Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where's your singer?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 3:37 PM

There are several quality instrumental groups that regularly perform in the Charlotte area, groups that blend anything from jazz, rock, blues, funk, ambient, and world-beat to create rich musical textures. Incognito Mosquito, Green Light, Automatic Chi and Justice League come to mind. But, the fact is instrumental music is a bit of a tough sell in the Queen City. Often, on a set break you’ll likely hear something like “You guys are really good … Have you thought about getting a singer?”

I’m not saying instrumental music is doomed since there are folks out there who do get into it (and, regardless of what one thinks about them, jam-bands have made inroads by getting listeners to focus on the groove), but I am saying that many Charlotte listeners expect to hear vocals and find live instrumental music lacking. This became clear to me after performing in regional venues outside of Charlotte (Asheville, Wilmington, etc.) where listeners easily moved by pure instrumental music.

Why this difference?

Of course, Charlotte’s not the only place where most listeners expect vocals but one wonders why Charlotte stands out. It could be that it’s somehow tied into the broader Charlotte gestalt. Maybe there’s some connection between Charlotte culture and the taste for vocal music? Maybe it’s connected to the consumption of pop-music (you can blame anything on American Idol)?

Or maybe it’s simply because vocal music is easier for many people to connect with? It seems that words nail down the meaning of a tune whereas instrumental music only presents sounds, melodies, rhythms and musicianship. Perhaps instrumentals just don’t wear their meanings on their sleeves (can they even have specific meanings?) and aren’t as easily appreciated as vocal tunes?

Maybe we should find a singer...

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