the Author

Social Distancing Journal 06: What I’m listening to, with process digression

Posted in writing.

When I was in high school, I took French. In French, the stan­dard curriculum involved the reading of a book – in French, of course – and essays or discus­sions (also in French) about said book.

But our French teacher, Bob, decided to go an entirely different route. He brought in a record (yes, record — no CDs existed at that time, and no MP3s – it was a 33 RPM record), and printout of the back cover sleeve, which contained all the lyrics.

The record was for a rock musical, Star­mania. We studied specific songs – but of course, we all listened to the entire thing. It is… a younger person’s musical. Also: the French aren’t post-modern in their musi­cals. There are things that work in French that just do not work in English – like Notre Dame de Paris, for which the English version attempted to trans­late the song lyrics. They did not do a bad job, imho, but: a) trans­la­tion and b) post modern audi­ence.

One of these days I will stop with the digressions.

Star­mania was there­fore my first musical. We did go to Quebec to see it. I did not love what they’d changed — because of course every staging changes some­thing, but they cut one of my favorite songs: S.O.S. de un Terrien en détresse. However, it’s been sung by different people over the years.

I wanted to listen to Lune, a song from Notre Dame de Paris, sung in this instance by Bruno Pelletier. (There is an incred­ible Korean version — sung in Korean — by, I believe, Mike Lee.)

In the youtube “if you liked this” up next sidebar, Bruno Pelletier, whose Lune I was listening to, was singing S.O.S. in concert in Russia (he’s from Montreal, but — Russians also like musi­cals, and Notre Dame de Paris). Which: exciting! So I clicked on that video.

And it was lovely — much more powerful than the version on the CD of Star­mania. But on that sidebar was a young man singing S.O.S. And since my favorite version of Lune is sung in Korean by a Korean, I clicked the link to that. I believe it’s a perfor­mance in one of the Russian euro-style contests — but it’s 2 years after he won, so he’s the special guest.

And Oh. My. God. OH MY GOD. Dimash Kudaibergen. He has a youtube feed, and has posted the version I listened to first (not surpris­ingly, there’s more than one on youtube — for instance his perfor­mance in the Chinese I am a Singer singing contest type show.

I then had to listen to Ogni Pietra, a song I have no senti­mental or emotional attach­ment to, to get a full idea of his singing range. Did I say Oh My God?

When I’m listening to pop, folk, or modern music, most of my emotional reac­tion is to the lyrics. But when I listen to musi­cals, I… don’t actu­ally care all that much. There’s some­thing about the singer, the projec­tion — and also: I like to see them (thus youtube). I some­times feel to hit certain emotional notes, singers are reaching for the same kind of chaotic tangle that resides at the heart of all creative endeavors.

That’s not a great expla­na­tion, so let me try again.

You’re familiar with the folk tale about the blind men and the elephant? The one in which they grab different parts of the elephant, and then argue about what it is that they’ve gripped? That’s process, to me. Except for the argu­ment part.

From my perspec­tive, each man has touched the elephant, which is actu­ally the impor­tant part: in their own way, with their own inter­pre­ta­tions, they’ve reached the creative well. Describing it often doesn’t work well, because they’re not reaching it the same way.

For my purposes, it’s the elephant that’s impor­tant, or reaching it at all. So my process discus­sions are about how I person­ally reach the elephant; I’m aware that someone describing the ear flap while I’m trying to describe the nostrils of a trunk are going to sound completely different. It’s also why process can differ hugely from book to book — because last time, you grabbed that ear, and today, you’ve got a tail.

Also: I don’t want to somehow call this talent, a word that is often used to deni­grate one’s own attempts. It takes prac­tice to play an instru­ment (as Peter said); it takes prac­tice to write a book. The tools you have to express what you’ve found have to be good tools; it’s not just a grab the elephant inspi­ra­tion and you’re done. The elephant is … what it is. Your ability to use the elephant is what you’ve built, with time and prac­tice and work. You are creating a container for what you’ve reached.

