I Went To A Musical Zoo!
This Saturday, I had the chance of attending a vocal grooming session with a friend. Just to keep things civil, I’ll not use names. Not that I am afraid they’d come at me with an ax, but just for fack’s sake.
We were asked to be present in the evening at a studio set in a run-down industrial estate in the ass-end of a Mumbai suburb. The commute was quite tough since rickshaw drivers made a face whenever we told them of our destination. Nevertheless, an old, dilapidated driver did take kindly to us and delivered us to the studio.
Upon reaching, we were ushered into a medium-sized hall, where a sound technician was setting up mikes, speakers, and chairs. A few minutes later, the room started filling up as the attendees got seated. A dark, tall man in sharp formals walked in, flashed a wide, toothy smile and picked up a mic. He was slightly built, with thinning hair and dark eyes. A sound check later, he said, “ Hello!”
We said “Hello”
Then he said, with some more enthusiasm, “HELOOO!!”
We said, “HEllo”.
It was already half-past three, and most of us had skipped lunch to be in time for the gig.
I turned around and counted a couple of dozen people, all uncertainly clutching their songbooks. Our stand-in anchor was replaced by another, slightly older man wearing an orange kurta. He said, “ Welcome, everyone. Thank you for coming. I am sorry it’s taking longer than usual to set up our tech bits. But, in the meantime, let me tell you why we’re here.”
Orange continued, “We all sing. In the bathroom, or in the car, on the train, etc. But, on stage, humari fatt jati hai”
*Murmurs and giggles”
Orange said, “ We are here to make you stars. And to be a star, you need to shine. Your voice, well, it’s not as important as how brightly you shine. You see, when the packaging is good, people will pay good money. Would you pay 100 bucks if I served you coffee in a dull, chipped mug? I make the best coffee in the world, but if I don’t serve it right, how can I command a premium? We are here to teach you that. ”
I realized at that moment that I was in for a very strange evening.
The song list had been sent to everyone via Whatsapp, and, predictably, a lot of singers were late. Unlike my friend and me, no one seemed to take it seriously.
Again, Orange took the mic and said, “My future stars, are you ready to make it to the big league?” People nodded and murmured excitedly. My friend, easily the best singer in the room, raised a wry eyebrow.
The musicians did a soundcheck, and one by one, people started lining up to sing. And boy, have I ever heard a worse collection of singers.
One gentleman, in his early 50s, had chosen a particularly difficult Hariharan duet. His duet partner was absent, so he was left all alone to fight a battle he’d already lost before firing the first shot. He was so off-scale it seemed as if he was doing a Jagjit Singh imitation, and then, just to show off, sang a paragraph of the same song in Tamil. By the time he ended, I desperately needed a break. I stepped out for some fresh air.
My friend was next. She had picked an Asha Bhosle hit, and predictably, sang so well that everyone remained stunned in silence by the time she was done. The room erupted in applause. I knew she could do it. I mean, she had the best voice in the group.
After that, a Carnatic singer stepped up to the plate. She made a great show of Yara Sili Sili, a particularly complex song. Thanks to her musical skills, she pulled it off, but then forgot her lines all of a sudden. Like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car, she visibly shrank. The musicians got the hint and rounded off the song. Mrs. Music walked back to her seat like Harbhajan Singh on scoring a duck.
The most interesting, however, was the lady Orange came with. We thought she was special because Orange introduced her saying, “This girl has the power, she is gifted. All she needs is your support”. Sounded more like he was asking for charity. But her voice was as limp as her bad hair. It cracked, hooted and she did such a bad job of a popular 70s song that I was close to tears when she slouched off.
Many more ‘stars’ came and went. They were in all shapes and sizes, and their performances varied from barely tolerable to downright disturbing. I was really thankful when they called it a night.
Now, I need to tell you about why this grooming session was held in the first place. The organizers, it seems, have performed with professional singers. They claim to make stage show stoppers out of ordinary, mis-timed people such as you and me.
I am a tolerable singer in my own right, but I have never, ever, in my life heard such bullshit.
How can you ‘make’ a star? By practice. By attending stage shows, seeing how others do it, imitating their work, initially, and then doing your own thing. A ‘grooming’ session cannot and will not help if you if you’re out of step in the first place. Professional help does help, yes, but only if your tutor is qualified in music. Would you expect a ward boy to read an X-ray? And if he could, should his diagnosis be taken seriously?
How do you make a star? By picking songs in your vocal range. By not taking ‘singers’ seriously. And believe me, there are more out there than I’d like to count.
The presentation does matter. But without a soothing voice, no one will bat an eyelid. You may wear a new dress at every show, but if you’ve forgotten the lyrics or gone off-scale, you have lost the game.
You may be attached to a huge Whatsapp group, but if your voice is gravelly on D-day, you are done.
And you need to understand that the only thing that matters is practice. Practice the same song 10,000 times, and you may, you just may be as good as the original. Don’t, and no matter who your singing partner is, you will make a fool of yourself.
There is no art without pain. And there is no pain when there’s acceptance. If you did a shitty job, own it proudly.
Most ‘grooming’ sessions out there are just money-spinning rackets organized by egotistic karaoke monkeys who cannot differentiate between Shailendra and Shailendra Singh. They cannot and will not teach you their secrets, because they themselves don’t know the difference between a murkhi, a harkat and lay.
People who organize such ‘grooming sessions’ are psychological predators. They look for monied, insecure people who love music, claiming to wash away all their aberrations with a magic wand.
I like music, and in fact, love to hear people sing. I know I have a mediocre voice. But that knowledge alone is my single greatest asset. By knowing I need work, I practice hard, harder than most, so hard that at times it worries my people. Over a three-year period, I have started to gain the appreciation of a number of amateur singers and music tutors alike. Do not, for, an instant believe that I am gifted with a golden voice. I am not, neither do I claim to be an exponent of the divine art and science called music. But, I make it a point to accept feedback only from people who either have years of experience or are qualified professionals who either play or sing for a living.
Such grooming sessions are like those shady weight-loss groups that body shame you into anorexia.