Music CriticApril 13, 2007
Performing onstage takes guts; it’s not for the timid. To walk out onstage as yourself, perform a song you’ve written, and to do it well, is to bare your soul. The singer/songwriter pulls up those emotions time and time again as he sings the songs of his heart for the audience that may or may not wish to witness such emotional angst.
Such was the experience last evening at a local high school. Ten performers took to the stage in an annual talent show known as Step Up 2 the Mic. A few of the singers chose to sing popular songs, some with karaoke accompaniment. One garage band performed an original collaborative composition. There was a dancer, a classical pianist, and an excellent young guitarist who played a Van Halen tune that rivaled the original performance.
It was the singer/songwriter who held my attention. This young man was the final performance of the evening. As the curtain opened, the singer’s vulnerability was magnified by the size of the stage and the intensity of the lights. There he stood, a boy, a guitar, and a microphone. He begins the song with a rhythmic accompaniment and breaks into the song “You Are an Ocean.” My mind begins to take in the melody, analyzing the words, and consider the experience that might cause an eighteen year old to put these feelings, not only on paper, but also into song. I ask myself if this is about a young love affair that has ended; I consider the line that says this house is poison and ask myself if this is how he views his own home.
I feel my stomach tighten as each phrase tumbles off his lips. I sense that the key of the song is pitched higher than I could sing and I know that the refrain will most likely go into the upper range of pitches. As the notes rise, the emotions rise with them. I grow concerned for the young man. Will his voice reach those notes? Does he have those pitches in his range? As I suspected, the melody of the song continues to climb. My mind is racing back and forth between the emotion in the performance and the troubling message within the song. Then, as I’m wrapped up in the performance and feeling all the emotions of the singer/songwriter, he takes me to a new place. There is a long high note. I listen closely; no sign of the young voice wavering. I’m relieved. What’s next? Another sustained note, but this time it’s higher. He’s got my attention. Then the climax of the song: a third sustained pitch, this time higher than all the others! He finishes the song strong and the audience shows their appreciation with cheers and applause.
What kind of performer brings out this kind of reaction in me? I must confess, the young man on stage is my son,
Sterling. The rave review is not that of a proud father. Well, OK, to some extent it is. I know that
Sterling is talented, but this performance was a revelation of a talent of which I was vaguely aware. I am in awe of his daring to write such a personal song, then sing it for his peers. I’m inspired by his compositions, they bring his stories to life in such a vivid fashion. I am impressed by the voice that easily sings pitches higher than any I could sing, and does so with a tone that is so much clearer than my own.
The exchange that took place between us after the performance is priceless. I congratulate
Sterling and tell him that he had a wonderful performance. Then I ask “what was that note?” meaning the highest pitch in the song. His reply came swiftly: “one that you don’t have!” He’s grinning from ear to ear. I have to smile and say “you’re right about that.” And what is
Sterling’s reward for this performance? I’d have to say that it is a rite of passage; it is the night in which he established himself as a singer/songwriter of unquestionable talent, a night in which the father gains a tremendous amount of respect for the son. It is also a night in which the performer walks away with first prize and $150 in his pocket for his efforts.