I reach the elephant to find story, words are my instru­ment in conveying that to readers. My sons, however, are similar: they struggle in similar ways writers do, but with music instead, but their tools are entirely different, as are their approaches. As they’ve had to listen to me in the middle-of-the-book, they have some sense that supreme, constant confi­dence is not the provide of the creative — and that it’s normal to go through periods of severe self-loathing at one’s own incom­pe­tence <wry g>

Or, as my older son said in his Cana­dian Writers in Person class, “My mom is a novelist, so I don’t think I have any illu­sions about writing.” Which caused the professor to break out laughing. I have normal­ized feel­ings of inad­e­quacy and fear of failure >.<.

So: the elephant. I think, for me, musi­cals — which have the under­pin­ning struc­ture for emotional expres­sion — require some singers to reach for … the elephant. There’s some­thing about the voice that seems — again, to me, and listening because I can’t sing and don’t play instru­ments — almost a pure expres­sion of that elephant, as if, for minutes, they’re chan­neling some­thing raw and pure.

And you know what? No one else has to feel this way. No one else has to respond to it the way I respond to it. For the last two days I think I’ve made my entire family very, very tired of Dimash >.>. My long suffering husband says my reac­tion to song and singing is…not his. He doesn’t hear it the way I hear it, and doesn’t respond the way I respond. (For some reason, good chil­dren’s choirs make me cry, as an example. It’s the harmonies and the youth of the voices; it just instantly moves some­thing in me. Even in a church and even in latin.)


18 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 06: What I’m listening to, with process digression

  1. Tchula says:

    Wow, Dimash has some very impres­sive range to his voice! I gener­ally prefer the lower ranges for male singers, but it’s impres­sive when they can hit the higher ranges of an alto female singer.

    Musical pref­er­ences are inter­esting to me. My favorite genre is rock, but I listen to a wide variety of music, mostly based on how much I enjoy the lead vocalist. Dave, on the other hand, hears each indi­vidual instru­ment and has less care for the vocal track in a song. (This is why he can happily listen to ACDC, whom I cannot stand!) lol

    I just don’t hear the instru­ments the way he does. Prob­ably because my hearing sucks (I can still hear, but in noisy crowds or with soft-spoken people, I have a hard time, hence hearing aids). I tend to prefer melodic rock songs, which is why I can adore Metal­lica, the Fray, and Stevie Nicks, while disliking Sonic Youth and ACDC. I don’t care for the disso­nance and the voice of ACDC’s lead singer. It’s just not my cup o’ tea.

    Funny story: I once went with Dave to see a Wilco/Sonic Youth concert (this was before I knew I didn’t like Sonic Youth). I swear, in a crowd of prob­ably 20,000 people, the reverb from the guitar during Sonic Youth’s set liter­ally had me nodding off in my seat, like some kind of super-powered white noise. So yeah, I managed to fall asleep at a rock concert because of them. Yay me! ;-P

  2. Kerry aka Trouble says:

    OMG!!! Thank you for sharing that link to Dimash — blown away…

  3. kamackinnon says:

    I’m going to have to go explore the songs and singer you’re talking about, because I don’t know them at all. But I had a similar reac­tion to the one you’re talking about watching the kid in this link singing a song from a musical: https://​youtu​.be/​I​G​V​x​a​F​J​e​YTo Have I forced you to watch this yet? (It’s Kith.) If i haven’t, please do. It’s stun­ning. Bring Kleenex.

  4. Now while I can recog­nise the excep­tion­alism of Dimash’s voice and charisma performing, my heart in that direc­tion was already taken by a Korean boy band of all things, around New Year’s of 2017 (which makes me so love that you’ve fallen like I did if for different reasons and with someone else).
    My obses­sion has become SHINee, they are a return to my youth’s music but better produced and so emotion­ally engaging, no surprise coming out of the talent forge that is SM. The song that sealed me as a SHINee fan, Shawol is our name, is this: https://​youtu​.be/​j​S​O​R​a​q​T​Q​ykk
    This video is an illegal cut from one of their concerts and it has 10 million views. Some of their solo project offi­cial releases don’t have that, and if you watch it you will realise why.
    It’s RnB, tho (which I love).
    However one of the members, Onew, also did an excerpt of Nessun Dorma as a solo during one of their concerts which I person­ally think he did justice (bearing in mind that while he has performed in musi­cals he hasn’t sung opera profes­sion­ally) https://​youtu​.be/​8​u​57​_​c​n​4​EtM
    If you want to see Onew in a musical here you go: https://​youtu​.be/​b​C​4​V​I​w​i​37TU

