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Gender issue in singing

GUEST,Johnmc 10 Nov 06 - 11:55 AM
Snuffy 10 Nov 06 - 12:05 PM
Scrump 10 Nov 06 - 12:15 PM
GUEST,Russ 10 Nov 06 - 12:29 PM
Wolfgang 10 Nov 06 - 12:30 PM
Cool Beans 10 Nov 06 - 12:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Nov 06 - 01:01 PM
Scoville 10 Nov 06 - 01:31 PM
Joe Offer 10 Nov 06 - 01:48 PM
oldhippie 10 Nov 06 - 01:59 PM
GUEST,mg 10 Nov 06 - 02:16 PM
harpmolly 10 Nov 06 - 03:22 PM
GUEST,thurg 10 Nov 06 - 03:36 PM
Barry Finn 10 Nov 06 - 04:18 PM
greg stephens 10 Nov 06 - 05:43 PM
Linda Kelly 10 Nov 06 - 05:58 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Nov 06 - 06:08 PM
Barry Finn 10 Nov 06 - 06:22 PM
emjay 10 Nov 06 - 06:27 PM
oldhippie 10 Nov 06 - 09:26 PM
Dave Hanson 11 Nov 06 - 02:39 AM
Sandra in Sydney 11 Nov 06 - 03:17 AM
harpmolly 11 Nov 06 - 02:48 PM
SINSULL 11 Nov 06 - 02:53 PM
GUEST,Cretinous Yahoo 11 Nov 06 - 04:24 PM
Ebbie 11 Nov 06 - 05:43 PM
GUEST,memyself 11 Nov 06 - 05:59 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Nov 06 - 06:30 PM
JudyB 12 Nov 06 - 11:21 AM
McMullen 12 Nov 06 - 11:24 AM
Bill D 12 Nov 06 - 12:17 PM
Scrump 12 Nov 06 - 01:15 PM
GUEST,Julia 12 Nov 06 - 04:29 PM
harpmolly 13 Nov 06 - 02:47 AM
Scoville 13 Nov 06 - 03:01 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Nov 06 - 04:38 PM
Andy Jackson 13 Nov 06 - 04:58 PM
George Papavgeris 14 Nov 06 - 03:56 PM
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Subject: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,Johnmc
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 11:55 AM

The discussion about "Rothesay Bay" brought to mind an issue which always troubles me. It is the matter of how much is lost (if anything) if a male sings a song which
expresses a female point of view. An example would be the rendition of " Braw Lads of Galla Water" (Yarrow Braes) by THE CORRIES.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Snuffy
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 12:05 PM

The art (or magic) of a great singer consists in making you temporarily believe that he or she is exactly who he/she is singing as.

Sex is not necessarily the only hurdle - it can be as hard to convince someone you're a ploughboy or a knight as a milkmaid or a princess. Some can and some can't.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Scrump
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 12:15 PM

Interesting question raised by GUEST,Johnmc. I've been thinking about this recently myself, but in the context of 'contemporary' songs.

For some reason I've never given a lot of thought, I'm happy to sing old folk songs 'out of gender', i.e. to sing as if I'm the female. It somehow seems OK to do this, and people seem happy to accept it and 'overlook' the fact that I'm a male singing a 'female' song.

But with contemporary songs, I feel obliged to alter the gender or person to make it 'right'. For instance I recently reworded a song to suit myself (with the author's permission) to 3rd person instead of 1st person, because it's about a female and wouldn't make (as) much sense to change it to a male gender. So I changed the person instead, and I sing "She did this/that" instead of "I did this/that". Somehow I feel more comfortable singing it that way. Of course, there are some songs I just wouldn't attempt as a male, at all, because I can't find a way to make it work, or maybe I just wouldn't feel comfortable about it.

As I say, I've never really thought much about this before, so I'm not sure why I feel this way, or where I would draw the line. In practice if I don't feel happy about singing a song then I won't do it anyway.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 12:29 PM

In the old days one method of making a song NOT gender specific was to begin it with a scene setting verse or so, e.g.
As I was out walking along the sea side
I overheard a fair maid/fine lad/old woman/aged man say/sing/lament
etc.
The Bhagavad Gita uses the same device.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Wolfgang
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 12:30 PM

It is ok with me if the story is told by a man/woman but is a story that can happen to any human being. If it is a very gender specific story being told (abortion, rape,...) the gender of the singer makes a difference to me.

