Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1331 words

Apology: This entry could have done with some extra editing to be more concise and structured. I didn't have time for it, though.

I have just been to a concert with songs by Brahms, Hindemith and Lauridsen being performed by a choir in a church. Now I don't like choirs I dont like churches and I don't like non-professional music performances. But still I went as Jan-Philipp's girlfriend and a colleague from the department were singing. And practicing the odd bit of open-mindedness, can't hurt too much either.

Without being an expert, I think their singing was decent, but in total I still didn't like it too much. So let me get down and dirty and try to make a few points.


I severely dislike choirs. Ever since I was forced to sing in our school choir just because I chose to take music classes rather than art. The first problem with this is that unlike in subjects like languages, maths or science, once it comes to practical topics like singing (or sports), teachers don't actually teach. They'll just tell everyone to do things and hope the result will be OK on average. As long as there are a few people around who knew how to do it properly from the beginning, not much of an effort will be made to get everybody else up to standard.

Of course another significant factor was that I absolutely didn't want to sing. So I didn't exactly ask for extra lessons. And the third, most upsetting, factor was that most songs sung in choirs are of christian ideology, which I do not want to support. Every year for christmas we had to practice and perform a mass – and all cuteness (and tastiness) of an 'agnus dei' aside, this means singing (in Latin) things I strongly disagree with. That sucked. I always envied the guy who got away with playing the bass drum just because he said he couldn't sing a mass because he's jewish. Being the little hypocrite wankers that they are they wouldn't give me something else to do although I'm atheist.

So that's my general dislike of singing in a choir. But it's not all. Being in such a choir also means that most people can't sing. It's not only that we got wrong notes all along but also a severe lack of trained voices. And training the voice, its strength, breathing technique &c seems to be what distinguishes a tolerable speaking voice from a good singing voice. So, yep, there is no force in those voices…

While I have left the wonderful world of singing (except when driving a car, on my own, with loud music on, perhaps), there are people who don't because they actually like it. Of course they're also likely to be better at it than I am. At least in this part of the world, many of those people seem to be of the variety that I like to refer to as 'good christians' – regardless of their belief – i.e. people who are very wholesome and polite; people who think that perhaps drinking sparkling sugar water instead of apple juice is a bit naughty (something I may actually agree with for completely different reasons); people who don't dare to actually apply pressure when shaking your had – making it fell as if you're shaking piece of dead meat; also, they tend to be incredibly boring. In short: Those are not the people I want to spend my time with.

As a corollary of that, perhaps, it follows, that while they actually may have had some training and aren't bad at singing – they don't seem to have the force and tension that you see in people who are really good at singing.

There could be more points made here as I had an hour during the concert to come up with them. – Directing my misanthropy against people is something I easily do when I can't do anything else and whatever I am watching isn't holding my imagination firmly enough to keep me fully occupied. I think I'll just not elaborate on this more as I'd mean I have to type more.

Did I mention that singing doesn't benefit people's looks?


Concerning the different voices in a choir: Soprano seems to require a lot of skill as they stand out quite easily and mistakes will be quite obvious. Personally I used to be relgated to doing a little ho-hum in bass. Fun debates can be had regarding which voice is the 'better' one. I like to take the stance that at least in rock music, higher pitched voices are crucial. Just imagine Hot Hot Heat's singer having a basso voice – or even Robert Plant, eeek.

In the middle there was a girl playing the recorder. Now that is a painful instrument. It was the first I played myself – and my parents hated it so much that my brother learned the xylophone when starting to learn playing instruments. It is possible to make a recorder (presumably not named that way in a professional context) sound good. I have heard people play baroque music during my civil service regularly. And their skills resolved my doubts that any nice sound could come out of such an instrument. Nonetheless, it seems to take a lot of skill to achieve a decent sound and that sound just wasn't present in the performance I attended. In other words: Just because you play the recorder better than Sven-S. Porst, doesn't mean you should do so in public.


Finally, there was another girl playing the piano. While again, she was much better than myself, she played at least one piece by Chopin that I have heard many times before and she didn't seem to be as much at ease with the pieces as I am used to – hurrying over bits where you start to think "Well, if it's a waltz, why not ignore that fact that we're sitting in a church listening to a concert right now and play it in a way that people could dance to it?"

On the other hand, my stance towards pianos in old music is that "it's always better with a piano". I like the sound, so I won't complain too much. It seems a little different for rock/pop music: To begin with, they don't have proper pianos there usually (Lambchop did), and pianos aren't really rock'n'roll instruments, are they?


Now, am I bitter or unfair or what? I may be but I don't think that caused my reaction. These days, the whole situation seems to be unfair: We have a few decades worth of concert recordings by the greatest orchestras and interprets of the those decades. And we have almost instant access to them: If I'm lucky, amazon will deliver a CD next day.

Buying the CD will mean I can listen to these recordings as often as I want, when I want, having the impression that I am sitting right in front with the orchestra and so on… And compared to the price of getting a comparable seat at a live performance, even the price tag of an overpriced CD is reasonable.

Having those recordings at my disposal means that almost every concert I am going to listen to in a small town environment, or given by non-professionals will be not up to the standard. It's not that the people performing are bad. They may even be doing extremely well, considering their resources. But once you've listened to the other recordings, it is hard to ignore those and not compare.


What's the best way to refer to different kinds of music. The term 'classical' music seems to be much abused and have different meanings, referring to either an epoque or a section in the record store. In German there are the terms U(nterhaltungs)-Musik and E(rnste)-Musik, which are equally misleading as those notions certainly change with time.

February 16, 2004, 14:25

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