Grand Old Opera vs. Grand Ole Opry

Country music and opera – anything in common? On the MENC forums, members respectfully voiced their opinions about the technical requirements and the “intangible” elements of each genre, as well as how to broaden students’ and their own understanding of both.

Technique vs. Natural Ability

“Breathelow09”, an experienced opera singer, stated:

  • “Making a comparison of the technical demands of any other kinds of music to grand opera is ludicrous. Country music is simplistic and one-dimensional and certainly does not require a high degree of technical skill.
  • Country music is more tangible…..the words and their application in the music are closely related to speech. The range of singing and the division of the words more closely follow speech patterns.
  • In general, country singers are born singing well (for the demands of that kind of music); nobody becomes a really good country singer by taking voice lessons. The contrary is often true of classical singing.”

    Choral mentor Kyle Weary weighed in:

  • ”Raw talent is more easily accepted in the world of contemporary commercial music (CCM), but that doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t study this music as well as the vocal production that goes along with it. Singers with a raw talent for performing classical music [are usually] recognized for that talent, and typically aren’t chastised due to their lack of voice lessons. [Criticism for lack of vocal study] happens more often in CCM because of how “mainstream” the music is.
  • Some students prefer to sing CCM because they more easily connect to the music and text. It doesn’t mean you don’t need skill to perform country music well and have a successful career.”

    Emotional Commitment and Connection

    Breathelow09 said that singers must tap into universality, the spiritual, when they sing. “Most commercial music is entertainment. Country music is born from the people, the style of singing is natural, as in untrained, which doesn’t mean it is not good. It’d just not “interesting” or “enlightening.” In one case we’re talking about skill and accomplishment and another, nature.”

    Tom Carter countered:

  • “It’s just as hard to be a successful country singer — the difficulties are not so much in the vocal facilities, per se, but include more of the performance intangibles.
  • Country music is not less enlightening or spiritual than opera/art songs/choral classics. In fact, people are deeply moved by both styles (and sometimes the same people are deeply moved by both styles.”)
  • For me, the common ingredient in any great music-making is the humanity the artist shares and the heart/soul connection made with the audience. I’ve seen lots of opera singers who couldn’t do that, and lots of country singers who could … and vice versa. Very few people can sing country songs well enough to succeed in that field.”

    Choirteacher chimed in:

  • “Most people are drawn to music that pushes their own buttons. The emotions expressed in opera aren’t different than those expressed in country music. You can certainly address the differences in technical preparation, but to say that one form is more enlightening than another is clearly an opinion.”
  • If you want students to have a passion for the music that you love, you have to be willing to show respect to “their” music.”

    Shell333 opined:

“I think as a music educator it’s important for us to remember that there are many different types of music for a reason. Music is something that is deeply personal, whether you are singing it, playing it, or just listening to it. Just because I may like or appreciate a certain music doesn’t mean that my students feel the same way about it, and vice versa. Country music exists, and people pay money for it, so it deserves some respect.”

Kyle Weary summed it up:

  • “We have to be careful of what we say as educators, because our students are always listening. Our personal preferences can’t get in the way of teaching”.

    Next Week: Part II: Connecting Students to different genres



Metropolitan Opera in HD – Summer Encores, live in movie theaters across the country

A Love Affair with Opera – Opera Primer

Vittorio: listen to this young Italian tenor, just open the home page and let it play

Dan Scott, performing his song, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive  – listen to the end – an authentic connection

Patty Loveless, You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive

Great American Country – videos of country artists

Mountain Stage, performances/podcasts of artists

–Sue Rarus, June 16, 2010 © National Association for Music Education