(Of course one always can usurp a song even against the will of the writer or singer. The German (pop) song He belongs to me like my name at the door... (my transl.) has of course originally been sung by a female singer but has now been usurped as a hymn for the gay. The gender correct singer for them of course has to be male.)

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Cool Beans
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 12:47 PM

Short of a man singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" or "I Feel Pretty" in public you can get away with anything. In private, sing whatever you please.
"Come Take a Trip in My Airship," for instance, has for more than 100 years been most notably sung by men--Billy Murray in 1904, Charlie Poole in the 1920s, and more recently Johnny Cash--although it's from a woman's viewpoint ("I once loved a sailor...").


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 01:01 PM

"I once loved a sailor" leaves it pretty open actually...
........................................

I don't much like the idea of changing the gender words generally. I wouldn't exclude it absolutely. But often keeping the same words changes the song in an interesting way when the gender of the singer is the "unexpected" one. For example "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman". Or "Girls don't marry.

And sometimes changes the gender helps [people hear a familiar song in a fresh way, regardless of who is singing. "She who would valiant be" is an example - I remember someone writing about how they used it that way for a daughter's christening.

But I don't thing it makes sense to think you always have to change a song to match your own sex as a singer in an automatic way. "Handsome Johnny" instead of "Pretty Polly", or "Brenda on the Moor"...


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Scoville
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 01:31 PM

I normally don't even notice if someone is singing "out of gender". It's just storytelling, after all.

I don't mind changing gender in songs if it translates without really changing the song. Some songs just don't switch over well, though, and I leave those alone.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 01:48 PM

...but it sure can be fund to have a bunch of guys sing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" or "I Feel Pretty" for a female audience.
Been there. Done that.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: oldhippie
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 01:59 PM

Most recordings of Steve Goodman's "The Ballad of Penny Evans" are sung by males. It's okay, but it sounds truer with a female vocal.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 02:16 PM

I would never ever change the gender of a song. It's like making a copy of a copy of a xerox...it gets worse each time. I have never seen it done well and it confuses people. Sing it the traditional way and someone of the other gender will learn it from you and sing it right so it all works out. mg


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: harpmolly
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 03:22 PM

I was just listening to Cara Dillon's new CD, and though her voice is lovely (even if the album is produced within an inch of its life) I got VERY irritated when she sang "Garden Valley". She sings,

"This is really not my home,
And where are you, my lovely Johnny?"

Given that this is a modern song written by Dougie Maclean for his wife, Jenny, I thought it was bad form to change gender and name. I definitely feel that one should sing a song for what it is, and not mess around unduly with gender, etc.

For example, when Tori Amos does her wonderful cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat", she makes no attempt to change the lyrics or alter the feel of the song...she's inhabiting Leonard Cohen's personal narrative unapologetically. "And you treated my woman to a flake of your life,/And when she came back she was nobody's wife...What can I tell you, my brother, my killer? What can I possibly say?/I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you, I'm glad you stood in my way..."

Then again, people are certainly free to do what they choose and what is comfortable for them! It's my own personal opinion, of course. :)

Molly


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 03:36 PM

"Short of a man singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" or "I Feel Pretty" in public you can get away with anything."

A few years back, I saw a video on TV of Little Richard singing "I Feel Pretty" - it was hilarious and wonderful - he did the gender-changing thing: "Who's that pretty boy in the mirror?", etc.

There is a well-established convention of females singing in the male voice (Jennifer Warnes also sang "Famous Blue Raincoat"), and I don't think anyone finds it disconcerting, as a general rule. However, to me it doesn't really work the other way, excepting in the singing of trad.(type) songs. Can't tell you why. Not that it's a secret; I just don't know why.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Barry Finn
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 04:18 PM

