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Singer-Plea aka a plea from a singer

A Singer's Plea

An article about performing-Arts and music-related topic

By Ralph Schatzki

for La CoffeeMelodie Suite

  • A Singer's Plea

  • It's tough to be a singer. I'm not looking for sympathy, necessarily, but a little understanding - just a little - would be nice.

    We have a passion - a compulsion - that cannot be denied. Everyone sings, and in a way that's part of the problem, but we have to sing.

    Other musicians are compensated for their time and labor. It is apparent to everyone that a performance entails a lot of work: learning and practicing music means hours and hours in a practice room beforehand. Can you imagine asking a pianist to perform for free? Or a trumpeter?

    Now, I have nothing against pianists and trumpeters - they deserve to make a living from their hard work; yet, when singers ask to be compensated they are looked at askance, as if they have incredible temerity. "How dare you want to be compensated to sing?" is the common reaction to a singer's request to be paid.

    Why is this?

    I think a couple of factors come into play, here: First, as I said, everyone sings. Some only hum in the car on the way to work, others are shower singers, some are amateur performers and (the masochistic) are professionals. Therefore, a lot of people believe that it is not a skill deserving remuneration.

    Can you play the oboe? Can you diagnose your strange rash? Can you dunk over Yao Ming? No? Well, that's why those who can get paid to do so.

    Never mind that there's a world of difference between Luciano Pavarotti and the tone deaf homeless guy on the subway.

    Now, of course it's not that simple. Luciano Pavarotti was paid very well to sing. And, of course, most of us have played basketball, but since we're not great it becomes a purely avocational exercise. The second factor, though, taken in conjunction with the first, I believe, explains the problem:

    Singers - unlike other musicians- deal with uniqueness all the time. Each of us has a unique instrument, and is therefore evaluated exclusively via subjective criteria. We can pretty much tell whether a basketball player is good, and we can even tell - to a significant degree, at least- which pianist is good. A basketball player either makes a shot or he doesn't. A pianist hits the right note or he doesn't (I know- there's more to it than just that).

    Content 2.0

    Now, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain were both great. I don't know who was greater, but any such debate has some semblance of objectivity since each put a standard-sized ball through a standard-sized hoop.

    Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein were tremendous pianists. I don't know who was better, but they both played the same instrument so such a discussion makes some sense.

    This rationale doesn't hold for singers. Some people think Maria Callas was the greatest singer who ever lived, and others can't stand to even listen to her. Can we really compare her, in any objective manner, to Zinka Milanov? They were both singers, yes, but they played different instruments. Maria played Callas, and Zinka played Milanov.

    Singers work harder, in fact, than other musicians, since we not only have to deal with the added component of language but are also subject to the vagaries of individuality. We have to build our instruments as well, in addition to performing on them, and they are constantly changing on top of that.

    And yes, we are "musicians." I can't tell you how many times I have heard the phrase "singers and musicians," as if we are exclusive of them. The worst example of this was at a concert where the organizers, solely as a means to prevent paying the singers, wrote in the program that they were "paying the musicians, but the singers were donating their voices!"

    If we hone our craft and instrument for years, and practice for hours to prepare for a performance, are we less-deserving than Michael Jordan, Maria Callas or Vladimir Horowitz? This is the hard work that turns an avocational performance into a professional one.

    Of course, I can practice for years and never get paid to play basketball, just as many singers can practice for years and not get paid, but there was never any question that Michael Jordan would get paid for his skills. I just don't want any and all discussions with singers to begin automatically with the assumption that their efforts aren't worthy of compensation.

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