Incognita Review

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Incognita Review

Postby randomval » Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:40 pm

Okay. I know that a group member responding negatively to a review invariably sounds whiney and ridiculous, and thus I should keep my mouth shut. However...I felt that certain comments made in the Incognita review were unnecessary and made me feel just a little indignant. To quote the Dave Trendler's review:

"Some ethnic groups lean toward a common soloist tone. The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally."

I'm unsure how Random Voices gets classified as an "ethnic" group, to begin with. A large percentage of group members happen not to be white, but we sing what I would call pretty typical collegiate a cappella fare, so I don't see how that is reflected in our music. I also understand that the wording of the statement "The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally" is very carefully hedged not to say something like "All Asian-American soloists are nasal and sing from the back of their throats," but then the inclusion of the ethnicity of the soloists in question is irrelevant. Why not just say "The soloists (particularly on Goodbye and Goodnight Moon) seemed to be singing from the backs of their throats"? It would have gotten the point across without making any unnecessary ethnic statements.

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive, especially considering that I'm one of the soloists mentioned. I am not trying to imply any deliberate racism or malice on Dave's part. I found most of his review helpful and positive. This particular remark just caught me off-guard, and I felt compelled to respond.
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Re: Incognita Review

Postby Johnsapella » Tue Jun 06, 2006 6:22 pm

I for one read

dtrendler wrote:"Some ethnic groups...."


as meaning "ethnicities," not "ethnic a cappella groups." In other words, referring to the larger group of people sharing a common heritage and ancestry around the world. Just saying, from a different viewpoint, Dave's words don't have to be holding Random Voices accountable as an Asian-American a cappella group...whether he was or not, I'm sure he'll let us know.
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Re: Incognita Review

Postby dherriges » Tue Jun 06, 2006 9:16 pm

Johnsapella wrote:I for one read

dtrendler wrote:"Some ethnic groups...."


as meaning "ethnicities," not "ethnic a cappella groups." In other words, referring to the larger group of people sharing a common heritage and ancestry around the world.


Even reading it that way, I still think the comment is inappropriate or at least poorly phrased. Why not simply critique the soloists for their tone? Why bring in ethnicity? I don't think Dave's claim is necessarily untrue (in fact, it makes some sense to me, because a number of East Asian languages tend to have a lot of nasal sounds, so if someone grew up speaking one of those languages in the home I can see how it would translate to English) but it's not categorically true, and it's fairly irrelevant to his review.
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Postby jesset » Tue Jun 06, 2006 9:36 pm

Speaking before Mr. Trendler has a chance to respond...the comments above seem to me to be splitting hairs. Sure he could have said something else or phrased his words another way. But he didn't because for whatever reason that's how he wanted to phrase his thoughts. That's how writing works. When you start the process of, "Well why couldn't you have said something like...", you'll never reach the end.

On a separate note, I for one had no idea that Asian-American soloists tended to sing from the back of the throat. So I learned something.
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Postby Tippy » Wed Jun 07, 2006 7:14 am

Kill Whitey.
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Postby jo philbin » Wed Jun 07, 2006 7:39 am

I think that the comment regarding asian-american soloists was harmless at worst. However I think that it did pave the way for future reviewers to understand that their syntax and word choice do affect their readers in possibly surprising ways.

That being said, I actually thought it was an interesting take on "Incognita"'s asian soloists. I am an asian-american and have received the same critiques from time to time. I recently learned that Asian people generally have thicker vocal chords so their voice can sometimes be a little buried in their throats. Regardless of whether that is true or not, I think Dave's comment will help vocalists reassess their own voices and how they work.
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Re: Incognita Review

Postby Mahka » Thu Jun 08, 2006 10:23 pm

dherriges wrote:
Johnsapella wrote:I for one read

dtrendler wrote:"Some ethnic groups...."


as meaning "ethnicities," not "ethnic a cappella groups." In other words, referring to the larger group of people sharing a common heritage and ancestry around the world.


Even reading it that way, I still think the comment is inappropriate or at least poorly phrased. Why not simply critique the soloists for their tone? Why bring in ethnicity? I don't think Dave's claim is necessarily untrue (in fact, it makes some sense to me, because a number of East Asian languages tend to have a lot of nasal sounds, so if someone grew up speaking one of those languages in the home I can see how it would translate to English) but it's not categorically true, and it's fairly irrelevant to his review.


