Thursday, July 5, 2018

Once more... with feeling!

Apologies for the snarkfest.  This happens to be a topic on which I have strong opinions...

Today's second post comes courtesy of a hot topic in the Duggar Family News: Life is not all pickles and hairspray group.  It's actually been awhile since I last snarked on the Duggars, anyway...  I was thinking about writing a post about them, since Josiah married Lauren Swanson over the weekend.  But I don't know/care enough about the two of them to write an exhaustive post about their wedding. Maybe I'll have more to say when it airs on Counting On... if I bother to keep watching that show.

I may not care much about Josiah and Lauren at the moment, but I do care very much about music.  And I couldn't help but notice a topic about Josie Duggar's supposed singing chops.  Apparently, Michelle Duggar posted a video of Josie on their family's official blog featured eight year old Josie singing the "Star Spangled Banner".  In the video, we see Michelle looking adoringly at Josie as she "conducts" her singing into recording equipment.  John David is shown looking bored as fuck, while several other sisters seem rather forlorn.

Now... I have blogged about Josie Duggar's singing before.  I think for her age, she's quite a good singer.  She definitely has some potential, especially if the Duggars get someone professional to train her.  I think a few of the Duggar kids have decent singing voices and I respect the fact that Ma and Pa Duggar placed emphasis on teaching them how to play instruments.  I know several of the sisters play piano and they have all been taught the basics of violin.  Jana plays harp.

However...  there is a difference between being taught how to play an instrument and developing skills and actually being musically talented.  I do think many of the Duggar kids are skilled musicians, but I don't think they are particularly musically gifted.  There is more to being musical than possessing skill.  Great music has to come from the heart, and I think that's where the Duggars are lacking.  They have the head-- skill-- for it, but not the heart-- emotion or connection to what they're doing.  Consequently, most of their musical efforts leave me cold.

Anyway, many people were posting in that thread.  One person included a video of three Duggar siblings singing.

Here are Jinger, Joy, and Jason singing acapella in three part harmony.   

I don't think they do too badly.  I'm kind of impressed by Jason, actually.  I have found through my many exploits on SingSnap that a lot of men have no idea how to harmonize.  I learned from reading Anne Murray's memoir that some people flat out can't do it, even if they can otherwise sing on key.  There's some reason why they can't deviate from the melody.  I hear Jason and Jinger harmonizing fairly well to Joy's melody, although I don't think this particular performance is very interesting.

Compare their performance to the one below, done by David Wesley, who harmonizes with himself.  When he sings, it's not just on key and in perfect harmony.  He sounds like he means the words-- like he's considered what they mean and how they should sound.  The performance comes from the heart and that's what makes it art rather than just noise.  While I don't particularly go for contemporary Christian music, this performance gives me goosebumps.  The Duggars' performance does not inspire at all.  Or... at least it doesn't inspire me.

One guy doing many parts very impressively.  He sounds like he means it, too.

Where I got into trouble, though, was when I commented on a video of Jinger playing "O Holy Night" on the piano.  Here's the performance.

Jinger seems to have attended the same Liberace School of Music that Erin Bates Paine attended.  She bangs out many dreadful embellishments and seems to have a lead foot on the pedal.

Erin Bates Paine plays much better than Jinger does, but in that same overdone, overwrought, overembellished style.  That poor fiddle player doesn't stand a chance.  There are parts of their performance where the fiddle player can hardly be heard at all.  Part of being a good musician is sensitivity, both toward the music itself and other musicians.  Share the wealth, Erin.  It's not just about you.

Fair disclosure.  I don't play piano myself.  I did take lessons many years ago, but decided I didn't like practicing.  I was a kid and my mom wasn't strict, nor was she interested in teaching me herself.  I can play a little by ear, but I'm not at all skilled.  I wish I had stuck with piano or perhaps another instrument.  However, I will fully admit to being lazy, and singing is what comes naturally to me.  I don't have to work too hard at it.  I have a lot of respect for people who do stick with their lessons, especially if they learn to play well.  My mom was a church organist for over fifty years, my father was a singer, and several other relatives are musicians.  I even have a cousin who is a professional musician in Nashville.  Music is in my blood.  

I think Jinger has obviously studied piano for a long time and is moderately skilled.  However, I cringed when I listened to her play the clip above.  For one thing, I am not a fan of extremely embellished arrangements, even when someone plays well.  Jinger fouls up a number of notes in the above video and doesn't seem to approach her playing with any sensitivity or feeling.  It's like she's been taught to bang on the piano as loudly as possible, fucked up notes be damned.  Why she and her ilk would not prefer a simpler arrangement, I don't know.

