So, here’s the thing—you don’t have to be a good singer! You don’t even have to be a mediocre singer! All you need is that you like to sing.
For some time now, as some of you know, I’ve blended my bass voice with mates on the risers of a large men’s chorus, the mighty Harbourtown Sound. And it’s been a comfort to me to know that no one listening would actually be able to pick my voice out of the throng. I mean, I do contribute to the wondrous wall of sound we produce collectively, but my solo voice is anonymous, much to my liking.
However, on my last birthday, which took me past my mid-mid-seventies, my wife and two daughters gifted me with a karaoke machine. Never in my wildest imaginings would I have thought to ask for such a thing—although, in my younger years, I did take part in more than one karaoke session, usually after a few beers in the company of good friends whose critical faculties were undoubtedly somewhat impaired. In fact, I think I remember stepping up in one or two open-mic sessions, as well.
As I recall, I was never asked back to the same venue twice.
Still, I’ve discovered I love my new machine. The internet is chock-full of karaoke versions of popular songs, arranged exactly as the original artists sang them, with the correct lyrics scrolling on the screen. Copyright restrictions apply only if one intends to use them for commercial purposes, which I most assuredly do not. After all, if it were my intent to sell any of the songs I record, I’d need a buyer, right?
Ballads are my preferred genre, some of them even older than I. A partial list of artists whose songs I have attempted includes Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, and Frank Sinatra.
Still to come, I hope: Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie Ford, John Gary, perhaps even Pavarotti! After all, I’m singing for an audience of one!
I’ve also essayed solo versions of songs by several different groups, including Abba, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Irish Rovers, and The Platters. Still on the horizon: The Everly Brothers, The Lettermen, The Seekers, and probably others I haven’t yet contemplated.
If you have assumed by now that my wife and daughters have inadvertently created a monster, I could hardly gainsay you. But I’m benign, I assure you.
My process is to sit with the machine, which is connected by Bluetooth to a song dialled up on my laptop. I sing it through a couple of times, adjusting the volume of the instrumentals as needed, boosting the mic volume up or down accordingly. There is a reverb feature, too, which enhances my voice on most of the songs.
If I manage at some point to sound okay to my own ears, I record the song and add it to my little library. Some of the songs, as you might imagine, are never recorded!
I quickly discover which of the songs will take me beyond my somewhat limited vocal range, and discard them. Even with my bass singing voice, I can manage a falsetto if not too high, so that helps a little. Breath control is the biggest single problem I encounter—running out of air before a phrase ends is never good, resulting in a cracked whimper that brings no joy to anyone ever.
Pitch problems are a concern, too, and I sometimes hear myself landing just short of the intended note—what a layperson might call singing flat. That’s also associated with running short of breath, and can be corrected with proper breathing intervals. I have yet to record even one song, however, without at least one pitchy problem.
But who cares!
I mentioned earlier that I sing for an audience of one. That’s not entirely true, though, because I do send along those songs I’ve recorded to my wife and daughters—it’s they, after all, who unleashed the monster. I also forward the recordings to my three long-suffering sisters, together with a plea that they resist the urge to tell me to stop. I suggest to them they have three choices—
- enjoy the song,
- endure the song, or
I implore them not to laugh as they listen (though I’ll never know if they do), nor compare me to the original artist. Rather, I ask that they think of this as one, perhaps forlorn, attempt to make music with only a modicum of talent, for no other reason than the sheer joy of making music.
And you, dear reader, might even try it yourself—in the shower, in your car—or, if you’re lucky, on your very own karaoke machine.