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Appalled by Article in inTune magazine featuring Florence & the Machine

The California Music Educators sponsor a monthly magazine called inTune, which is geared towards middle and high school students and focuses mainly on popular music.  While I don't claim to be a pop music expert, I have heard Florence & the Machine, and cannot believe that they would be featured on an article about learning vocal techniques!!  Florence has possibly the worst vocal technqiue I have ever heard.  She basically screams pitches that are rarely, if ever, in tune.  The idea that a music education magazine would endorse this group and encourage young musicians to listen and emulate her style is sad and plain wrong. We must have standards for our young people's music education, and this is the bottom of the barrel, in my opinion.  With the recent issues that Adele has had, we should be emphasizing proper technique and vocal health, not encouraging banchee-style vocalizing!!  :0)   I've written to the publisher, Angelo Biasi at abiasi(a), and would encourage anyone who feels similarly to do the same.  
Replies (18): Threaded | Chronological
on November 30, 2011 9:14am
As a middle school teacher I am constantly stunned by my students listening habits and what they think is "good" music.  It is a disturbing trend that seems to be worse every year.  The "pop" music culture is rampant with bad singing, bad technique and dangerous singing habits.  I am open to suggestions to convince students of this age that this singing is not positive.  I have spent the last ten years encouraging and teaching good vocal technique and it seems sometimes to fall on deaf ears.  It is a very difficult battle when they only see me for 55 min a day and they listen to the other for hours on end.  Yes, some listen and go on to college on scholarship and are involved in honor choirs etc.  It is just a majority still think this is good singing.  I will write to this editor, but am open to suggestion on ways to curb this trend!
JoAnn Barker
Owasso 8th Grade Choir
Owasso Community Choir
on December 1, 2011 12:36pm
You are right about the tunefulness - or lack thereof.   I haven't heard of this singer so I went to youtube and listened.  The studio recordings have been engineered so that she sounds in tune.   The live performances are appalling beyond belief.   
I haven't read the article but if the out-of-tune singing I heard just now is anything to go by I can understand why you reacted the way you did.
on December 2, 2011 7:13am
I use these pop singers to show bad techniques, like yelling verses control, abuse of the vocal cords, shallow breathing, etc. I want my singers to realize that these popular singers may have a short career, and may permanently damage their voice for the rest of their lives.(like Adele)  Whereas if you (my students) contiue to sing properly and take care of your voice, you may be able to sing for your entire life.
on December 2, 2011 12:01pm
You have many choices with which to agree or not. While music is not so precise as arithmatic, there are borders beyond which a good educator would not go. Is it not the business of music teachers, particulatly in the lower grades, to stick to fundamentals. The equipping of students with some voice technique, theory awareness, and good basic songs, it seems to me, to be comparable to the learning of the multiplication tables in a math context. There are absolutes or princiiples that should be in the psyche of the young before launching into the sometimes
corrupt world of rock, pop or whatever. I think that it is the job of teachers to foster taste for the decent literature and resources that are out there.
ChoralNet is a wonderful "ministry" to our needs and curiosity.  
Ed P 
on December 2, 2011 6:29pm
I think you meant "It is the business of music teachers, particularly at the lower grades,  to stick to fundamentals"
on December 3, 2011 5:21am
We often confuse an aesthetic judgement with the musical judgement. The musical judgement is "for what ever kind of music it is, is it well crafted?" and not: "this is bad music because I don't like it or it doesn't suit my purpose." Using these criteria it is possible to say that there is some good rap music and some really terrible contemporary church music. i.e. Sing to the Mountains Regardless of one's affinity for the style, it is poorly crafted as the declamation is backwards several times. How about the hymn Lobe den Herren - Praise to THE Lord. Or how about "His yoke is easy" (his burTHEN) from Messiah/Handel. We run the risk of doing a great disservice to ourselves and those around us when we as muscians/educators condemn certain styles/genres as bad simply because we don't like them.
