Marty Heresniak, B.M., M.M
79 Hudson Heights
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CRITICISM IN THE FIELD OF SINGING
Carl Gutekunst (1895-1985)
Criticism in the field of singing is the art of evaluating with knowledge and propriety the merits and faults of the performance of a singer. Such criticism must possess certain qualities in order to achieve its ultimate objective and to justify its existence.
Criticism in the field of singing must be:
Adequate - The limitations imposed by news media on the space devoted to publication of critical reviews make it impossible to consider every aspect of a performance. But a review to be of value must present more than a report - important as it is - of the overall effect which is the basis of the average listener's judgment. The criticism should be of a length sufficient to detail the conspicuous excellences or shortcomings of the performer and to evaluate him as both artist and vocalist.
Objective - Complete objectivity cannot, of course, be achieved, but there can and must be avoided a bias of any sort which almost always leads to that lack of balance which either overstresses or underplays one or the other of the various elements of a performance. For example, a strong partiality for refinements in style must not be allowed to result in disregard of defect in tonal quality or vice versa.
Responsible - An awareness of the fact that a criticism can "make or break" should inform every review. Such an attitude would preclude a review's becoming an opportunity for a display of cleverness and flippancy or for the gratification of a desire to "tear to pieces." It would ensure carefully weighed judgment which would take into consideration the category of the singer - debutant or seasoned performer - with a spirit of generosity for debut nerves without in any sense concealing the truth.
Discerning - Discernment is sometimes defined as accuracy in appreciation of art. The achieving of this quality in criticism in the field of singing presupposes a high degree of sensitivity to all of the elements in a singer's performance and a thorough knowledge of the greater part of these. While a comprehensive knowledge of vocal technique is not an absolute essential to first rate criticism, it can materially aid the critic in arriving at accuracy in judgment.
Constructive - To be truly constructive a criticism must present judgment on specifics - such evaluation to be based on a careful analysis of the performance. A keenly analytical approach can result in comments which may prove of great value both to performer and to listener.
Literate - The language of criticism should possess those qualities which are recognized as constituting "good writing." It should be lucid, concise, unambiguous, exact, expressive, and tasteful. Great care should be exercised in the use of technical terms. Outmoded and outworn expressions should be avoided. Some of these have become invalid in the light of greater knowledge of the vocal processes; others through long usage have acquired such a diversity of meanings as to make them valueless.
The ultimate objective of criticism in the field of singing is, or should be, the improvement of singing - both directly by constructive criticism of the singer and indirectly by education of the listener. Much singing, even in high places, is of inferior quality. It is accepted and sometimes even more, enthusiastically received because the greater part of the audience lacks discrimination. In the words of a distinguished critic, "The worst singing gets as much applause as the best." The listeners are overwhelmed by personality and sheer volume and range. These elements are important - in fact, essential - but they are by no means all that is required for beautiful singing. The audience must become discriminating - must be made aware of what is lacking. Once this awareness is established, one may hope that a demand for all-around excellence in singing will arise, and the singer will meet this demand or be rejected.
Who must assume the responsibility of educating audiences? It is primarily and very especially the great responsibility an d equally great privilege of the professional music critic. Despite the seemingly impossible nature of the task, adequate, objective, responsible, discerning, constructive criticism can do much to bring about the desired result - the education of audiences - and further significantly to help to establish and nurture the highest standards in singing.