Monday, December 19, 2011

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Edith Piaf was born on December 19, 1915.

I never liked the sound of Edith Piaf's voice, back in the days when I was obsessed with vocal performance, way back in the early '90s. Rough, flat, goat-like, these were some of the ways in which I would describe it. My idea of vocal quality was limited to those classically trained operatic or "art song" performers. Piaf's style didn't fit into my conception of beauty.

Well, it is in the nature of the practicioner of aesthetic pettifoggery to quibble over nuances, in an ever escalating display of greater intellectual rigour and purity. So, I found myself defending the expressive and impassioned performance style of Maria Callas against accusations that she was an inferior singer to other great operatic divas. My argument was that Callas was sacrificing purity of tone as an aesthetic choice to intensify the drama of the words. The singer is not merely a pitch-perfect tone-generating automaton, but an interpreter and unique articulator of the music's premise.

A few days later, I got into a discussion with an Edith Piaf enthusiast. As I was about to denounce her music, I realized that my defense of Maria Callas applied equally to Piaf. Those rough spots in her performances are deliberate choices, annunciations of the human spirit, granting poignancy to the words. At that moment, I had a conversion to the imperfections of human expressiveness, away from the foolish conviction that regarded the voice as a mere instrument with which to generate clear and uninflected notes.

And, so, I want to remember Edith Piaf's artistry on her birth date, born in 1915.

Here are a few vids:

Padam Padam


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