I think the differences between California and the rest of the country are appearing here, especially since both Stanford and UCLA have fairly large Asian/Asian-American populations.

That being said, while somewhat inappropriate for a review, it does open up the interesting discussion of physical differences based on genetics within a particular subgroup of H. sapiens. I've definitely noticed that some (but not all) of Asian descent tend to have more "back of throat" tones. It's not easy to overcome, especially in the context of western, "white-dominated" music.
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Postby brianhaverkate » Sun Jun 25, 2006 8:09 am

Can a sound be both in the back of the throat and nasal at the same time?

I view those as being opposite extremes of vocal quality. Maybe I misread something..?
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Postby Binks » Sun Jun 25, 2006 5:48 pm

I think it's just a bit rude to generalize using ethnicities. For example, it's like saying "most Caucasian people can't dance" or "my experience with African-Americans are that they're really athletic." Whether they're true or false, compliments or criticisms, it's rude because it perpetuates a stereotype. You're putting the idea out there using a generalization, and whether or not the generalization is true, there are always people who are the exception who has to fight against that to gain respect. Or worse, they believe in the stereotype themselves and give up on their personal growth. Now, wouldn't that be a shame if all the Asian-American populations goes "Oh crap, my voice isn't suited for the western, "white-dominated" music, so I guess I'm just going to go become a math geek cause that's what people like me are supposed to be good at, right?" Ah! Stereotypes strike again!

I think its best if we take the safe route and stay away from using ethnicities...
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Postby dekesharon » Sun Jun 25, 2006 7:16 pm

Binks wrote:I think its best if we take the safe route and stay away from using ethnicities...


I used to think this. For a long time. And I think there's great value in maintaining discourse that isn't offensive or racially specific in certain communities, like schools.

But in the big, nasty, imperfect world (and in our little a cappella world, although it's neither big nor nasty) there's more value in hearing all points of view, speaking what you believe to be the truth, and discussing nuance. For example, the following statement:

"Americans are more likely to be entrepreneurs than Japanese"

can be taken as a cultural insight or a racial slur. I don't personally find it to be any kind of a slur, but I know some people would think it such. Or how about:

"Women are more likely to be nuturing than men."

Some people are OK with that statement. But then how about:

"Men are less likely to be nurturing than women."

Well, men are in power, they can take it.

But what about a statement about something women are less likely to be/do/have? Gets more difficult, because women are culturally the opressed as opposed to the opressor.

Not all statements about women are true, of course, but that doesn't mean none are. And if something's true, shouldn't it be something we can say, in a rational, first-ammendment driven society?

Regarding the specific statement regarding Asian-Amercian voices, I can't say either way, as I haven't noticed a trend, and I also don't have a large enough sampling size from my experience. But aren't we better off as an a cappella community if we're able to discuss this issue, in a decidedly respectful way?

Maybe there are elements of a Asian vocal aparatus that provide (on average) some benefits as well? Not as good at a regular trumpet, but better at a muted trumpet than a typical Caucasian voice? (I made that up; I have no idea).

Of course, all of this is predicated on the understanding that the larger the group you're discussing the less a trait can be counted on to reflect any one of its members. Members of the House Jacks are more likely to be great vocal percussionists than members of the Kings Singers, but that doesn't mean I'm better than every one of them at VP, nor does it even mean I'm any good.

I know all this is potentially sensitive, but I do think there's a way to navigate discussion of vocal topics with an eye on the upside (what's to be learned? what's to be improved? what benefits exist?), and everyone understanding that everyone's intentions are good.

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Postby jesset » Sun Jun 25, 2006 9:58 pm

Binks wrote:I think its best if we take the safe route and stay away from using ethnicities...


Deke wrote the cool eloquent response, so I'm just going to say I disagree with that idea because it discourages open free discussion. There are many differences within races and to pretend they aren't there is just a little silly. I don't think anything in this discussion has been rude or derogatory.

Just sayin'.

Well, and of course...
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Postby Binks » Mon Jun 26, 2006 12:17 am

Jesse wrote: so I'm just going to say I disagree with that idea because it discourages open free discussion. There are many differences within races and to pretend they aren't there is just a little silly. I don't think anything in this discussion has been rude or derogatory.