I am a fan of the O'Neill Brothers' piano pieces.  I think their arrangements are tastefully done and beautifully played... with feeling and sensitivity.  No need for trilly scale patterns and finger gymnastics, which are mostly about showing off, anyway.

I realize this might come entirely from my own personal taste.  For example, I recognize that Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand are very gifted singers, but I've never particularly enjoyed listening to either of them.  Given a choice, I'd choose Barbra over Celine, especially her simpler ballads like "The Way He Makes Me Feel" or "Songbird".  But neither of them really have the warmth and sensitivity that hits me in the feels the way some other singers do.  Bill will tell you that when I hear someone playing something with passion and real feeling, I respond with literal tears and goosebumps.  It doesn't have to be a famous person playing, either.  This reaction happens fairly often when I pass street musicians.  That's when I get Bill to drop some euros in their instrument case(s).

I made this video of pictures of Venice a few years ago.  The music is by Piotr Tomaszewski, a busker playing guitar in Florence.  His playing stopped me dead in my tracks and made me cry.  I came home with his two available CDs.

Anyway, the woman who shared the videos of the Duggars playing is obviously a fan of the Duggars.  She didn't like my comment about Jinger's playing.

I like how the OP corrects my comment, as if her opinion is a fact.

I guess whether or not one thinks Jinger plays well is a matter of opinion.  I'm sure even the most highly regarded musician has his or her detractors.  However, as someone whom some (besides me) have said is musical, I don't think Jinger played that particular rendition of "O Holy Night" well.  She may do other pieces better, though.  I don't know...  It just seems to me that no one taught her that music is supposed to be expressive and it isn't just about being loud and/or fancy.  It's a matter of being tasteful and sensitive... which I will admit, I'm not always in every realm.  But music is one of my passions and I think I know of what I write.

I can carry a tune, at least...

One of my favorites... what the hell.

So, while I think the Duggars have skill, and some even have some talent, I don't think they are particularly impressive musicians.  I do like Jinger-- in fact, she may be my favorite of the Duggar clan-- but I wouldn't buy her album.  However, I will admit that opinions are like assholes... everybody has one, and everybody thinks everyone else's stinks...


  1. You're kinder than I am regarding the Duggars'' musical exploits. I know you're hearing the same things I am hearing but are just more diplomatic. Their singing is painfully pitchy, and whoever sang the melody (Joy) has a grating voice. The key change nearly killed me.

    The harmony fairy apparently bypassed many people. The oldest Lennon sister, Dianne (who aged out and no longer performs) can only sing melody. Most people can sing a high harmony because whatever is the highest part is dort of a de facto melody. In fact, some of such people can't even ding the actual melody if a higher harmony is being sung with it. Most people with basic dining skill could eventually be taught the basics of dining harmony if anyone had the time and if everyone involved were willing to put in the time. The technique involves first teaching them polyphonic harmony parts where they're dining not just different notes but also different words and rhythms (stuff like the classic parts for songs such as "Down by the Old Mill Stream" with echoes). Rounds are also good for this. Next you teach them a harmony part as a melody before they learn the actual melody (something like "Tell Me Why" works, but any song with a melodic harmony works. My mom used the English melody for "Away in a Manger" with this technique for a children's choir, then taught them the melody much later. Most of the kids could then sing either part.) of course not everyone will be able to do it, just like not everyone can sing on key, but most could learn if they were instructed properly.

    Regarding Jinger's piano playing, I don't quite know where to start. She massacres a lively Carol, You're correct that she essentially puts her foot on the damper pedal and hardly ever releases it. I would say that Erin Bates is skilled but unpleasant to hear. Her embellishments are almost entirely right-hand scales or inverted scales(modes). That's almost no variation.

    The violinist appeared not to have much of an ear. Actually maybe she did but just wasn't skilled enough to play in tune. Violin in really hard in that regard. Some people CAN hear the pitchiness but lack the skill not play the notes in tune on a consistent basis and would never get through a song if they didn't just keep going. The only part that was remotely OK was the very end. Erin Bates' repetitive scale embellishments didn't iimprove the overall effect by much, but she at least played accurate scale patterns. Jinger plays as though she never learned to play scales even with her right hand. That would stillmprobably be OK, but then a pianist shouldn't use scales as a basis for constant improvisation if she doesn't know how to play scales. Jinger is horrible.

    The boy (whichever one he was; Jason?) was the most impressive of the Duggar singers. That's not saying a whole lot, but he really wasn't half bad. If he were singing with better singers, it would have sounded fine.

    Duggar lovers would hate me as much as they hate you.

    1. Bwahahaaha! I think a lot of people are impressed by glitzy shit like embellishments, but if they aren't done well, there's really no point. Personally, I prefer simpler arrangements, especially when they are played skillfully.


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