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Based on a few things I observed on Facebook last week, saying anything negative about the royal wedding is generally off limits. Consider this blog a safe zone for a few days.
I want to talk about music I have watched recently and get you guys talking about its strengths and weaknesses.
To start, a lot of people are talking about this piece from John Rutter that was performed at the Royal Wedding. If you have not watched it, take a few minutes:
Now, here is a clip you probably have not seen of pop star Jennifer Hudson singing a bit of “His Eye is On the Sparrow.”
Which one do you like better and why? And what are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
Now, some of you are wondering if I have lost my head because the answer seems obvious to you one way or the other. But here are some thoughts to kick this off.
1) Where is God? Well, I am not sure God is in either of these performances. John Rutter is either an agnostic or an atheist (depending on who you ask), the royal family is not exactly known to be God-fearing and Jennifer Hudson seems in this clip to mock her Christian past at least to some extent.
So, let’s leave that aspect of the debate out of this as well as the debate on motives and whether these performances are self-focused or God-focused. I have my suspicions, but they are only suspicions. There are cultural elements at play that I do not even understand that cloud my judgment.
2) The John Rutter piece seems to me to be like all John Rutter pieces: controlled, safe, pretty and fairly bland. It is interesting that Rutter gets the accolades he does in the US because strangely enough, he is more controversial in Europe and other parts of the world. Some actually think he does not write serious enough music. I think the opposite. I do not think his music connects with average people and I think it is important that music does. Is it well-written though from a technical standpoint? I think the answer is yes. But I still feel like something is missing.
3) Regarding the Hudson song, a few things jump out at me. First, I am a huge fan of African American church music; I think in general it is light years ahead of what we typically see in Caucasian churches. My one complaint about it is its current trend toward over-singing. The technical ornamentation that Hudson does here gets way excessive. It is like playing a piano arrangement with arpeggios the whole piece. Really, when someone has a voice like Hudson, you just want her to sing and only occasionally throw in the fancy stuff.
On the other hand, there are things about those few lines of His Eye is on the Sparrow that made me want to watch it several times (to the dismay of my wife). First, did you notice that Fallon’s band (who has probably never even played with Hudson) jumped in on the first line in the right key and then did a highly interesting and sophisticated arrangement? That might have been a planned thing, but it did not have to be. There are certainly musicians of the caliber to be able to pull that off.
And then, there was the fact that Hudson makes something of every syllable of every phrase. That is why you feel after watching her sing half a verse that you have watched something special. There is a lesson for all of us musicians in that.
And lastly, there was a connection there with the audience and the host that was surreal, especially when compared to stand-offish performance at the royal wedding.
So, those are some initial thoughts. What are yours?