Well, and of course...


Ah, here we go...

Free discussion is another one of those 'sounds great in theory but doesn't always work in practice' ideas. Allow me to explain.

When people start talking about ethniticity and start generalizing, these are the possible scenarios:

1. Everyone offers logical, intellectual discussions, with careful attention paid to wording at every detail as to mean exactly what they say.
Outcome A: Great discussion, everyone's enlightened. Too bad this doesn't happen because... (see other points). If we all Deke's eloquence then I would have a lot more faith.
Outcome B: Okay, everyone agrees on the picture. Great, now we have stereotypes that we can apply for general use.

2. People start over-generalizing. We all know this happens, we start out saying something small...yeah people sound like this, they sing like that. But pretty soon, (as with many forum threads), people start to wander, and then, you get these bold statements that aren't just *a little* offensive, but REALLY offensive. It's a slippery slope.
Outcome: Everyone gets pissed off at each other and the real discussion goes away and hurts the community.

3. We offer some constructive criticism, but due to our lack of knowledge/lack of culture, we completely missed the point. C'mon, we all know not everyone has the same opinion of what's good or what's bad --even within the a cappella community. For example, if you offer criticism to a tribe saying that their songs have no tune, have you ever stopped to consider that maybe they want it that way?
Outcome: We all show how ignorant and unlearnt we are. W00t, way to go, singers trying to be anthropologists.


We are neither experts nor part of academia research (unless you are, then go right ahead). If it's musicality that we're concerned about, then for example, why not just ask for advantages/disadvantages of a nasal/raspy/sharp sound? Why must ethnicity be involved? If it is truly the physical or innate features that we're focusing on, then there's really nothing you can change without surgery/or the like, right? Once again, you not need ethnicities to offer constructive criticism or suggestions.

I just don't understand why it's so important to drag ethnicity into a discussion about a cappella.

One last thing, just because there's a musical with dancing puppets singing a song called "Everyone's a little bit racist," that doesn't make the idea okay. However, I'm not all without humor. If you liked that song, I bet you would love this one.
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Postby mattootb » Mon Jun 26, 2006 5:40 am

Binks wrote:We are neither experts nor part of academia research (unless you are, then go right ahead). If it's musicality that we're concerned about, then for example, why not just ask for advantages/disadvantages of a nasal/raspy/sharp sound? Why must ethnicity be involved? If it is truly the physical or innate features that we're focusing on, then there's really nothing you can change without surgery/or the like, right? Once again, you not need ethnicities to offer constructive criticism or suggestions.

I just don't understand why it's so important to drag ethnicity into a discussion about a cappella.


We do it plenty with regards to sex - there's few topics discussed as often as all-male vs mixed vs all-female groups. It's only marginally easier to change your sex compared to your race(!), so if there really is a difference in vocal production/sound (I have no opinion on this particular issue) then I don't see why one is discussed ad nausiam and the other a taboo.

And in any case even if a certain race MAY be less suited to a particular style of music/solos, there'll just as likely be a genre which they MAY do a helluva lot better.

And of course, they'll be plenty of exceptions to the rule, just as you'll find the odd awesome female cover of Green Day.
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Postby dekesharon » Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:13 am

Good for you, Binks, for stepping up and speaking your mind. That's at the cornerstone of this discussion - the value of carefully expressing perhaps uncomfortable yet valuable opinions. My thoughts:

Binks wrote:Okay, everyone agrees on the picture. Great, now we have stereotypes that we can apply for general use.


The world is full of stereotypes, conscious and subconscious. I don't think that talking about them creates or reinforces them unduly. In my experience, logical discussion results in bringing them to the surface where they can be better understood, addressed, and acted against when needed.

Stereotyping is an essential element of the human psyche. It allows us, as children, to feel more safe approaching a little old lady for directions as opposed to an unwashed guy in an overcoat. The little old lady could be a killer, and the unwashed guy an undercover FBI agent.

Stereotypes aren't always right, but we should neither pretend they don't exist, nor refuse to discuss them.


Binks wrote:People start over-generalizing. We all know this happens, we start out saying something small...yeah people sound like this, they sing like that. But pretty soon, (as with many forum threads), people start to wander, and then, you get these bold statements that aren't just *a little* offensive, but REALLY offensive. It's a slippery slope.
Outcome: Everyone gets pissed off at each other and the real discussion goes away and hurts the community.


