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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