! Does anyone mind enlightening me on this? I don't think it's necessarily technical proficiency, since some children aren't that good.

I'm getting off the subject here, though...I've never really liked to hear children sing, as their voices are still immature; even the best child singers have a thinner tone compared with mature adult singers. (Incidentally, that's one of the reasons I don't like my own voice very much, as I don't consider it full enough.) They're not as well-versed in technique as an adult singer, either, and while I know that the technical side of singing isn't enough on its own, it's certainly important!

Up until fairly recently, that was my only reason for not liking children's choirs...and then I managed to stumble onto this at school. (Don't ask; my housemaster really loves this choir for some reason.)
Now, that's all very well and good; it's a song that a lot of people like (but that I personally think has shitty lyrics - count the clich├ęs) sung by a bunch of vaguely angelic-sounding children and adolescents. You might think that's it's not that bad an interpretation, but let me link the original version:
Do you hear the passion in Florence's voice compared with that of the children's voices? Do you hear the emotion? Does it not make pain, anger, hope, desperation, joy well up in your heart, simply because someone who knows how to sing and knows how to turn so many cold, dead words into something many can relate to actually used that talent? Probably not for some of you, and I understand that! All the same, it moves some people. I'm a big softie (albeit a cynical one), so it moved me.

And this is what I didn't find in the children's choir, and this is what fucked me off so much: the emotion, the sentiment. You can't give a song like this to children, because not only do they not have the voices for it, they don't have the experience to be able to draw the sentiment out of a song like this. As much as I hate to say it, as much as I hate to be patronising - all except the very oldest are too young. They acquit themselves very well technically - but not only are their voices not full enough to sing this song well, I don't think they understand it. Would you, as a child, have understood the quiet defiance in the lyrics? Could you have understood making mistakes that you'd then drag around with you for the rest of your life, and then trying to overcome them? And I don't think most children could understand being so sick of life, of emotion, that you want to start all over again - not until they got a little older, at least.

People like children's choirs, as I said earlier, because they like the perceived innocence that children have - but this little episode has convinced me that song is not an innocent thing, and not something that can be done well by the innocent. Most singing, from Wagner's operas down to the blandest of pop songs, does have an emotional component, and not one that can be understood by people under a certain age. It requires a loss of innocence, in a sense, a loss of naivety and the gain of pain and cynicism in return.

Thinking about it that way, I do sometimes wish that I had never grown up: no amount of music, art and literature is worth the loss of innocence, and there is no work fine enough to heal the wounds that loss leaves. But, if we must all lose our innocence in some way or another, for fuck's sake don't make the innocent sing about the loss of innocence. It really doesn't work. For fuck's sake, if the only thing we can get from the loss of innocence is art, let's make it good art.

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