:: Yodeling

Reading and Writing

Thursday, December 8th, 2016


It’s been a while since I gave up the seasonal tenor repertoire, which means that while the cup of my younger colleagues runneth over with Bach and Handel I generally get December off.  January’s usually a pretty fallow month too so I have no excuse for not getting down to some writing. This process begins with as many displacement activities as possible (of which this is one). This year I’ve cleared the garden, laid a landing floor and even painted skirting boards before getting down to a kind of writing audit. It’s been a very busy performing year so my authorly optimism of a year ago turned out to be rather misplaced. I’m still struggling with a title, and with what sort of tone to adopt. I don’t want to alienate any more readers than absolutely necessary, but I can’t avoid some uncomfortable truths about the singing profession. I fully intend to get down it very soon…

I’ve been encouraged by the dozen or so publications which Google Alerts tell me have quoted Vocal Authority over the last year.  It’s bit weird given that it’s way past its sell by date and slightly disappointing that none of my more recent stuff has had such an impact – but I hope the sequel will be worth waiting for. The VA references are mostly in journal articles on topics ranging from folk music, musical theatre, jazz and ensemble singing to feminism and cultural theory, most published in the USA but with several from the UK and significant pieces in German and Finnish. I wouldn’t normally have the temerity to compare myself with Roland Barthes but one thing we have in common is that both Vocal Authority and ‘The Grain of the Voice’ are primarily critiques of classical singing, yet both have found relevance in other sorts of music and are mostly ignored by the readership the authors had in mind.

In the same sort of vein I’ve also been referred to in two new books: Tracey Thorn’s Naked at the Albert Hall (Virago 2015) and Timothy Wise’ Yodeling and Meaning in American Music (Mississippi University Press, 2016). Penny my wife is a big Tracey Thorn fan and I know many EBTG albums pretty much from memory so that was a real (and totally unexpected)) treat. Tim Wise takes me to task for not mentioning yodelling in either Vocal Authority or the Cambridge Companion to Singing, but Neil Sorrell and I get a Brownie point for a yodel mention in our History of Singing. I quite often  get complaints about what I’ve left out. The tenor book, inevitably perhaps, doesn’t cover everyone’s favourite tenor, and some of the more exotic singings of the world have tended to slip below the radar. But it still amazes me that anyone reads my stuff at all, just as I’m always surprised and delighted when I come across someone who’s bought my albums, and I don’t begrudge the complaints.

I can recommend both Naked at the Albert Hall and Yodeling and Meaning if you’re looking for last minute Christmas presents. I’m flattered to be quoted in both of them – not least because in their different ways they’re both great reads and a long way from the dry well of academia.

Merry Christmas all!