As a cappella grows, so grows dissent. The grumblings of the dissatisfied, the unhappy. From one angle come comments like, "This person has an unpleasant voice. He/she should not sing." From another angle, hear, "They can't sing in tune. They shouldn't even bother." Usually alongside "Modern recording techniques and pitch correction have ruined a cappella."
Not everyone is excellent. They can't be, by definition. Only a select few. Should then the rest of us cease and desist? Let me share a story Bobby McFerrin told me about his friend Yo Yo Ma (the famous cellist):
Yo Yo Ma went to live with an aboriginal tribe, to learn their music and culture. On the first day, he went to the chief and said, "I'd like to give a concert for the tribe Saturday night at 8:00pm". To which the chief replied, "You want to make music? Ok, let's make music now". "No, no, I want to make music Saturday Night at 8pm". "Ok, I guess, then we can make music then". "No. I will play my music for you then."
The chief was befuddled. To the tribe, music was communication and communal. Everyone gathers around the campfire. Everyone sings, everyone dances. It would be as if I said to you: "I would like to talk to you Saturday night at 8pm". You'd probably reply, "If you want to talk, we can talk now". "No, I want to talk to you Saturday night". "Ok... I we can talk then". "No. I alone will talk. You will listen"
That's what music has become to us: the communication by a chosen few, codified and qualified. We all sing in preschool, in grade school, and then at some point our Western culture decides that only a handful are worthy of the stage, and the rest are relegated to their showers, their cars, and perhaps a karaoke bar, if tipsy enough.
To quote my old Classics professor: "This is bunk."
Your tastes can be supremely refined such that you'll only dine at a table consuming a repast prepared by the likes of Thomas Keller, but you'd never argue that the burger joint down the street shouldn't exist. And somehow this snobbery is worse in music than any other field. People take creative writing, dance, and art classes. They might frame a favorite watercolor and hang it in the family room. No one begrudges them that.
So why, then, do we take such pleasure in critiquing the mediocre, and eviscerating the bad? Why is it OK in our culture for a blockbuster television program to parade out untalented singers only to be berated and laughed at by a panel of judges. And millions at home. Would this be OK on "The Biggest Loser"? Would we abide a panel of models pointing and snickering as fat people stood on stage and in effect said, "I'm beautiful"? No. In fact, a recent viral story lauds a female news reporter for addressing disparaging remarks about her weight.
We don't tell people they shouldn't write a blog just because their use of the subjunctive is questionable. We don't tell people they shouldn't post photos of themselves on their Facebook page just because we don't think they're attractive.
Our ancestors all used to sing together. Everyone's did. Even a century ago, people would gather around the piano and sing. Music was participatory. Recorded music has eliminated the need for us to create our own music, and television has brought a barrage of carefully tuned and edited performances into our living rooms, sapping our will and unrealistically elevating our expectations.
Thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands of years of communal singing, against a couple generations of publicly reinforced shamed silence for the masses. Yes, some people don't have lovely voices, and yes, some people have trouble matching pitch, but how good would you be at public speaking if you hardly ever spoke? Let's turn that around. Spread harmony through harmony to everyone, by everyone.