Deconstructing “The Voice”: Week 2
Welcome back to week two of my newly retitled ”Deconstructing The Voice” recap series. Each week, I’ll watch all 37 hours of NBC’s hit vocal competition show, The Voice. Then, in addition to typical recap stuff, I’ll use the show as a jumping off point to examine various ideas within music education, the music industry, the development of taste, the “realness” of Carson Daly, and whatever else comes to mind. (Spoiler: Carson Daly’s “realness” is still being studied by America’s most prestigious scientists.)
Last week, we talked about the “voice is paramount” philosophy the show is marketed on (and quickly throws away). We also explored the idea that a performance without a visual (a fairly recent concept) is somehow better than experiencing the whole package. (Remember to read all of it here.)
This week, we’re going to talk about the absence of formal music education, methods of expression, and, of course, I’ll give out my prestigious weekly prizes.
Formal Music Education on The Voice (So Far)
This section will be very short because, for the most part, any formal training that contestants received is largely ignored by The Voice. It’s possible that many of these singers found themselves outside of the more traditional school programs that are found around the country; it’s also possible that they were fully involved in their school’s choirs, bands, and orchestras. At this point, we really have no way of telling. Through the stories we’re told, we “know” that parents and church seem to be very important in the development of the contestants as artists.
Of all of the contestants over the last two weeks, only these segments spent any real time talking about music education in the classroom or at home.
Bree Fondacaro’s Dad is a Piano and Voice Teacher
During her backstory segment, we’re introduced to 26-year old Bree Fondacaro and her family. Bree’s father is a little person, her mother is of average height, and they’ve been married for 36 years. Her father teaches voice and piano and much of the segment is spent talking about how Bree sees him as a role model. During this time, we actually see Bree help out during a vocal lesson. She says to a student: “We want to make sure your diaphragm is expanding out.” Boom. Music education in action! (FYI: She ended up on Team Blake.)
Caitlin Lucia & Her School Choir
The only overt reference to a formalized music education within a school building took place during Caitlin Lucia’s Week 1 performance of “You’re the One That I Want”. Caitlin, an 18-year old with a breathy, folk rock voice, said this during her pre-taped segment:
“When I was in elementary school, I joined choir at my catholic school. I knew that I wanted to be a singer. But, to be in a choir, it was not something that I enjoyed. I wanted to stand out. My teachers would tell me that I’m too different, I really took that personally, but I really enjoyed singing and I didn’t want to stop.”
Now, there are two ways to read into this:
- Her choir teacher is cruel and tried to stifle her ability to express herself through music; and/or
- Her choir teacher wanted to work with her to blending her voice into the larger ensemble sound – an important part of developing a pleasant choral sound.
Expression Through Performance or Process
This juxtaposition between individual expression and ensemble sound is not often discussed in music education. So much of our advocacy literature focuses on music as a form of personal expression; however, a lot of creating an ensemble that sounds amazing is about getting all of your students to buy into the same concepts of tone production, articulation, and phrasing. This process would seem to suggest that students aren’t developing personal expression through music, but rather personal expression through process.
“Expression through process” means that an individual is able to demonstrate something about themselves through the sheer fact that they committed to doing something specific – usually performing a difficult piece of music. A member of a highly-competitive marching band probably isn’t expressing some inner musical thought. They can’t. In order to serve the large group, they have to play at a precise moment and be at a precise place – there is no room for error. (For those that don’t know, since light travels faster than sound, it is common for musicians who are playing on the outer reaches of a football field to play their part before they even hear a sound – further decoupling them from a specifically musical expression. The music doesn’t even sound together to them!)
This same “expression through process” mindset can be used to describe the choir that must shape its vowels the same way, breathe at pre-determined times – even sing music that has been selected for it by the teacher. Unless there is a solo, very rarely is there an opportunity for self-expression within the large ensemble. As audience members, we marvel at how hard they must have worked and applaud their efforts.
This is probably where Caitlin Lucia found herself. Even in middle school, she probably possessed a real talent for making music with her voice. But, in order to service the larger choir, she was being asked to change; to stifle her desire to express herself through musical choices. When viewed this way, we shouldn’t paint her choir teacher as a monster – he or she was simply trying to establish a unified and strong ensemble sound.
Instead, we should look closely at the larger music education landscape that so rarely provides some of our most talented students with a space to flex their self-expression muscles. Courses like Rock and Roll Methods, or similar composition-based classes, are great examples of ways we can expand our offerings to be more inclusive to those with an innate need to express their own musical choices, not those of their teacher.
Finally, The Awards from Week Two
Favorite Musical Performance – Chris Jamison
Of all of the stories that the producers of The Voice shared with us, Chris’s most distinguishing feature is that he’s a triplet. Other than that, he’s a guy, white, currently in college — and he was also the Pepper Shaker in his 10th grade production of Beauty and the Beast! This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own dramatic musical journey; it’s just that NBC didn’t share it with us. Having said all of that, Chris owned this song. Strong voice, great control, he even pulled back just a bit in the chorus (which I love). Moving forward, while the power he gets from his falsetto is amazing – I’d love to see him pull the volume down and soften up the tone a bit. I’m wondering if we can get some tenderness from him.
Contestant Who Could Go Far (But I’d Like to See Some Technical Adjustments) – Mia Pfirrman
Mia has a powerful voice! No denying that. It’s just that I felt like, musically, we had two speeds: softly yelling and yelling. I would need to see some more musical range from her before I could jump fully on board. It’s possible she has it in there and just chose to demonstrate range and power over subtlety. If she were to win, expect her record label to market her as “Mia” – there’s simply too many consonants in there to market.
Most Memorable Comment from a Coach – Blake Shelton
After hearing Jessie Pitts perform, Blake Shelton had a short, but great, comment that I think translates well to non-musicians:
“Your voice is like a bowl of Lucky Charms – marshmallows only.”
Later, after a performance by Anita Antoinette, Blake did a great job of expressing the role of a vocalist in communicating the lyrics of a song:
“That’s what country music is – it’s about stories and connecting a lyric to an artist and making people feel what you’re trying to express on stage.”
Best Affirmation That I Was Right About Pharrell’s Specialness
Last week, I talked about how Pharrell’s background as a producer seemed to give him a unique ability to communicate ideas to other musicians. This week, while talking to Pharrell during a “break” between contestants, Adam Levine and Blake seemed to agree with me:
Adam: “You’re so good at getting people re-inspired again… if no one turns around on them.” Blake: “Nobody’s ever been that good.”
Pharrell had a lot of great comments this week and I’m looking forward to hearing more from him moving forward.
- I felt like the quality of the vocalists was down from last week’s shows, but
- Kelli Douglas really had a great performance on Monday night.
- They’re not there yet, but those “Team Gwen” shirts will appear on the NBC Store sooner rather than later, right?
- No one mentioned that this Jean Kelley is a homophone for THIS Gene Kelly?
- Craig Wayne Boyd was also great. Really, really great! I know this is The Voice, but I think his look might work against him. Do they do extreme makeovers on this show?
All right. That’s enough for now. I just assumed that this was the end of the auditions, but there’s another whole week! So, I’ll hold off on predictions for now. Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to get the latest updates! (I’ll be live-tweeting the show once we get out of auditions.)
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