You say “tomato”

I love analogies.  Sometimes I push them too far –beyond the point where they’re helpful illustrations—simply because I enjoy the game so much, of making one thing represent another.

Today I was thinking about tomatoes & voices.  Tomatoes don’t usually sing.  People don’t usually eat voices or put vocal sauce on their pasta, so in some respects it may seem like a pointless metaphor.

Speaking of voices & food, this is a bit like what a cow does, with its multiple stomach, digesting and digesting.  I am thinking out loud, my brain a bit like a cow. These are ruminations I guess, and far from finished.

For those of you who are young, the following assertion may come across as folk wisdom or science fiction.  But I believe my memories of tomatoes can be verified by tomato experts.  If any of you reading this actually are tomato experts please weigh in on the matter (I almost said “weigh in on tomato”…).

I have no idea what sort of credentials would define one as a tomato expert.

Once upon a time, there were many sorts of tomatoes.  Indeed this may still be so. One found different tomatoes in different parts of the world.  But in stores? One now sees a small assortment of tomatoes (and other items too).

I see this as a reflection of biodiversity: or lack of same.  Biodiversity is a vitally important attribute of an ecosystem.  The more different sorts of tomato? Well it’s not just about the flavour of tomato you eat, but that’s a start.  More importantly, diversity means that if one tomato is struck by a disease, we have something in reserve. When we have too few species to draw upon for our food or wood or any other need met by agriculture, we’re vulnerable.  A parasite, a virus, or a bad summer can be devastating; variety makes those challenges more survivable.

I have the impression –from what I see when I shop and from what I understand in my reading—that all the fruit looks the same, like clones.  I use that word advisedly, because I don’t claim to know the real genetics of our fruits & vegetables. But I have the impression sometimes, when I look around in the store, that we’re all experimental subjects, that corporations are rolling the dice with our collective future.

And maybe the same sort of thing is underway with voices, if my analogy has any merit.

Speaking of metaphors, we’re in a global village.  At one time regions didn’t know of one another.  Our cities & separate cultures were as distinct and remote as Galapagos Island was isolated from the rest of the world.  The quirky species found there –unfamiliar looking to the Europeans who voyaged there in the 19th century—were not inter-bred with the species we knew, and so they were different.  With the growing inter-connectedness of markets & ecologies, there are fewer and fewer distinct places.  Just as The Gap or McDonalds offer standard products no matter where you encounter their stores, so too, it would seem, with Mother Nature.  I can’t claim to have sampled tomatoes in Milan or Manchuria, but from what I understand, the local divergence is shrinking.

The assertion is to set up the analogy.

At one time voices were completely regional, different and distinct according to countries & cultures.  There was a particular sound that was partly a product of the phonetics of a language, partly due to local pedagogy.

I’m not saying that local diversity is gone, but voices are more and more uniform wherever you go, like the tomatoes.  Vocal pedagogy –thinking at least of the classical-operatic world, although I am willing to bet that it also applies to popular music—is no longer local & quirky, as more and more information is shared.

Voice teachers are like all teachers. One of their primary functions is to socialize their students, to create uniformity. Sorry if this hurts anyone’s feelings.

I am thinking about the quirky voice, the off-beat voice that doesn’t sound like everyone else, and how teachers respond.  Are teachers in a position to empower and encourage voices that are different & original? Or do they instead seek to persuade singers to abandon that original sound, to make them sound more like everyone else…?

I am feeling as though I’m in a world of clones, both in the produce section or when I watch singers on youtube, whatever the country of origin.

See for yourself.  It’s reassuring in some ways, when you hear kids from Korea or Argentina sounding like Americans.  What a big happy world.  But what happened to real diversity? I liked the regional sounds.

But is it any wonder that there’s a world-wide shortage of some voice-types?  We don’t have very many people who can sing the roles of Aida or Tannhaüser.  When someone comes along who might sing that way, they need to be careful, because singing teachers will do their best to teach them how to sing Pamina or Tamino: roles where we’re already overflowing with talent.

I am a bit of an agnostic.  I don’t believe teachers know how to teach a singer how to undertake one of those super-difficult roles (ie Wagner or Verdi).  The best singing teachers seem to be like good baseball coaches or good directors, staying out of the way, not too invasive.

I’ve been fortunate to encounter a few of those quirky original voices in my time.  But they’re rare, and it seems they’re getting rarer all the time.  I wonder, is their biggest accomplishment –those who manage to nurture such a voice to maturity—in resisting the tampering of voice teachers?

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