Why The “Blue Note” Makes Crossing Over Attempts by Classical Singers and Pop Singers a Losing Proposition

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

By Alain Rozan

 

Classical singers are highly trained singers because the structure of opera requires an extraordinary range of different singing styles ranging from almost spoken parts to full blown arias.

 

It also requires a vocal range that is mostly absent in pop songs because pop songs are on average three-minute long verse/chorus/bridge/coda works that center on melody only and tell a story in free form ranging from literal storytelling to poetry.

 

There is one exception in pop music. The great Roy Orbison wrote some of his songs like mini-operas breaking all traditional notions of songwriting and he had a powerful high voice but his voice did not have the range necessary for him to sing true opera.

 

So why are opera singers almost always fascinated by the voice of Elvis Presley?

 

 

 

Elvis Presley, without any doubt.”​

 

Kiri Te Kanawa‘s answer to UK show-host Michael Parkinson (who probably expected her to name Luciano Pavarotti, or Maria Callas), when asked whose was the greatest voice she had ever heard (as published in Blabbermouth.net, 3 January 2007)

 

​”His was the one voice I wish to have had.

 

Placido Domingo, in an interview given to “Hola” Magazine (Spanish version), as published in June of 1994.

 

​”​Presley was very classically orientated with his voice, and diction, and very sincere and wanting to get everything perfect

 

Bryn Terfel, bass baritone citing one of the reasons why Elvis is the only soloist whose music he listens in his iPod, as told to NYT’s Classical Music critic Vivien Schweitzer, and published on that paper on November 10, 2007

 

 

 

​”​Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass-The voice normally covers two octaves and a third though on “What Now My Love”, he goes up a full three octaves at the end of the song. His range extends from the baritone low-G to the tenor high B, with an upward extension to at least a D flat and sometimes a full voice high G or even a high A that an opera baritone might envy.“​.

 

Henry Pleasants, Classical Music Critic in his book “The Great American Popular Singers” (1974).

 

Yes, Elvis had a magnificent voice and towards the end of his life, he enjoyed singing in a somewhat operatic style, displaying his amazing range.

 

But in the end, Elvis was not an opera singer and whether or not he could have been does not matter. What made him so different was not his so-called opera singer range but the utter freedom of his singing.

 

 

 

 

He could absorb all singing styles from the blues to country, jazz, pop, rock, folk and even traditional songs like the mixture of three Southern anthems in his over the top anthem “American Trilogy” in which he uses operatic style to great effect.

 

The one constant in his singing, however, was his mastery of the “blue note” (i).  And this is why crossover attempts always fail. Because opera does not use the “blue note” and almost all pop songs do.

 

Elvis Presley did not learn the “blue note” from the blues but from gospel music and it is no coincidence that the most interesting, if not successful, attempts by an opera singer to crossover to pop songs are the gospel songs recorded by Elvis Presley’s biggest classical fan; Bryn Terfel (pronounced “Tairvail”).

 

Bryn Terfel  has recorded or performed several Elvis Presley gospel songs; “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “How Great Thou Art” to name a few.

 

Below is Bryn Terfel’s rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, followed by Presley’s rendition of the same song in a spontaneous alternate version in which he also plays the piano.

 

One can immediately tell that Bryn Terfel used Presley’s arrangement as a model but as beautiful as his rendition of the song is, it is no match to Presley’s because Presley’s perfect use of the “blue note” gives the song a feeling that is lacking in Bryn Terfel’s version.

 

Conversely, despite his vocal range, Presley could not have sung opera because he was not a trained singer in that field and because his instinctive use of the “blue note” would have killed any attempt to do so.

 

 

 

(i) The “blue note “is a minor interval where a major would be expected. It is used only in blues, jazz and pop songs”

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