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Too Much Vocal Varnish in "Glee"

June 14, 2011

When Glee premiered a couple of years ago, I was the Fox TV series' biggest fan. I watched the first couple of series avidly, and then my viewing dropped off. I got busy. And I just didn't feel like making space in my schedule for the show, which was starting to bother me for the auto-tuned quality of the singing.

I've checked in with "Glee" a couple of times since then. An episode that aired a while back featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as a substitute teacher was fantastic in terms of the show-stopping musical numbers, strong characters and witty dialogue. I was so immersed in the story-telling that I didn't mind the fact that the voices were so bland.

But a less compelling episode set amid the National Show Choir Finals in Manhattan which I viewed last night made me realize that the series is really doing its musical numbers -- and the upsurge of interest in ensemble singing in general created as a result of the program's popularity -- a disservice by featuring such varnished, unnatural voices.

The auto-tuning has got to stop. Everyone sounds the same. The voices are boring. Every nuance is flattened out into a homogenous beveled sound which lacks any kind of grain or distinguishing timbre.

I think hearing singing like this might also undermine the confidence of young singers who are inspired to develop their voices as a result of watching "Glee." Singing with the glassy perfection of the vocalists on the series simply isn't possible without the aid of digital enhancement. And if people realize that they can't get the same tone no matter how hard they try, they may be put off from continuing on their singing path.

I hope that this blog post reaches "Glee's" producers and they do something to make the voices sound more individual and less canned.

P.S. Another kvetch for this Tuesday morning: I caught the Joe Goode Performance Group's's latest show, "The Rambler," at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at the weekend. I would normally dedicate a full blog post to talking about Goode's work, which I usually find visually and sonically compelling for its powerful mixture of speech, song, lights, costumes, expressive movement and bittersweet humor. But I really don't have much to say about "The Rambler" except that it rambled. I have no idea what the show was about to be honest and there were so many ideas recycled from previous Goode productions that I found myself feeling like I was listening to Samuel Beckett's Krapp going over and over and over his last tape.

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