A Matter of Taste
This morning I listened to a wonderful discussion on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition. Michael Enright hosted a conversation with a guest (maybe it was Bob Carty?) concerning taste in music. They weren’t concerned with individual likes and dislikes, but in tackling the more important question of, “What makes for a tasteful musical performance?”
My favourite example of taste vs. tasteless performances came when they compared the original broadway cast recording of West Side Story (Larry Kert singing, “something’s coming”) to a Deutsche Grammophon recording with Jose Carreras singing the same selection. (click on the singer’s names to find sound samples of each) Bernstein conducted both recordings, but they are completely different. Michael Enright’s guest went so far as to say that not only did the ‘operatic cast’not do justice to the music because they didn’t understand the genre of the broadway musical, but that by singing it in an over-the-top, inappropriate manner, they ‘turned the music to dust.’
Amen. Jose Carreras = excellent vocalist, but in this case the style of his singing made the piece feel insincere and cloying.
Emotion vs. Sentimentality
A similar sort of conversation happened this past week via comments at Mark Sarvas’ blog, The Elegant Variation.
His post, In Which Heros Stumble addresses a recent review of Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love by LTBR critic, James Wood. The post itself takes issue with Wood’s accusation that Krauss’ work is ‘Hysterical Realism’, with Sarvas asking in the end, How “real” does it have to be? How much heart is too much?
I don’t know where Krauss’ latest novel falls on the sentimentality scale, I haven’t read it yet. But the comments that follow Sarvas’post make for wonderful reading and give a refreshing take on where emotion in writing ends and sentimentality begins.
To me, Sarvas’ question is as much about music and other art forms as it is about writing. There’s a big difference between honest (true to the characters and to the story) writing and something that is written merely to ‘perform’. I think sentimentality in writing (and music, and visual art, and in life) ultimately comes from fear. The ‘give ’em what they want’ mentality sets in and truth steps out. Like a singer who gives a performance with only the intention of ‘sounding good’ rather than being true to the music, the writer’s words become dust.
But, if a writer is willing to truly know their characters and the story well, going back to the well again and again, the payoff is, in the end, something that can’t help but be real.
A few years ago there was a boy who decided to stop talking for a year. When the year was over, he was interviewed about his experience. The one thing he said that stuck with me was that through listening and observing other people in conversation he realized that most people’s conversation is devoted to talking about themselves in a way that they think will impress those listening rather than to portraying their true selves.
Something to think about.
Note: Written under the influence of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”.
In my opinion, she’s one of the most genuine (and unafraid to be who she is) artists of our time.