A Standing-O for Artistry

A Standing-O for Artistry July 17, 2012

In gospel music, the surest way to get a standing-O is to make it big, make it long, and make it loud. Here I must hastily interject that this is not a knock on big endings and the standing-Os they generate (I’ve cheerfully joined in many a one myself), merely an observation of a fact.
But how many times have you seen a standing-O that had no root in emotion or message—the kind that’s offered purely for the skill and technique of the artists?

I discovered the Suntones about a year ago through a blog thread where Terry Franklin came on and said that his father had sung lead for the legendary barbershop quartet. Somebody else then posted a link to some videos of a one-off gig Terry did with other “Sons of the Tones,” singing some Suntone classics. Ever modest, Terry said that they “tried” to do the old arrangements, but it seems to me they went a wee bit beyond “trying.” And in the case of “Show Me Where the Good Times Are,” they even, dare I say it, bested the original (in my humble opinion). Particularly moving was “Where is Love,” featuring Bruce Cokeroft (watch for a closeup of his father Gene about 3: 10 in).
But the one they said was their favorite ultimately became mine as well: “Without a Song.”

When I first watched this video, I remember that the almost instantaneous standing ovation at the end really struck me. After all, when you think about it, the song itself isn’t particularly roof-raising. It’s not patriotic or even religious at all. It’s not emotional. It might be called inspirational, but only in a dreamy, gently contemplative sort of way. So why the enthusiastic cheering, the applause, the standing-O? One word: artistry. Listen to those harmonies again. Listen to that moving bass line at 1:45. Listen to those chords at 3:00 and following. And the last note—could the last note have been any more perfect?
I’m a firm believer that things should be what they are. Southern Gospel is one thing, barbershop is entirely another. Bluegrass, jazz, or classical are different things again. Each kind of music brings its own atmosphere with it. I don’t deny that the Southern Gospel standing-O has its place. At the same time, I think it can be enriching to learn to appreciate a variety of performance styles.
What do you think? Do you think artistry doesn’t always get the reaction it deserves? Are there maybe some underrated artists within Southern Gospel to whom this might apply?

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  • The problem is, a good portion of the SG audience wouldn’t be able to tell a good performance from a spectacular one. Artistry is something that, unfortunately, is lacking quite a bit in southern gospel (too many cookie cutters), so when someone turns in a truly great performance, it’s often overlooked.
    Now, there are exceptions. Anytime the Cathedrals did “Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” or “Heavenly Parade,” they often got standing O’s. Neither song is really all that “powerful,” so to speak, but the a capella performance itself warranted an ovation.

  • I know, and that’s the problem. At the same time I hate to come across as a snob. Still, I know you love the music just as much as if not more than I do, and you’re just calling it like it is.
    Excellent point about the acapella performances.

  • Lydia

    The point about a capella is a good one. Would it perhaps be true to say that standing o-s for artistry are more prevalent in SG for a capella songs? Perhaps I’m misremembering, but I think perhaps the Booth Brothers get a standing O for an a capella number on one of the Jubilee videos. And don’t the Martins sometimes get it for one of their numbers that includes the Doxology?

  • Yes, although the Martins’ “Doxology” arrangement is very dramatic and ends with a ramped-up series of “Amens,” so I think standing-Os for that number are a blended reaction to the excitement and the pure skill of the harmonies.

  • John Situmbeko

    Quite true about acapella performances receiving standing ovations. Such is also the case for the Isaacs’ I Will Praise Him. Perhaps one reason why people get extremely impressed by acapella songs is that the singer’s artistry is, in many cases, showcased in a different way. Without instrumental accompaniment one must really put all the artistry in him to use if he is to captivate his audience. The Isaacs’ I Will Praise Him gets them the standing ovations because they do it not relying on their instruments but on their high soaring harmonies. They also apply the same technique no their performance of The Star Spangled Banner.
    I must also add that mr Boreing mentioned above, artistry is lacking a bit in SG. Not only in SG however, in all genres. Look at the Hillsong bunch for example. And one problem for them is they cant tell when they get a standing ovation because their crowds stand through out the concerts.

  • John Situmbeko

    Pardon my typing error. They also apply the same technique………………

  • I like your new gravatar. 🙂
    Good point about there being a general lack of artistry in all genres these days. I will say though that you can definitely find it especially in areas like folk or bluegrass. There are also some Christian musicians who are making interesting music, but unfortunately the radio tends to focus on the less interesting. You mentioned Hillsong, and they do praise and worship, which is kind of like its own sub-genre within contemporary Christian. Personally, I actually think they write a little better than average, and I like Darlene Zcshech (or however you spell her name, I’m totally making it up). Good point about the standing—worship music is supposed to be more a participation than a performance, so rules about standing-Os don’t really apply. There has been much debate on the role of artistry in worship—whether it’s important, whether too much gets in the way of the experience, etc. The main philosophy seems to be that while you want the music to be good, you also don’t want to make it too much like a concert.

  • John Situmbeko

    Lol!!! It is spelled Zschech, not Zcsheck, (I must admit I’ve just done a google search to get this one right).
    Interesting facts you have brought out about Praise and Worship. I remember one worship leader speaking about how much she wanted to be the best in leading worship. From what she said and what you have said,I have now concluded that leading the crowd into a worship mood and prolonging the worship is considered as great artistry. So an indicator for the worship leader that he is doing a good job is seeing every hand raised high in worship.