Let me relate an experience that applies: several years ago my university choir sang at a gala concert of high school choirs. After the concert, a father of one of the high school singers called me to say, "You shouldn't have sung that song." His concern was the medley from Porgy and Bess, during which we sang the words "...the things that you're liable to read in the Bible, it ain't necessarily so."
His complaint was that youngsters should not have the truth of the Bible questioned. I asked if it mattered that the words came from the mouth of a character in an opera, and did not represent anyone's particular point of view. He replied no, it was wrong. I asked if his daughter participated in drama in high school, to which he replied, "Oh yes, she loves that." I asked is she ever performed on stage a character whose actions he would not approve of if she did them off-stage. He agreed. I replied, "Would this not be the same thing: words from a play? What was the difference?.
His reply speaks volumes about the power of song: he said it's very different, because you sang the words. We ended unable to agree, agreeably. But it does indicate that for humanity over the ages, the word becomes sacred when sung. Substitute true for sacred, and you see the issue. While I think we must constantly walk a line between singing truthfully and singing "Truth," something greater than the sum of the parts occurs in our art. Since Truth varies widely among performers and listeners, we must maintain our awareness of the power and problems of words with music.
Dr. Floyd Slotterback
Professor of Music
Northern Michigan University
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