How many ways ways are there to skin a rabbit.
I don't have any problems listening or singing songs out of gender & I've never heard any complaints either.
Lylle Lovette does his "If I were the Man That you Wanted" & Nancy Griffin does a nnice job of it singing Woman instead of Man. I greatly enjoy singing "The Shearing's Nae For You" & it's been received well too. No chance of going to the third person or changing gender here. The Johnson Girls along with other women shanty groups are well liked singing shanties that traditionally was a male genre. I guess I'm wondering why anyone would bother to get any of this much thought at all, there's so many ways to get around it, if you feel as if you need to.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: greg stephens
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 05:43 PM

"Brenda on the Moor" sounds a great idea.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Linda Kelly
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 05:58 PM

I nearly always write in the male gender and we sing our songs that way-never think twice about it-since there aren't many female trawlermen it is virtually impossible to write otherwise. Besides Grey Funnel Line has been sung beautifully by many a woman hasn't it?


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 06:08 PM

Well, "The Shearing's Nae For You" is made up of verses from a man and verses from a women anyway, so the issue doesn't arise.

Yeah - "Brenda on the Moor" does somehow seem to grab the imagination...


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Barry Finn
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 06:22 PM

But I am partial to singing it from the woman's angle seeing as the guy in this song was a jerk. Though your right in that the title is of the man singing to the woman.
But really, I couldn't care less, if it's a song worth singing I'd sing it from a Walruss's point of view.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: emjay
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 06:27 PM

But there are times when the voice/gender make a huge difference.
When Eric Bogle sings My Youngest Son Came Home Today the impact is great and it is a bitter song.
When Mary Black sings the same song there is also am impact but somehow the song is filled with pathos rather than the bitterness.
It has something to do with the respective voices but, I think, a lot more to do with the gender of the singer.
Neither is right or wrong, and the gender of the singer is not part of the lyrics.
I think there are similar effects when the singer is cross-gender and sometimes the listener hears more when the singer is the "wrong" gender.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: oldhippie
Date: 10 Nov 06 - 09:26 PM

I totally agree on Mary Black, and a huge difference on "My Youngest Son".
That's exactly why I've been asking for a female vocal of Eric Bogle's "One Small Star" - the impact a woman's voice would have on those lyrics !

Cara Dillon also has a nice rendition of "There Were Roses" - a song that has the same impact regardless of the gender of the singer.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 02:39 AM

Hey listen, if the Blues Brothers could sing ' Stand By Your Man ' without altering the gender, don't be so fussy.

eric


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 03:17 AM

'He fades away' written & sung by Alistair Hulett is perfect sung by Alistair, or Miguel Heatwole - even tho the words are the lament of a woman watching her dying husband.

Conversely, John Dengate's 'Lanes of Wooloomooloo' a poem about a homeless alcoholic old soldier is magic when John recites it, but was totally wrong when a soprano put it to music. Perhaps it might have been better sung by a deeper female voice, but ...

sandra


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: harpmolly
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 02:48 PM

Ohhhh..."He Fades Away", what an incredible song. Niamh Parsons does it on her latest ("That Old SImplicity"). That, along with Kate Rusby's "My Young Man" (written about her grandfather) always get me to tears.

*sniffle*

M


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: SINSULL
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 02:53 PM

Fond memories of Captain Morse singing Palace Grand to a besotted Max.
"He came to my palace grand
He came to my cottage door
His words were few..."


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,Cretinous Yahoo
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 04:24 PM

He came FROM his palace grand...

Beautiful song, and so well done.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Ebbie
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 05:43 PM

Here's one gender-specific song:

Juneau Breakdown

I left my sweet love there waiting alone
To travel this world around
And now I'm going back to my home
in that good old Juneau town.

    I know that he waits for me night and day
    I know that he wants me to settle down
    And I know that I want forever to stay
    In that good old Juneau town

Canberra, Cairo, Prague and Amsterdam
Of all the guys, the best I have found
-even in London, Paris, Pretoria -
In that good old Juneau town.

Profound, wot?


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,memyself
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 05:59 PM

She's a deep one, no bout adoubt it.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Nov 06 - 06:30 PM

Nothing specific about the gender of the "I" in that song is there?


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: JudyB
Date: 12 Nov 06 - 11:21 AM

I sing "Kitty Kane" once in a while, and find it (like many of John Warner's songs) a very powerful song - enough so that I can sometimes see folks in the song circle getting a bit uncomfortable at some of the lyrics. I tried changing it to the third person ("She came up the Thomson...") - and it's still a well-crafted story of a woman and her times - but to my mind the power is missing.