on December 3, 2011 6:36am
No fan, here, of the style of music represented by "Sing to the Mountains" (and believe me, I've been living with this stuff for over 40 years as a Catholic church musician!) BUT much of the issue of the "really terrible contemporary church music" is one of understanding the difference between the song and the director's/singer's approach to it.  Even though "Lobe den Herren" is usually sung "Praise to THE Lord" rather than "PRAISE to the LORD" (keep going with the verse and you hear what usually keeps happening "...the ALmighty the KING of creAAAAAAAtion") because....? It's usually done in three, rather than one; so guess what happens to the words' emphasis?  Do it in one and see what happens to the words!  So I'm not disagreeing with you entirely, Edwin, but I think we directors need to go back to school and look at what we ask to have happen in whatever piece of music we're taking to our congregations (or schools, or whatever) starting first with the words, then with the rhythm, and then with the notes!  I know, we don't usually do it that way, but it just might work and turn some of these otherwise objectionable-seeming pieces of music into a worthy or worthier effort.  Incidentally, I went to the YouTube site you referenced for "Sing to the Mountains", and I agree that the performance (if that's what you want to call it) was appalling on a number of levels - but there was another performance on the sidebar next to it that was frankly pretty lovely - done by a group that understood what the piece of music was looking for - and as I said, I'm no fan of this music.  We must be very careful about condemning the worth of a piece of music - perhaps not for me or the choir that I direct, but useful, perhaps even uplifting, for the next group.  Remember, as much as we may not like the music of Dufford or Haas or Haugen or that ilk, there are LOTS of people who will snarl at Palestrina, de Victoria, and Byrd!
Dominus vobiscum!
on December 6, 2011 7:05am
Edwin, I like the incisive point of your first two statements.  --Lucy
on December 2, 2011 4:15pm
Thanks, but please read more caregully. I did not say It is not...I put it in the form of a question to soften the statement - I wrote " Is it not.....which means Isn't it....
This formulation might stimulate thought more than a statement would.
I hope you dug my thought about the fundamentals being comparable to the, what we used to call, "times tables."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
on December 3, 2011 6:49am
True, but ususally a question ends with a question mark. I "misread" your statement on the first pass as well. Our brains will make "corrections" and this is a case where that happened and your sentence was misread.
on December 3, 2011 10:53am
Ha. I just happened to be watching the Nov. 19 Saturday Night Live where Florence and the Machine was on. I was shocked at the poor intonation, the pushing of the chest voice too high and then not quite making it to the intended pitch. I am not objecting to the music but to the singing. Then I saw this thread! She is a TERRIBLE singer. Amazing. 
on December 3, 2011 4:34pm
   What exactly did the article say that raised your ire?  Since the magazine is primarily about pop music, which you'll agree has a much different aesthetic than classical choral singing, I'm curious to know what they said about her with regard to vocal technique, which is what you said was your original objection.  If they're holding her up as an example to follow for classical singing, then, yes, that's off base.  If they are talking about her work in pop-soul-indie rock, then it would be an interesting discussion.
    I've heard her performances online and on TV, and have been impressed with her range, her clarity and her passion in her singing.  She reminds me of Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick and Carly Simon -- all of whom you could criticize for faulty vocal technique but who are soulful, thoughtful artists with something to say.  Since contemporary commercial vocalism is based in chest voice, it's not surprising that she stays primarily in a chest-based mix, and when she pops up into head register it's a sweet clear sound.  As for singing out of tune, sometimes it's hard to tell whether she's just pushing the voice into intonation troubles or if the dissonance is intentional in the contruction of the song, and sometimes she seems to put the desire to give the lyrics a dramatic delivery ahead of perfect intonation.
    Of course it would be interesting to hear how she would develop as a singer with some training and work on the technique.  Maybe she does study...maybe she will find herself wanting to do more and then seek out a teacher, like other pop singers have done.  Meanwhile, she's building on the success of her first album and achieving some recognition, such as the cover story of this magazine.
   If you object to Florence Welch's performances, what pop singers would you recommend to your students?  Who would you prefer they listen to in the contemporary commercial genres? 
on December 4, 2011 6:21am
Speaking about vocal technique, and comparing Florence to someone like Joni Mitchelll, I don't ever, ever recall hearing Joni being 'pitchy', or playing at being pitchy just for effect... 
One of the things she is known for is her very true pitch and ease at singing (especially in her earlier recordings, aka "Blue").
Even with her later (and much smokier), lower voice on more recent recordings, I don't recall pitchiness or pushing her voice way out of tune to be an issue.
