Taking Care of the Instrument

Something that Karen had done a lot of before we were married, but that she’s had very little opportunity to do since we’ve been married, is sing. Which is really a shame, because her voice is angelic. And, while I know I’m biased, my opinion is reinforced by the observations of many other neutral parties.

Karen has most often practiced her gifts within a faith community, and, as we were previously heavily involved in theatrical endeavors in the community that we attended before moving to New England, she just simply couldn’t make the scheduling commitments of both work out. Recently, however, she was asked to join the musicians that play for the Saturday night “unplugged” worship service that we attend in our new town. She’s come alive lending her voice to these events. I’ve seen something in my wife that I haven’t seen before, something amazing, something carefree and in love. It’s been amazing to witness.

While I was out at work this Saturday afternoon, Karen told me that she was trying to take a nap while our daughter took hers (the only time that this is possible, as any parent will attest). Her rest was disrupted, she said, by a guy cleaning his car in the parking with screamer music pounding out of his speakers while he worked. That doesn’t make for good resting conditions.

Rock history, as you may know, is a bit of a hobby of mine. I’ve never been particularly attracted to what is alternatively and most commonly referred to a screamer or hardcore music. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it. Music expresses the feelings of it’s era, and this genre contains a (quite literal) scream of angst and frustration, a rage against the machine, if you will, at the injustice that is so commonplace around us, the system that fails everyone, and generally being sick of the pain.

There are a handful of hardcore songs that I like, but they are rare. I respect the genre, and what it says about our cultural landscape…it’s just not really my taste. Karen’s opinion of it is slightly stronger.

In her recollection of a nap disrupted tonight, she reasoned out why she dislikes this music. She feels that, despite the urban legend that the screaming vocalists are using “a different part of their voice” and know how to scream without detrimental effect, any of us who have taken vocal lessons know that these vocalists are risking the long-term of effect of destroying their voice. The reason that this bothers Karen, she expressed, is that the musicians are thus not respecting their instrument, and, by extension, are interested only in doing what is popular, not in making true art.

(Umbrella of mercy…I’m summarizing someone else’s thoughts, and likely horribly over-simplifying. It sounded so much more logical when she said it…)

Not certain where I land on this issue. I agree that serious artists respect their instruments. I don’t for a moment buy the myth that these vocalists have learned to scream in a way that isn’t damaging to their voices. I also don’t buy the stereotype of all of these bands…their are hardcore musicians out there doing serious work and saying serious things. The sound is part of the musical landscape, and it says something about our history.

I also think that there are others that capture the angst and the edge with instruments other than their voices.


There’s also something to be said for sacrificing for the art, perhaps. I’m caught in the tension. The message of the sound is important, it says something, it’s an historical marker. The method producing the sound smacks of the amateur sound technician that thinks the way to make the band sound better is by turning everything up. There’s a way to accomplish what’s needed and remain true to one’s art. Sometimes, that’s not at all an easy balance to strike.

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