    TL;DR: welcome to the sisterhood ^^

  5. Jason Gallagher says:

    First I should say that I love your books. I was actu­ally intro­duced to Chron­i­cles of Elantra by my best friend’s mom. She gobbles up your books like candy every time a new one come out.

    I also wanted to say that I feel you are absolutely right when you say: “There’s some­thing about the voice that seems — again, to me, and listening because I can’t sing and don’t play instru­ments — almost a pure expres­sion of that elephant, as if, for minutes, they’re chan­neling some­thing raw and pure.” (I’ll go out on a limb and take out the “I feel” — you are right.)

    I teach piano, and when I’m having a good day I will make my students sing. I often shy away because people feel awkward about it, and yes, I can demon­strate what I’m after through verbal coaching or my own playing or singing. But it makes an enor­mous differ­ence when it comes out of the student’s voice, both with regards to accu­racy and expres­sion. I try to tell students that their voices are like their own inner coach. When I am doing my best prac­ticing, I am singing while I am playing.

    Of course, you are listening to someone who is highly trained, but for all of us, even the tone deaf, singing is the most natural form of expres­sion through sound. It vibrates in your chest, resonates in your skull. It’s a full-body activity where the instru­ment isn’t outside of us, but within us. So it has some­thing to teach every­body, even the tuba player! Even my piano professor, whose voice can be a bit shrill (don’t worry, she admits to it!), sings to her students in every single lesson. And when you go to college for music, you 1) have to take at least one year of chorus, and 2) have to take a sequence of sight-singing courses. (I think two semes­ters of class voice were also required, but I am not sure if that’s just because I was a music educa­tion major at the time.) 

    So your quote is pithy and true, so much so that singing is central to being a profes­sional musi­cian and artist of any type. You cannot aspire to make art with sound without at some point using your voice.

  6. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    I wonder if your reac­tion to chil­dren’s choirs is from being touched subcon­sciously in your maternal instinct? My son arrived late in my life and was the reason I took up anime and games, because they did not exist in my younger years. Anyway, since his birth and espe­cially while he was in his teen years I reacted to media featuring boys in peril differ­ently than I had. Ender’s Game made me sad and I was exquis­itely sensi­tive to the strug­gles of the Elric brothers in Full Metal Alchemist.

    To use your elephant, music, for me, frequently paints a picture of the elephant and is inex­tri­cable from its source. I can hear music, and as an aside, I listen to mostly instru­mental because I am subject to annoying earworms, and it brings me back to the moment I heard it. I know some musi­cals from the music only and in some cases it is a celtic knot flowing from book to musical to music and back again. Camelot does that for me. Musi­cals are an excep­tion to my vocal avoid­ance though since I can sing along and love them so the earworm is not annoying.

  7. michelle says:

    @Estara: sorry, I slept in unin­ten­tion­ally — the comment was pending approval. For some reason, Word­Press puts comments with more links into “possible spam”, and waits for approval =/

    @kith: I listened to Adrian, but — I don’t know the song =/. HOWEVER, the first “watch this” was a link to Allison Duff, and I clicked through to that one — and it killed me. It’s the heart of loss and regret grounded in one person. I don’t know the musical/book/movie.

    And of course what I was thinking was: how could I contain and struc­ture a story that would bring a reader to the same emotional conclusion?

    @Joyce: I had that reac­tion before chil­dren, but I think some of the strength of it now is because I did. But, hmmm.

    People who had kids didn’t under­stand why I could write them in circum­stances as dire as Hidden City. And the answer, for me, was: they weren’t chil­dren to me, but people. I could write it because their ages didn’t matter to them.

