About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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“If the right is given to African tribes to include their pagan traditions in the liturgy, I think the same should also be given to the rite of a thousand year-old Christian Church, based on a much older Roman tradition.”
— Professor László Dobszay

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Audrey Hepburn, Fulton J. Sheen, & Church Singers Who Can't Read Music
published 30 March 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski

702 Eliza Y FAIR LADY (1964) is one of my favorite movies. Julie Andrews, whom you’ve doubtless seen in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, first made this story popular alongside Rex Harrison on Broadway. Shockingly, Andrews was not selected to star in the 1964 film because producers felt she wasn’t famous enough. Instead, Audrey Hepburn 1 was chosen. For the record, I think Julie Andrews would have been fantastic!

Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice, however, was not used. Those sections were dubbed by another singer. Hepburn (I’m told) was a low singer and the directors balked at transposing her songs to a lower tessitura. If you search YouTube, though, you can see movie clips with Hepburn’s actual voice!!!

      * *  VIDEO EXAMPLE • Hepburn’s Actual Singing Voice   —   (a version without ads)

But what does this have to do with Church musicians?

The fact is, Audrey Hepburn was not that great of a singer. Some might find this statement unfair. After all, they might assert, Hepburn knew another singer’s voice would dub hers, so she was mainly concerned with the facial emotions. (If, in fact, she knew this, I suppose that assertion is worth considering.)

But isn’t it strange to hear this video? Her singing technique has some … flaws!

Do you direct choir members with flaws? Do you direct choir members who can’t read music? Do you direct choir members who don’t know how to “swell” on the correct notes, sometimes sing the wrong pitch, and are consistently too heavy on the final tones? Take heart — just tell them that even Audrey Hepburn made mistakes!

Did you notice that singer, pianist, and chorus weren’t always together in that clip? What’s wrong? Can’t they count? Can’t they feel the beat? Again: these are the things that happen in real life. I’m often amazed when I hear piano concerti performed by the most famous artists (Vladimir Horowitz, Josef Hofmann, Fritz Reiner, Edwin Fisher, Ignaz Tiegerman, and so forth) only to discover that orchestra and soloist are not together! It’s quite … disconcerting. If this happens to the most talented, why do we become frustrated with our amateur singers? Why don’t we show more patience?

DURING THE 1970S, MY FRIEND’S FATHER met Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in Missouri. Approaching the end of his life, Sheen was traveling all over the USA promoting the daily Holy Hour. This father introduced his wife and told him they had twelve children. Looking into the mother’s eyes, Sheen said, “You’re guaranteed salvation.” Then he looked at the father and said, “Any woman who sheds so much blood for children is guaranteed salvation.”

I believe there’s another reason why mothers are pleasing to the Lord. Every second of their lives — each and every second — is dedicated to caring for young babies, and they never get a break. You might think I’m exaggerating … but I’m not. Mothers never get a moment of peace when young children are around. Period.

Similarly, singing is pleasing to God since it is necessary to give one’s entire self. If somebody sings “half-heartedly” the listener can always tell. True singing demands total commitment — heart, mind, and voice — and this is why it’s important to sing worthy liturgical music that’s truly sacred.



NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:

1   In grade school, we students asked a happily-married professor his candidate for the most beautiful woman of all time. (You’d be amazed at the topics we discussed in school, by the way!) The professor answered without hesitation, “Probably Audrey Hepburn.” I remember being shocked. I’d seen her in My Fair Lady but didn’t think her looks were anything special … and my opinion remains the same after all these years. However, according to Google, many men consider her the most beautiful woman of all time.