I think this scenario is possible, yet extremely unlikely, especially in this community. Let's use women's vocal percussion as an example.

A few years ago, most women's VP, well, sucked. Call it an opinion, a stereotype, a fact, what have you. But it was a generalization about the community that was by most reasonable measures, true.

Through various album reviews, discussions, articles, workshops, etc., this was addressed. It sucks, but it doesn't have to. Here's what guys do. Here's how to make the most of the female instrument. Here are a couple people who do it well. And so on.

And the result? Rebecca Tua and Blair Baldwin both wins the ICCA VP award in their regionals this year, and several great albums come out with excellent female VP (Divisi comes to mind).

If we danced around the topic, we'd most likely not be here now.

To take this one step further, for one person to mention hearing a vowel darkness in Asian American voices doesn't mean that the situation (if it exists, again I don't know) can't be rectified or turned to be an advantage. Or maybe there's a cultural bias we don't realize exists that by discussing we all become aware of. Many more upsides than downsides here.

Binks wrote:3. We offer some constructive criticism, but due to our lack of knowledge/lack of culture, we completely missed the point. C'mon, we all know not everyone has the same opinion of what's good or what's bad --even within the a cappella community.


That's right. But I think more people will move to a greater understanding and better ability to indentify their own biases if the situation is addressed.

We have a uniquely highly educated community here at RARB. Almost all college grads (at least) from excellent schools. Lucid discource. A disagreement at times, but that's as it should be.

And I think the more that people in communities like ours have these kind of discussions, the more we remove powder from the keg. In time (perhaps hundreds of years) hopefully a situation like the one at Duke won't be so racially divisive, and it can come down to the complexities and nuances around the facts. Impossible now, I know, but we should keep chipping away at the foundation.

Binks wrote:For example, if you offer criticism to a tribe saying that their songs have no tune, have you ever stopped to consider that maybe they want it that way?


If you don't ask, they'll never tell. Aren't we better off knowing?

And you're always better off in these situations stating that you don't hear a tune, which is a true statement. "Their songs have no tune" puts the listener in the role of arbiter of reality ;)


Binks wrote:We are neither experts nor part of academia research (unless you are, then go right ahead). If it's musicality that we're concerned about, then for example, why not just ask for advantages/disadvantages of a nasal/raspy/sharp sound? Why must ethnicity be involved ?


Now that is an excellent question. An extremely valuable one, because it gets to the heart of this whole issue, and without having asked it, we'd never be here.

I think the reason ethnicity must be involved is because it SEEMS to be involved.

"African Americans make great basketball players" - discuss.

Do they all? Do more, as a result of a physical advantage? Are there socioeconomic reasons? Social reasons? Can we learn anything from looking at similar questions, like "Why are Brazilians better at soccer than Americans?"

We've gotta talk about this stuff if we're ever gonna understand it. I know I don't.

I know that greyhounds run faster than golden retreivers, but that people aren't dogs. And also some goldens are faster than some greyhounds.

So, what does all that tell us?

I dunno. I'm hoping talking about it more will help me figure it out.

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Postby Tom C » Mon Jun 26, 2006 9:00 am

While this comment brings absolutely nothing to the debate about the issue of the review or to a cappella in general, I hereby submit it.

I think we are getting hung up on what a stereotype is.

From the OED:

A preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type. (jeez, just what I need, bringing the OED into a debate on a forum moderated by a linguist).

Perhaps the comment in question doesn’t fit this category. Perhaps its not an oversimplification of a characteristic. For instance, I wouldn’t call the following statements stereotypes: Blacks have a higher susceptibility to/incidence rate of sickle cell anemia; or the female hip to waist ratio is generally larger than the male’s. These statements make broad sweeping descriptions based on generalizations, but generalizations that can be factually proven. It could be the case that Asians, as compared to the genetically Caucasian, have been shown to biologically produce vocal sounds that are different. I can’t say for sure, since I am no expert. But knowing that there is a thriving field of ethnoacoustics out there (see, e.g. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/05/19 ... isa_voice/ for a fun example), this may not necessarily be a stereotypical statement in that it may not an oversimplification.

Of course, I guess oversimplification is in the eye of the beholder.
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