Too much of a 'musician's musician', and a stunning performer.  There are many reasons why, for example, jazz musicians love working with her. 
I can't see much comparison between her and Florence at all...  I found the comparison to be rather startling, to be honest.
Jenny Crober
(proud Canajan/Canadian, and long-time Joni Mitchell fan)
P.S. I CAN see a real comparison in vocal style between Florence and Annie Lennox, but Annie Lennox, to my mind, is a far, far better in the stratosphere somewhere...
on December 5, 2011 8:25am  voice teacher who has worked with young people - in the private studio and choral classroom - for over 20 years - this discussion piqued my curiousity. 
First, I have learned through teaching that many people (especially youth) mean something different when they say "vocal technique"..   We may understand it as awareness and management of breath/air flow, placement, etc.   They seem to understand it as the various ways - creatively - that one can use their voice.   Who knows where the writer may have been coming from on this?  More on this at the bottom.  First I offer the videos I found, and my response:
The first thing that popped up on my search was an interview.  If you listen carefully, you can hear the glottal stop as a frequent repeated pattern in her speaking voice.  This habit likely affects her singing.  (It is a closing of the vocal cords, and through tension, can impede the flow of air that's necessary to vibrate the cords naturally.)  I hear this with some singers - certainly not all - in many different regional accents - British (Classic and Cockney), American "country", American southern, Australian, etc.  It is not really any regional speech sounds (vowel, etc.) that are the root here.  It is the habit of closing the throat.
Here's an example of a song where she might use a strong tone for theatrical/meaning effect, as Nancy Curry mentioned.    Here she seems to be better-coached; her "mix of head resonance with chest resonance" seems reasonably effective and not terribly damaging.  (It may not open for you, but it is supposed to be the song "No Light, No Light", (Youtube listing) , which sounds like"no lie" I'm not sure of the title...)
Here her breath seems unsupported and yes, the tone sounds like yelling and and is pitch-questionable - even though it may be for effect..  I hear the same pattern in some pop-country, and some lesser-trained Broadway singers..
So, I do affirm that an article about her singing could easily cause confusion.  Perhaps the first thing we need to discuss with our singers is,  "What is your[their] understanding of the phrase, "vocal technique?" 
Florence seems to have strong instincts as to the  message/effect  she wishes to impart, but would likely  benefit from a good teacher-coach, and two years off to concentrate on her technique as we speak of it - breath management, placement, etc.   This could enable her to sing what she envisions, but with better health, sound, pitch, respect from the music community, and  overall effectiveness.  It could be said that singers like Florence need good technique (our definition) for their good techniques (popular concept meaning creative effects)  :)
I envision a lesson plan that, after discussion, would place a multiple-choice chart in the student's hands - as they listen to each song segment, check whether they are aware that the following were present, and to what degree:  Breath support, open throat, allowing air flow, good pitch, etc.  Sometimes we can learn just as much by observing what not to do... :)
I also affirm James Maroney's recommendation of conversations as to  what is good and why we do/don't like it.  It seems that if we got to the bottom, sometimes, they "like" it simply because a friend excitedly introduced it to them...which gives us a hint as to how we can introduce pieces.  :)
  Karen S., what do you think?
Maybe the magazine will publish selections from this discussion and other relevant forums...and see what the students think. ..?
on January 8, 2012 4:37pm
I often jump to the conclusion that if someone has vocal problems, they must be misusing/abusing their voices.  I have listened to some of Adele's songs and don't necessarily find that her technique is that abhorrent.  Florence.....well, like others above, I think she is inconsistent and probably does some pretty terrible things to her voice.  I had an upsetting situation with a student who is trying to learn proper belting technique.  She almost always mixes and has a very healthy tone.  However, she went to a master class with a musical theatre/pop singer who told her that in the particular song she was singing needed a true belt.  Okay......then the "expert" proceeded to tell my student that although she had never studied voice, she always found that the only way to build a muscle is to fatigue it!  I went nuts!  I told my student that the expert didn't know squat and besides the obvious fact that the vocal mechanism isn't a "muscle" the last thing a 16 year old should do is push her voice to fatigue.  So....there are all sorts of influences that our students face and we just have to stick to our guns about proper breath and placement, etc.
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