On Kids Singing Cole Porter: Creepy or Sweet?
February 9, 2011
An event on Monday at a nightclub to benefit the San Francisco Arts Education Project featured a lively medley of Cole Porter love songs performed by a promising bunch of local public school students dressed in natty tuxedos and pretty black and white satin party dresses as its centerpiece.
I found the performances of romantic standards like "You're the Top" and "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" to be rather endearing. The friend who joined me for the event had reservations.
Many of the students, who are all aged between 9-15, had great projection and intonation, a winning stage demeanor and moved fluidly around the rather cramped and acoustically challenging basement space where they had been asked to perform before a crowd of mostly middle-aged supporters.
My friend found the medley of Porter songs to be a bit creepy. His reasons for being slightly weirded out by the experience centered on his aversion to 11-year-olds being taught to sing with big, brassy, vibrato-laden musical theatre voices that make them sound way beyond their tender years, as well as the sometimes-racy content of the material.
I mostly disagreed with my friend.
While a forced Broadway twang sounds strange coming from a little kid, I think on balance that it's a great thing for these children to be getting a vocal music education, whether it's in a choir or for the musical theatre stage.
Also, I wonder whether the slightly risque content of the songs actually suits children's voices quite well. Porter's lyrics seem very innocent today compared to the sorts of lyrics currently being written and sung by pop artists. The kids' voices lend the words a wistful air of purity which makes us hear Porter's tunes in a fresh way.
SFArtsEd's ensemble is in the middle of a series of performances devoted to this repertoire -- Everything Goes! The Music of Cole Porter. The show plays at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco through February 13. Tickets can be purchased here.