  8. michelle says:

    @Tchula: in general, I don’t like falsetto in a voice, so I’d agree with your natural incli­na­tion. I think it’s the combi­na­tion of his range *and* the song itself — one of the first songs in the first musical, for me.

    @Jason: That’s an inter­esting way of seeing it — I wouldn’t have guessed it because I neither sing nor play an instru­ment – only listen. But: thank you :)

  9. michelle says:

    @Kerry: you’re welcome :D

  10. michelle says:

    but: I have a tech­nical ques­tion to anyone who can answer it. Some­times during his perfor­mances, he pulls one of the 2 earbuds out and drops it, and… I don’t under­stand the purpose of those buds or why he removes it?

    ETA: I mean Dimash, and in some of his songs — like Adagio

  11. Lianne says:

    Sheesh. I clicked the link and went down the rabbit hole of Dimash, followed by reac­tions to Dimash and ended up finally at Frog Leap Studios and a lot of heavy metal covers (Baby Shark? Really?)

    So much for Sunday morning…

  12. kamackinnon says:

    @michelle I don’t know the musical either. A friend intro­duced me to the song via Adri­an’s perfor­mance. And maybe it was in combi­na­tion with the story around it, but it wrecked me watching it. The kid is 12 and used to sing covers of musi­cals at home and his mom filmed them and put them on YouTube. That one went viral and the cast invited him to Broadway to come and sing it onstage after the show one night. And some­thing about the way a 12-year-old could sing it from his boots like that… it clearly meant some­thing huge to him. Anyway.

    Re: the earbuds — and with the caveat that I am not a sound person —  those will prob­ably be how he is hearing both the music and himself. A lot of performers who can’t hear them­selves have a very hard time singing on key, even if they can hear the music, and depending on the acoustics and posi­tion of the speakers, in big spaces it’s not a guar­antee that you can hear either from the stage. So, earbuds. My under­standing is that they can block the ambient sound quite exten­sively, so if he wanted to get a sense of the audi­ence or feel more in the moment of the space, I can under­stand why he might take one out.He could still get the infor­ma­tion he needs from the other one.

  13. michelle says:

    @kith: well, I have now estab­lished a new rule for writing days: no music -.-. Seri­ously the Allison Ruff just wrecked me, and of course, because I have Michelle brain, I am now entirely focused on under­standing why.

    Dimash did not cause me pain.

    re: ear buds that would make sense — he drops them, always, when he’s going for the high notes or the arias. He kind of just – yanks one out.

    Edit: Misspelled BOTH OF the singer’s names T_T. It’s Alison Luff. 

  14. michelle says:

    also @kith: I liked the Adrian singing, but I thought it was mostly cute until he started to belt it out. But it didn’t have the same effect, possibly because I knew exactly nothing about the history or context.

  15. @Michelle I’ve never worn them. Maybe they do a weird pressure/sound thing in his head when he goes for those high notes? I don’t know.

  16. Liza Ismail says:

    @estara: ah a soul­mate. yes SM does churn some excep­tional talents. i started listening to korean R&B with TVXQ via a kdrama “Story of the First King’s Four Gods”. jejung, xiah n max’s voice in ‘Tonight’ are amazing. with shinee i liked jonghyun’s (RIP) version of y si fuera ella. and right now EXO (DO) has got me hooked.

    @michelle: if i may suggest a song if you are moved by seeing a singer sing his emotions try Park Hyo Shin’s ‘Wild­flower’ video. i cry every time.

  17. E_bookpushers says:

    I am very much enjoying the “what I am listening to” posts. Each of them have intro­duced me to some­thing that I can just sit and listen without the urge to do some­thing else at the same time.

  18. @michelle — no problem, I was going out on a limb with three links, I was pretty sure ^^. The earbuds thing happens regu­larly with Korean idol concerts and I agree that the reason is that the performers hear less of the crowd when they’re in, but if they need to harmonise they are neces­sary — so for fanchants or fan singa­longs SHINee, f.e. regu­larly take out or rip out one or both ear buds. 

    @Liza, ooooh Changmin and D.O, good choices. My favourite voice in SHINee is Jonghyun as well, but Key is my bias, he just draws my eyes ^^

Leave a Reply