Singers versus Musicians

“I can sing and play music, but I’m not a musician,” I said in my open letter to Steve on September 22nd, 2017.  I regret saying that now.  It seems like false modesty, which I feel to be disingenuous.  Allow me to clarify:

I can sing.  I do sing.  I enjoy singing.  I have a decent voice and–having had a little bit of formal training and a lot of informal training–I am usually able to use it effectively.

At the same time, I’ve had enough disappointment when it comes to singing to keep me humble.  I come from a town that values creativity and the fine arts, so in high school there was a lot of competition among student singers, especially female singers; there were so many, and they were all so talented.  I’m the only child in my family who never made it into All-State Chorus despite auditioning every year that I was allowed.

Of course, I’m also the only one in my immediate family who made it into All-State Band, although last year my oldest nephew made All-State Middle School Band, so if he keeps on and makes it at the high school level, I’ll have some company in that regard (and I’ll be delighted to have it 🙂 .)  I played clarinet in high school.  I auditioned for All-State Band every year and only made it my senior year, and that only after I worked damn hard, practicing all my scales and working like crazy on the sight-reading.

But anyway, I wanted to make a point about “singers versus musicians” because it’s sort of an inside joke in my family.  When we were all home in May for our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my younger brother (the professional singer) told us about a time when he was talking to someone about his career, and the person said, “Oh, are you also a musician?” By which the person meant, “Do you also play an instrument in addition to singing?” but sounded like the person was saying, “Well, the singing isn’t very good, but do you do something to make actual music?”

So we had a whole discussion about the semantics of being a “singer” versus a “musician,” which was fascinating because my brother was talking about this with a friend who works writing dictionaries and who said that, whatever fine distinctions dictionary writers make with regard to defining words that pertain to people’s careers, they get complaints by people who are offended.  For example, apparently novelists hate being referred to as “writers.”

Having never managed to write a novel, despite several failed attempts, I consider myself to be more a “writer.”  And with regard to the whole “singer versus musician” controversy, in high school I considered myself to be more of a “musician” than a singer, but now it’s the opposite.  It’s been probably 15 years since I played my clarinet in earnest.

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