Saturday, December 11, 2010

In The Key of Suck

I blame Glee. When the ultra-popular teenage soap started last fall, glee clubs were a minor and half-remembered slice of high school, a place for the musical-theatre nerds to blow off steam between angsty productions of The Secret Garden; now it's a place for middle-aged soccer moms to showcase their mediocrity during the holiday season.

Let me back up. I occasionally do some ushering for the Ryerson University theatre. It's a good gig: show up, rip tickets, watch a show, and get paid. Last year I lucked into the holiday dance showcase, and this fall I worked the Toronto Film Festival (hot tip: Let Me In isn't as good as its Swedish source material, and the hipster romance Blue Valentine is unbelievably boring!). Tonight, I ushered in a thousand friends and family members to a local singing choir - I'll omit the name, to save the well-meaning participants more embarrassment than they already suffered - and watched as they butchered nineteen radio hits.

They were a sweet bunch, in their black knee-length dresses and their black collared shirts. During one number, they donned sunglasses. It was cute! But they weren't talented. No, their talents lay elsewhere. I'm sure some of them are great drivers, or wonderful at decorating cupcakes. I have no doubt that some of them are experts on, like, oral sex, or Michael Caine impressions. But were they talented songbirds? They, unfortunately, were not.

Clearly influenced by Glee, the group included Rolling Stones numbers and closed with the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing", which both opened and closed the first season of Glee. This was right after they massacred "Your Song", the Elton John classic that my parents favour. I love that song; this version was offensive in its terribleness. Other selections included Sly and the Family Stone and the Black Eyed Peas (this choir was fully 100% white, it should be noted), and a stiff version of "Hide and Seek" that left me scratching my head.

So, here's the problem. I like singing. I like it when adults sing - many of the CDs I buy are by adults. I like it when children perform, because children are usually pretty cute, and cuteness gets you a lot of mileage with me. But if you're an adult and you want to sing in public, you should do what other adults do when they want to sing in public: get blind drunk and go to a karaoke bar. You don't rent a hall and charge your favourite people money to come watch you clap your way through "Go For A Soda." That's silly.

Professional choirs are something else entirely. When you have to audition to get in, it changes it from being the 40+ equivalent of those Little League games where everyone gets a "Participant!" ribbon, into a legitimate artistic endeavor. But if you can just show up? If the only obstacle for joining is buying a knee-length black dress? That's sort of...lame. I'm not saying don't sing. I like singing, even though I'm horrible - I have this reedy little voice, and I've listened to so much Fever Ray at this point that I sing with a Swedish accent - but just reconsider joining a league of equally middle-of-the-road performers. It's just a little embarrassing.

Look: if you're a good singer, audition for a grown-up choir; you know, one with standards. And if you can't get in, then maybe singing isn't for you. There's no shame in being bad at something. I'm no good at stock car racing, so I don't spend a lot of time on the ol' oval. "But it's not hurting anyone!" I can hear you saying disapprovingly. Yes. It's hurting. It hurts to have to lie ("That was so good!"), and hear your favourite songs ruined. These men and women have other talents, I'm sure of it. Maybe it's time to showcase something they're actually, um, good at. But I know this is a pipe dream...I'll see you next year, at the 2011 Holiday Showcase!

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