Friday, May 3, 2013

A Small Experiment, Concluded

We got about a foot of snow today (Thursday, as I write this)!  In May!  What kind of garbage is this?  Schools were canceled, travel warnings issued, and I spent something like two hours shoveling (I swear, I've spent the better part of three decades living in white Christmas territory, and this was the heaviest, soggiest snow I've ever seen).  Summer can't come soon enough.

But you aren't here to listen to me whine about having to dig the snowboots out just a week after I put them away for the year; you want to know where I'm going with Wednesday's post.  Well, click down below the break, and wonder no more.

I know I've mentioned before that I'm in a barbershop chorus.  Well, at our rehearsal this week, a couple of the guys were reminiscing before practice about an old comedy quartet; apparently, one of their shticks involved performing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" for a first-act finale.  They'd sing the first word on a tune-up (practice) chord (which is a perfectly normal thing for a quartet to do, in and of itself), but then launch into the song one word off.  They'd get to the last word, ending on the second-to-last chord (a V7 chord, i.e. it feels obviously incomplete without resolving to the last note), and stand there in confusion for a few moments before awkwardly shuffling off the stage.

Honestly, that does sound pretty funny to me.  But what got me wondering was that the two men discussing this were both completely taken by how insanely difficult singing the song one word off is; the word "impossible" was tossed out, along with "crazy" and "too hard for me."  Well, it didn't seem all that impossible to me, so as I was waiting for chorus to start I tried it out myself.  After a minute or two of thinking it through, plus one failed attempt (it was "for it's one, two, three..." that got me), I had it down.

So then I wondered: why was I able to pick it up without much fuss, when the barbershop guys had so much trouble with it?  Was it just that those two were both well past retirement age, and my mind hadn't yet calcified as much as theirs, or was there something more to it?  I decided to try it out with another choir I work with, one with a much younger membership.  At that rehearsal, I asked most of the singers to try.

Interestingly, most of them did incredibly poorly.  More than half of the people I asked were completely unable to get more than a few words in (these are all people who could sing the song "normally" without a second thought) without having to pause, and often found themselves back on the normal words within two lines, even after trying more than a dozen times.  One poor girl I watched keep mumbling it to herself all night, whenever her section wasn't being asked to sing--in retrospect, maybe I should have asked people to try this after practice instead of before.  And even among those who did get it, most took much longer than I had.  The plot thickened; why was I doing so much better at this than everyone else?

Because I'm brilliant, of course.  But why else?

After thinking a bit more (I did a lot of bits of thinking this week), I came up with another theory: maybe it's that I'm a linguistic learner (yes, I'm rolling out Gardner's multiple intelligence theory--even if you hate it, stick with me).  Given the nature of this site, that probably comes as little surprise.  Even within the world of music, I've always been drawn to stuff like Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs or Donald Swan's comic repertoire  which lean heavily on the synthesis of music and language.  And for as long as I can remember, I've picked up lyrics much faster than most of the singers around me (though I have plenty of accompanying weaknesses to compensate, I assure you).  Maybe, seeing as the challenge is basically a linguistic one, linguistically inclined people would do better than musically inclined ones.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I've got a blog audience which fits that description...

More than a dozen people took me up on the singing challenge, and just like the choir, results were mixed.  However, about half of the people who responded were able to sing the song with a one-word anticipation within a few tries--a far better result, on average, than the choir group.  Now, none of this is even remotely scientific, but I think there's something to be said for my "this is a task which language-oriented people do well at" theory.

So, beyond satisfying my curiosity, what does all this have to do with fanfiction?  Well, let me ask this: what does singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" one word off have to do with music?  Something, obviously, since four men made it one of the centerpieces of a popular musical routine.  And yet, it's also something that draws upon an entirely different set of strengths than a classical recital (disparity of difficulty level notwithstanding, obviously).

