Posted by: rcottrill | April 13, 2019

A Singing Lesson

In 1962, the musical All American opened on Broadway. However it got mostly unfavourable reviews, and was soon gone–all except for one song, with lyrics by Lee Adams. The wistfully beautiful Once Upon a Time, about lost love, has since been recorded by dozens of artists, including Sinatra, but there’s one that particularly stands out above the rest.

Bobby Darin was a multi-talented pop star in the 1960’s. Of the many recordings of the ballad Once Upon a Time, his is often acclaimed as the very best. I agree. The YouTube version looks as though it may have been taped in a night club, or for a TV show. Worth a listen, here. Then I’ll make some observations.

1) The Preparation.
Mr. Darin had serious health problems, a weak heart due to bouts of rheumatic fever as a child. (He died at age 37.) When he got up on stage, he didn’t feel ready to sing. Needed to catch his breath. So he stayed calm, and had his accompanist play the introduction again–and again. This is a great example for those singing sacred songs in the Lord’s house. Take your time. Get the introduction played again, if you’re not quite ready. (It’s maybe a good time to warn about one of the weaknesses of prerecorded accompaniment. It may not be so easy to make adjustments on the spot.)

2) The Presentation.
I appreciate the clear diction. No attempt to swallow the mike, no mumbled words. Another thing with Darin’s version is the intensity of emotion you can sense. You can see, and feel, the aching sadness in the song. This was not just a mechanical performance; he was living the experience. Can we who love the Lord not do something similar? No, I’m not talking about being an actor or actress, putting on a show. Heaven forbid! But we need to choose sacred songs with a real message, and invest ourselves in the meaning of what we’re singing. Know the song well, and let it speak to your own heart first. Live the song. Tell a personal story when you sing.

3) The Production.
This is unadorned singing of a high calibre, with non-intrusive production values (primitive though they are by today’s standards). No flashing lights, no smoke, no thundering instruments, no attempt to show off the voice, or some tricky dance moves. And no rapid-fire camera shots, zipping to and fro every few seconds. Bobby Darin is delivering the message of the song, and that is the focus. As far as I know, he was not a Christian, but the production of this song shares a quality of many we heard from gospel singer George Beverley Shea. The sincere delivery of a message to the audience is the thing, without the distractions of so much of the noise and glitz in popular music today.

Whether this is your kind of music or not, it seems to me there are things we can learn here, as those who are committed to doing our best in singing for the Lord.


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