Sing Along With The Earl


Don’t laugh, but I have gotten hooked on the M3 show “It Takes A Choir”. English choir director Gareth Malone comes to an economically depressed town and recruits locals to join a community choir, working with them for a mere week and then staging a concert. The choir members are reborn- it is quite amazing to see some of their reactions; people who haven’t experienced singing in a choir get truly ecstatic about it. And this spills over into their daily lives, changing their outlook on the town for the better. That is the magic of music – scientists have done multiple studies that prove the psychological & physiological benefits. Singing and playing is capable of easing depression, staving off senility, even reaching the imprisoned minds of autistics. I would argue that music is the first civilizing force of mankind. Hunting is done in unison by many animals, but the beating of bones and howling around the campfire of our remote ancestors drew them closer together in concert against the night and it’s demons.

I was fortunate when I was younger to have the experience of filling in for our church organist during his summer vacation. It’s a powerful rush playing loud hard rock, but that’s only volume. A choir and organ working together has an awesome punch that is volume combined with group dynamics. When my feet hit the low notes on the bass pedals, and the choir’s harmonies flowed up into the rafters, I got chills! (Don’t tell them, but I also managed to sneak in Uriah Heep & Procol Harum as Postlude music) Churches now turn the service music into karaoke nights, soloists without choir gowns, guitars replacing the organ, headset mikes, etc. They are abandoning the unity of the choir and that is tearing away at the essence of community that choral music creates.

The colossal ego machine of TV-land sells dreams of stardom, tells you you’re a ROCK STAR, you’re one-of-a-kind, here’s the spotlight!! Too common are the spoiled tantrums of celebrities who think that they ALONE are responsible for their success. To those who think that I say, there was a hand guiding that spotlight, someone switched on that microphone, and cued the music.

I was never interested in the Guitar Idol or Rock Band video games. Everyone kept telling me how it was “just like being in a band”– No. It. Wasn’t. You are two competitors in a game, out to score points and outdo each other, but a band is teamwork. I had this argument with a gamer guitarist I was playing with “But it’s encouraging them to want to play music”said he. No, it’s encouraging them to desire instant stardom and adulation, I doubt if the games foster the patience to practice, practice, practice and achieve that. Those games instead re-inforced the wrong attitude that music equalled ego, that musicians only play solos at each other until one wins (The worst jazz music encourages this too). The true joy of playing in a group setting is listening to the other players and adjusting your pitch, volume & timing to blend together better – to create something as a unit. I have always preferred dynamics to show off a band’s ability, over constant soloing.Faced with a drummer who did Keith Moon solo endings to every song, I made him do a fade-out to display control. Fed up with a guitarist who constantly lost himself in soloing when we were ready for the next verse, I would lead the rhythm section in stop-start cues and soft-loud dynamics to get his attention. At first he resented this, until he saw how it actually forced him into putting a period on his solo, instead of just trailing off into the vocals. Only guitarists enjoy “cutting heads”-trading solos to one-up each other. The longer that goes on, everyone else (audience & other band members) get bored – the best performances I have been to drew the audience in with call & response vocals (Gospel!), or had the audience sing the chorus, to make them feel part of the event. A fave concert memory is of the audience slowly dispersing after a Police show, we were all singing the Yo-eyo-eyo-yo’s of “Walking On The Moon”. You could hear it for blocks, fading off in every direction.


14 Responses to “Sing Along With The Earl”

  1. Great post Earl, I couldn’t agree more. I love those choir progs too and it’s all about unity and common purpose. Many transcending one.


  2. “I was never interested in the Guitar Idol or Rock Band video games. Everyone kept telling me how it was “just like being in a band”- No. It. Wasn’t.”

    Agreed and I never understood anyone who said that. They’d obviously never played a real instrument. They are nothing alike.

    However, as a lifetime air-drummer, I enjoyed the Rock Band games for what they were — an outlet for me to karaoke with friends in my home, and to air-drum and have people cheering! Hahah!


    • I shouldn’t have included ‘Rock Band’, that was unfair ‘cuz it does have a social aspect ‘Guitar Idol’ doesn’t. I don’t really hate the games, it was the constant peer pressure at the height of their poopularity, comparing it to my profession, that got under my skin.
      And thanks for pointing out my shameful neglect of
      Air Drummers and their communal contribution. At many concerts I’ve noticed how even ONE enthusiastic arm-flailing fan can get his section more excited…. cheers to you!!


      • Well thank ye!

        My Sausagefest companion Dr. Dave Haslam had the same complaint about the games. That people were constantly comparing it to being a musician in a band. He would hear nothing of that.

        I tried to convince him to come over for one of our rock band parties because we really did have a good time. I didn’t like Guitar Hero. I didn’t play that one.


  3. Good post – the stuff about the video games was actually part of a discussion the other day with a friend of mine (all about how music got to where it’s at and how folks don’t engage so much, really).

    Personally I was never interested in the whole Rock Band / Guitar games and don’t reckon they encourage folks to investigate music further. However, I have to admit to being somewhat interested in the Rocksmith thing (I understand it’s pretty interactive and good for practising, etc). So something good has come from those games … maybe people will really start digging having an actual instrument.

    … anyhoo, I’m rambling there. There’s a great deal to be said for music and what it does for folk and communities. I reckon nothing beats getting together, flicking the switch when I plug the ol’ guitar into an amp and seeing what a whole bunch o’ folks have to say.


    • ” I reckon nothing beats getting together, flicking the switch when I plug the ol’ guitar into an amp and seeing what a whole bunch o’ folks have to say.”
      I really, really like that description of jamming-as-conversation! That’s a whole avenue I could’ve explored in this post, thanks much for your great comment J. 🙂


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