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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Gender Issues » Cross-singing

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Author Topic: Cross-singing
Member # 3426

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Has anyone here heard of Richard Shindell? He's a folk singer I like. Most of the songs he writes are first-person narratives, and a couple of them are from a woman's point of view.

You can see lyrics at There's "Reunion Hill" on the CD of the same name, "The Ballad of Mary Magdalene" on Blue Divide, and "Abuelita" on Somewhere Near Paterson.

Somebody asked him about this in an interview once, and he said something like, "It's no different from writing from the point of view of a soldier or truck driver - I've never been either of those things either."

What do you think? Do you know anybody else who "cross-sings"? Do you agree with Richard's (paraphrased) statement above?

I'll post my own opinions once some other people have given theirs.

Posts: 107 | From: Chicago, IL | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
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As a musician and singer, I'd have to agree -- it's just another perspective, like he says. And that's a particularly common practice in folk music, too.

Kythryne Aisling
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"The only unnatural sexual act is that which you cannot perform."
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Posts: 1685 | From: New York City | Registered: Oct 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 5317

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Well... I once wrote some erotica from a woman's point of view, and only needed to make one revision.

It just requires imagination to get into the viewpoint of that narrator, and that imagined state has to hold through the whole work. Trying to avoid rabid stereotypes is the trickiest part. (IMO, of course.)

Sapphire Cat
Looks won't tell who's living inside.
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Posts: 235 | From: Louisville KY (St. Matthews) | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 3426

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The thing is, though, he's not just writing the songs, but singing them too. I don't doubt for a second that it's perfectly possible for someone to write convincingly from the point of view of another gender. But the fact is, in general, men's voices sound different from women's voices. (In particular, Richard's voice sounds quite different from the voice of any woman *I've* ever heard.)

To me, personally, I find it distracting. I can appreciate the words and the music separately - he's a very good writer and singer - but they somehow don't fall together into a coherent whole, like they do on other songs where he sings from a man's point of view.

It has sort of the same feeling of seeing a man act a woman's part in a play. (I know they did this in Shakespeare's time, but acting in Shakespeare's time was a very different thing than it is today.) It makes it harder for me to really get into the story, if that makes any sense.

I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with singing or acting the part of another gender. I'm not even saying that I don't like the songs I mentioned before. I do like them very much, but I just think they're lacking a layer of realism that Richard achieves very easily in almost all his other songs. Maybe this is a hang-up on my part, but it's my personal reaction.

Posts: 107 | From: Chicago, IL | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2105

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I think that's really cool.

It's something not many artists do (although that CD of women singing songs guys sing, a collection or something, can't remember what it's called, did sort of try this on a bigger scale). I have to try write something from a female perspective now, this is going to be very strange.

The voice issue, I don't know about that. It sounds like it might be kind of cool, but I can see how it might be a little distracting.

I am not who I appear to be.

Gaffer--from under the moon backstage

Posts: 356 | From: Phoenix--name that plurally | Registered: Dec 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 802

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Tori Amos does a creepy cover of an Eminem song on her new album. It's from the point of view of a man who killed his wife and is recounting it to his kid. It's very strange to hear a woman say these things, perhaps because we still find it much more shocking when a woman is violent than when a man is.

I do some cross-singing, I guess, but not really in songs I write myself. Right now I'm singing a song from the point of view of a boy named Oscar (from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera). The range is pretty high, though, and couldn't be sung by any men I know.

Posts: 582 | From: Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Registered: Aug 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Only In Dreams
Member # 3661

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I think it's very interesting. Of course, when you think about it, female acting roles in the middle ages were all portrayed by men.

I am an Alto 2 in my choir, which means I have a low singing voice and can even sing tenor parts if I try. Most of my favorite bands or groups have a Tenor as the lead vocalist, and I am sure if I wanted to sing one of those pieces for a performance I could do it. I would probably make a brief introduction to the song and let the audience know that this song was written and originally performed by a male.

Now that I think of it, many songs we have sung in my choir, an all-girls' choir are told from a male's point of view. I distinctly remember reading one piece of music written for female voices (Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto) that had the lines, "I will...kiss her lips and take her hands" (And I doubt it was being told by a lesbian!)

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Posts: 268 | From: Somewhere | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 168

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I think my mostly-girls chorus sang that song too!

"I'll be a Venus on a chocolate clamshell rising on a sea of marshmallow foam."

Posts: 1101 | From: San Francisco | Registered: Jun 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 4769

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Has anyone read She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb? This novel was written VERY convincingly by a male, but from a female's perspective...

Just a thought

Act young while you still are.

Posts: 266 | From: Wisconsin | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
la jaunty bohemian
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Jumping off from Star2Be17's comment.

There's a fabulous book called Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It's written very convincingly from an elderly Japanese woman's perspective but was penned by a middle-aged white American male. [He does have a degree dealing with Japanese culture.]

While I love the book, it still feels strange to me to know that it's a man behind the words. The book is totally respectful of the culture and the characters, but it's still strange...

I've also read Lamb's work, but I wonder how much of the tone/content is filtered through the "male perspective" ... and how many books by women were denied publication/publicity because these guys got there first.

[Edited to say: Rather, I think that it's more[?] important to listen to women talk about women's lives, because they're the ones who live and understand it. Add to that the fact that women have been historically shut out from telling their devalued stories, and I get the conclusion that it's more valuable to read things by women than about them via male authors.

I'd also have problems reading a text about a gay person that was penned by a straight one. Not that we can't empathize with people of other cultures, but isn't it more authentic/less prone to misunderstanding or misrepresentation to let the subjects speak for themselves?]

[This message has been edited by la jaunty bohemian (edited 04-08-2002).]

Posts: 105 | From: Baltimore, MD, USA | Registered: Nov 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 7347

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I feel that you should write what you know. If you're a woman writing an erotica piece about two women having sex, yet you've never had sex with a woman...then you can't really know.

I read and loved Memoirs of a Geisha. In the begining he 'explains' how it is he's writing the story from a female point of view, but in the end you find out it's not true. I'll admit, that made me like the book less.

I also read She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, and it was a pretty good book, but as a man writing, how can he know what it's like to be raped unless he has been? How can he know these expeirences that he writes about? He can't ever *truly* know, and I think that lessens his stories.

Posts: 103 | From: Las Vegas, NV | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1386

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We have to ask ourselves, must writers commit murder before writing mystery novels? The point about fiction is that it is fiction.

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

- Albert Einstein

[This message has been edited by Bobolink (edited 04-09-2002).]

Posts: 3442 | From: Stirling, Ontario, Canada | Registered: Sep 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Celtic Daisy
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Member # 2971

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That's an excellent point bobolink. Personally, i don't really see anything wrong with "cross-singing". There are lots of songs sung by males that i love to sing. Sometimes it helps to say this was written by a male in the point of view of a male. I don't think certain songs should be restricted to one gender.

'You've got the eyes of ten women. Not in a jar! I wasn't accusing you. I just mean your eyes are really nice'-coupling

Erin Jane
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Posts: 1747 | From: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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