I do wonder what would happen if Lester Simpson's "Polly on the Shore" was sung in the first person - it's already a powerful song and might be quite overwhelming if Polly were telling it "live and in person" through the magic of folk music.

Please note that I'm not suggesting that we should all rush out and change every song in sight - but I do find it interesting how much difference an apparently minor change ("I" to "she") can make.

JudyB


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: McMullen
Date: 12 Nov 06 - 11:24 AM

i love altans the flower of magerhaly sung by an woman singing a song from a mans pov. I think geneder is lost in song its more about how good it sounds and how effective it is to me.i dont think men can get away as much written from a womans pov.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Bill D
Date: 12 Nov 06 - 12:17 PM

I did get a reaction once......when, with no intro, I began:

"There were three lovely lasses from Bannion, and I am the best of them all" It seems the vision of ME in green petticoats was too much for some.

...but usually, if the song is the important thing, the gender of the storyteller in not a big issue.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Scrump
Date: 12 Nov 06 - 01:15 PM

There may be songs sung in the first person that do not state or imply the gender of the subject of the song, but the meaning of the song can be different when sung by a male from when sung by a female.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 12 Nov 06 - 04:29 PM

I think there's something very special and important about the gender fluidity of narrators for a lot of these songs. People choose to sing songs with words and perspectives they empathize with. When I hear an old recording of a guy (I'm lame, I can't remember who or what) singing "I wish I was a single girl again" I imagine that this man is able to empathize with a woman's grievances. I like to think this is a part of changing the social order and all that. This is the way I prefer to interpret it but i can understand that in certain circumstances people would feel it was appropriative to assume the voice of a group of people who are historically and currently oppressed.

Does anyone else get slightly pissed about those workshops with themes like "Strong Women in Ballads" where they only put women on the panel? Let men sing about strong women too. We don't need to be singing about them, we already know and love that we're strong.

thanks for reading
Julia


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: harpmolly
Date: 13 Nov 06 - 02:47 AM

I totally agree, Julia. I was listening to Tim O'Brien's wonderful "Fair and Tender Ladies" (my, oh my, that man has a voice like melted butter ;)) and when he sings,

"Come all you fair and tender ladies,
Be careful how you court young men;
They're like the stars on a summer's morning,
They first appear and then they're gone..."

...you could easily think he is one of the young men, warning fair ladies to beware of his type. But then later he sings,

"I wish to the Lord I'd never seen him..."

It's not jarring to me at all, because he sings the song with such tender empathy that he inhabits the narrator. Really a beautiful rendition.

Hey, while we're on the subject of tampering with lyrics, I have another bone to pick with Cara Dillon. Upon further review of "Garden Valley" I realized that she's changed the line "Singing out along the Tay" to "Singing out across the bay." What the (*&^(#@!! is up with that, pardon my Klatchian? Since when does an Irish singer have to neutralize the location when she sings a Scottish song? Grrrr...Dougie Maclean's songs are all infused with a great sense of place, and it really irritated me that she chose to discard that. Hmph.

(Also, someone needs to tell that girl she's not Beyoncé. Sheesh. Okay, /rant off.)

Cheers,

Molly


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Nov 06 - 03:01 PM

The Animals didn't do so badly with "Rising Sun Blues" which is, in fact, from a female point of view, although this seems to be lost on most audiences.

There's a blues-punk guy from Austin named Scott Biram who does "I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again" as part of his regular set. Granted, the audiences is usually slobbering drunk, but the general feeling works.


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Nov 06 - 04:38 PM

"Rising Sun Blues" which is, in fact, from a female point of view...

Not the version they recorded:

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: Andy Jackson
Date: 13 Nov 06 - 04:58 PM

Wow , Polly on the Shore sung in the first person. Who's going to be the first to record that? Judy B is righ,t it could be overwelming given the right treatment. Just sing it to yourself with the appropriate changes and a bit of imagination...Tingle


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Subject: RE: Gender issue in singing
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Nov 06 - 03:56 PM

Snuffy in his first response got it right, for my money; and harpmolly too hit the nail on the head: It is about the performer's empathy. If he/she believes in it, the audience will too.


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