SingStrong has embraced competition as one of many opportunities to motivate singers to strive for their best. Yet for many, declaring any meaningful expressiveness the work
Still, most people, from trained critics to elementary school kids, have a sense that all art is not created equal. There is some way of measuring one artistic creation against another.
We start with gut associations. These are subconsciously assimilated cultural norms.
We find that something sounds familiar when it shares traits with other music we know and like. Should the result sound too familiar, we may view the work as unoriginal or predictable. Should it break with all expectation and tradition, we find it meaningless, formless, frustrating, messy or confusing.
As an example, many untrained listeners are challenged by the dense harmonies of jazz or the atonality of some contemporary classical music. However, these are by no means fringe art forms because trained listeners –trained either formally or through familiarity- not only appreciate such music, but may be uniquely impassioned by its complexities.
Competitions like SingStrong do present the impossible question of determining whether great barbershop is better or worse than great beatboxing. But as a practical matter, it rarely comes down to that.
Time after time, judges must choose whether charismatically performed simple music is better than less charismatically performed complicated music. (By charisma, I mean the overall impact achieved by the combination of musical and personal expressiveness, not the winning smile of the performer, however charming that might be.)
Of course, the choice needn’t come down to this. Complex music could be delivered with the greater charisma. But, it doesn’t seem to play out this way in reality. And there are logical reasons for this.
All other things being equal, simpler music allows performers extra rehearsal time to work on performance and showmanship. These performers get to apply significant energies to “selling” their sound rather than only accurately producing it. They get time to become comfortable.
To master complex music, far greater amounts of time need to be devoted to pitch and rhythm. With simpler music, that time can be devoted to dynamics and articulation, musical elements which more easily translate to an energetic, polished and dramatic performance. Complex music demands at least as much, if not more charisma from its performers in order for its impact to be as powerful. Failing that challenge is fatal.
The group that most successfully achieves the very goals that they set for themselves through their musical selections is the group most likely to win a competition. If two groups achieve the same level of success, the one attempting the more challenging, original and entertaining material will most likely be the victor. It is the greater achievement and the riskier gambit.