The Lost English Accent and Style in Singing and Composition

No one asks why Adele speaks like a Londoner and sings like an American.

I once put this down to the obvious commercial reason that to sing in a manner that pleases American audiences is to make your music potentially more successful on the worldwide stage.

But that is too simplistic a solution. Writing Music Mania: How the Victorians joined the cult of Classical Music and why England has never been the same since, made me think about about the effect of accent on musical style. For instance, listen to this:

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The Triumph of the Musicians (over Donald Trump)?

The scope of Tim Blanning’s The Triumph of Music is to show the musician at one time a patronised servant of his rich masters becoming (in the 20th century) lord of all. Blanning illustrates that the musician's shackles were cast off by people like Bono, who have the ear of politicians and Elton John, whose homosexuality was once counter-cultural and now is not. It is a book that thinks itself far cleverer than it really is, for Blanning is merely repeating the accepted narrative that has been imposed on the history of music. He disregards any history that has not already been told ad nauseam. We might be lulled into believing the model by the simple fact that we have heard the tune so many times before. But it creaks under the scrutiny of a few counter-examples:

  1. Is the signed artist today really so free from the shackles of patronage that he can say what he wants? No. If he oversteps the boundaries of “modern values”, he will be unsigned and out on his ear. So he is not free. 
  2. Is the unsigned but successful artist free? No. Because if he says something that offends his fan base, they will damn him to musical oblivion.
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Tavener: Man’s Requiem to himself

“After the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, choir singers from all over the world hurried to find copies of Song for Athene, which was sung at that service, so that they too could enter that ethereal, comforting, deeply personal and uniquely imagined sound world.”

John Tavener certainly did invent his own world, one in which it was possible to reconcile contradictions of belief. The man who struggled to express “universalism” in his music was born into a Presbyterian family. Those beliefs could have shaped him into a great Christian composer. Instead, he abandoned them to ride the waves of Catholicism, then the Orthodox church, and latterly to invoke Hindu and Muslim ideas within his pseudo-Christian framework.

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The Sound of Smut - Stephen Ward

This week Andrew Lloyd Webber launched the first taste of Stephen Ward the musical - based on the life of the pimp central to the Profumo affair.

Just as in Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber sought to make a hero out of Judas Iscariot, so here he says he wants to exonerate Stephen Ward:

It's about the life of this man - and how a man who was probably the most popular, most sought after, most urbane - a figure who you really wanted to meet if you were in London - ended up as a waxwork in the chamber of horrors in Blackpool. He was the fall guy for what happened in a whole series of events that spun out of control... but the more you look at the story the more it's quite clear that a lot of things that were alleged to have happened probably didn't happen.

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The non-Christian nature of music

There is no jihadist Bach-equivalent, writing Soli Deo Gloria at the top of stirring musical masterpieces. Islamist “religious zeal” leads to lack of music appreciation and the quenching of creativity. All Western music was officially banned in northern Mali in an August 22 decree issued “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” Morgan reports. The decree referred to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people that “Qur’anic verses must take its place.

from The Sound of Silence in Mali - November 1, 2012 - Faith J. H. McDonnell

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Dmitri Tiomkin and Maurice Jarre: Musical Terrorists?

On the way back from a family holiday, we spent 7 hours moving a few miles down the motorway. The police had decided to blow up a van in a suspected terrorist incident. It turned out that the owner of the van was not a terrorist but an antique dealer who had parked the van and gone about his lawful business. Either way, we had a very tedious journey and we had almost run out of music and audiobooks. What we had left was a 4 CD box set of the music of Dmitri Tiomkin.

If anything, Dmitri made a bad situation worse. After getting halfway through the first CD, we resorted to sitting in happy silence, counting the cars and watching people stretch their legs on the motorway. Anything but listen to it anymore.

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The Diamond Jubilee

Once upon a time, before musicians were "emancipated" from the stability of permanent work and board known as Patronage, the great and the wealthy who employed these musicians sometimes found themselves praised in music. And why not? They were paying for the privilege.

In sharp contrast we have the unusual presentation of music in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne. The concert included a variety of acts and a variety of music. It praised many things. But oddly enough, not the Queen herself. Eric Coates' Three Elizabeths Suite is perhaps the last music written specifically to honour a living Monarch. We can play music to a Queen. We can play music in the presence of a Queen. But music for a Queen is something else. In short, it is nothing like the specially composed Jubilee song called "Sing" (by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow).

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Mortality, Music and Culture

The death of Whitney Houston is yet one more victim of humanistic "music". I speak of the culture which separates music from the Christian faith and tells musicians that they are special, wonderful, gifted, extraordinary, remarkable people. Such praise is hollow because the musician knows

  1. how much hard work is involved

  2. how ordinary they are.

No one is that praise-worthy. Some are wealthy. Some are famous. Some are adored. But these three factors only exacerbate emptiness if they are not ignored and if the glory is not given to God.

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