Everyone processes information in different ways; we all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses.  We also all have our own interests, which may not always mesh with those strengths and weaknesses.  But finding creative ways to utilize our strengths to pursue our interests is always a worthy goal.  Whether it's me in the real world, finding songs that take advantage of my linguistic bent, or Rarity in the show, using her talent for finding gems to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion icon, it's about finding ways to do what you love to the best of your ability.

I can't believe I just directly compared myself to a pony.  And to Rarity, no less.  Ugh.

Anyway, whatever your loves in life, don't be afraid to pursue them.  And don't be afraid to seek out creative ways to do pursue them your way.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll come up with the next "Me Out to the Ball Game, Take."


  1. First, sorry if I came off as a bit rude in the last post. Guess I'm just a bit antsy for the Background Pony review. (That, and singing is really not my forte.)

    Second, I had a rambling response, but it ultimately sucked so I tabled it.

    And third, comparing yourself to Rarity isn't bad. Now if you were comparing yourself to, say, Fluttershy? That would be sad.

  2. Hey, what's wrong with Rarity? She was pretty great in Season 1

    I've never considered myself to be particularly language-oriented. Maybe that's why my experience seemed so different from the others

    Great, now I'm picturing Tolkien singing it flawlessly

  3. I think you're on to something. :)

    Personally, I have a hard time interpreting song lyrics (harder than most, anyway; my dad can't do it at all). To me, vocals are just more sounds in the aural landscape of music. This is why I can enjoy songs in other languages, or with lyrics that are complete nonsense: there's no expectation of being able to know what the song is about.

    So when I stopped trying to pay attention to the words in TMOTTBG (a song whose meaning I know already) and reduced them to sounds, I had a much easier time performing this exercise. In fact, last night I lay awake for half an hour repeating the song OVER AND OVER IN MY HEAD THANK YOU VERY MUCH CHRIS, YOU ASS :| but had no problems getting it down.

    And this is, I think, why a lot of people were getting hung up particularly on "one, two, three" and "root, root, root". At least in the first case, they're phrases we tend to accent a certain way, and were doubtless included in the song because the rhythm fits our natural speech cadences. Thus, interrupting that cadence causes a bit of a mental disconnect in the singer.


    1. "To me, vocals are just more sounds in the aural landscape of music." You have no idea the level of joy I felt reading that! I squeed. Just... I don't even know what to say right now except that you're awesome and thank you

      Yes, I know I'm weird

    2. Funny thing. I get quite agitated when someone recounts a quote or sketch I am partial to without properly paying equal homage to what was said and how it was said. Mostly this tends to be Monty Python sketches, but it applies to anything I have memorized--even singing. Singing the right words with the wrong beat/tone/inflection is more annoying than singing the wrong words.

      Don't even get me started on cover versions...

  4. "I can't believe I just directly compared myself to a pony. And to Rarity, no less."

    You're right, Chris. You're not worthy of Rarity.

    1. More like Applejack: pragmatically making use of whatever skills come to hoof.

  5. Don't fret, Chris. I realize comparing yourself to best pony right out of the gate is setting your sights high, but you can do it!

    I didn't report in on the previous post, but I didn't have too much trouble with it myself. It took me 2 or 3 tries to get it. What tripped me up most is the "root, root, root," because two of them still fall where they're supposed to, so I really had to make sure I didn't add an extra one that would get me back in sync. Though I do agree with PresentPerfect—I rather like listening to some music in languages I don't understand so that I can appreciate the sound independent of the meaning. Even when I've familiar enough with it that I've learned the translation, there's still a certain disconnect that makes it purer, for lack of a better word. That may be because I'm more of an auditory person: I learn things best by hearing them.

    1. Looks like you forgot a word there, Pascoite. That should be "third best pony"

      And I agree. Chris has a lot of potential and shouldn't sell himself short

  6. You may have a point there. I ouldn't consider myself to be very linguistically inclined despite being an avid reader. Maybe that's why I had such trouble with it.