The Music Meme: Day 13

Day 13: A song you sing in the shower


Here's another topic that is pretty darned broad. The shower is a great place for singing, thanks to the combination of bathroom acoustics, privacy, and the covering white noise of spray, but it has another advantage that not everyone really gets to enjoy: it's not instrument-friendly. Most of the time when I sing, I'm doing so while playing a guitar or (less occasionally) a piano. IOW, my choice of material is to some degree limited by what I can play on an instrument. I've played these instruments for decades and feel pretty comfortable accompanying myself on a wide variety of tunes, but there are innumerable songs I will not even attempt to play, let alone attempt while trying to sing.

The shower, however, takes all that out of the equation; it demands an a capella rendition. (I suppose you could have a radio or boom box playing in the bathroom, but what's the point? Do that and you might as well be singing in the car.) With the whole of my memory's musical library thus opened up for performance, the sky's the limit!

Well, not quite. There's still the problem of range. I am a tenor, though my voice has certainly become lower with the years, and my top end has moved down with it. I could reliably hit an A above middle C back in high school, and with preparation could often nail the B, but those notes are not ones I'd be comfortable trying for today. (My falsetto still goes up pretty high, though.) This puts a damper on some songs, no question, because my sense of pitch is tightly linked to the original that's running through my head; I may be able to transpose the key, but that takes effort, and who wants to expend effort in the shower?

So: I typically live or die with the original key. Most songs by male singers I can work around, especially as my low range has expanded over the years, but covering the songs of female singers can be tricky. With a soprano like, say, Kirsty MacColl, I typically just sing an octave lower. BONUS: this is how I discovered that most Kirsty songs are actually Elvis Costello songs written for a higher voice. Her lyrics really should have tipped me off, but if you sing them with the proper sneer, you suddenly realize the song sounds like something off of This Year's Model:

It wouldn't take a long time to explain what lies between us
And it wouldn't take a genius to work out what the scene is
It might just take a pilot to give you a natural high
But you're sending off those bottle caps for your free piece of mind.

Outside the soprano category, things get trickier. There aren't a lot of female singers who duplicate my range, though the late, lamented Maggie Roche sang in a contralto that fits me almost perfectly; in fact, it's actually uncomfortable for me at the low end, but she didn't spend a lot of time down there, thank god. The real problem is the altos; I would sing Aimee Mann songs all day if I could, but her range is almost perfectly set to give me problems. I can reach the lower half of her notes, but she'll leave me behind on the higher notes; I can get those high notes if I sing an octave lower, but then the floor drops out from under me when she goes back down. Basically, if I want to sing an Aimee song like "Deathly," I have to get my guitar, break out a capo, and move that key around by a couple three half-steps. It's not happening in the shower.

Still, now that I'm there in the spray, unburdened by an instrument and freed from most restraints on taste, what do I choose? Most hip-hop is unsatisfying to me in the shower, since part of the joy of the shower song is belting out pitches, rather than just working through lyrics. Similarly, roots rock or punk songs can be too repetitive, so I don't usually go for something like "Johnny B. Goode" or "Rockaway Beach." I want something a little more varied, a little more interesting. Thus, the shower is where I will most likely unleash a category I don't often explore elsewhere: show tunes.

The varying instrumentation and complex arrangements of many show tunes usually keep me from playing them on guitar, but in the shower, those bugs become features. I can cut loose on "Reviewing the Situation" without worrying that there's no klezmer clarinet to work with, or sing multiple parts in "L'Chaim!" without feeling guilty about switching from Tevye to Lazar Wolf in midstream. I can be both Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in "A Little Priest" if I damned well feel like it. 

And if I feel like going for that high B again? Fuck it. I'm going full Groff. Come in and get me, coppers.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 18, 2017 10:20 AM.

The Music Meme: Day 12 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Music Meme: Day 14 is the next entry in this blog.

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