Monday, May 19, 2008

Lip-Syncing and LDS Missionaries

In my rather long post Missionaries and Singing one of my commenters Faux brought up a cultural practice that is actually quite common and done by many men particularly missionaries throughout the Church which is to lip-synch while singing LDS hymns.

Faux said: "I loved the Spencer W. Kimball story about the family singing at the last moment. This was especially meaningful, given that he lost his voice later in life. I am envious of those who can carry a note. I am of the Heber J. Grant tradition -- which is to say my singing may do more damage than good. Consequently, I have tried to develop a good lip-sync. (Is that a form of lying?)" That is an intriguing question whether we are being dishonest by giving an outward form of singing.

Wickipedia defines lip-syncing as "Lip-sync or Lip-synch (short for lip synchronization) is a technical term for matching lip movements with voice....Though lip-synching or lip singing can be used to make it appear as though actors have musical ability (e.g., The Partridge Family) or to misattribute vocals (e.g. Milli Vanilli), it is more often used by recording artists to create a particular effect, to enable them to perform live dance numbers, or to cover for illness or other deficiencies during live performance"

I think this is a form of situational ethics. For some it might very well be a form of lying since many men and a few women who engage in this practice can sing and sing passably if not well. Others on the other hand would disrupt the meeting by their disharmony. Is it better to ignore them in a spirit of tolerance or is it better for them just not to sing.

My response to Faux was "I think there is some truth in what you say I have gone through periods of lip syncing also. I think it is a cultural practice of singing. In an evolutionary scale it moves us mentally toward actually singing. On one end of the continum we just don't even engage on the other end we sing and do it passably. I mean by lip syncing you are consciously engaged as the words pass through your mind and form in to words. For some of us it is a way of conforming without fear of embarassment. Kind of like I would sing if I really could but I can't so I do the next best thing. It is a form of social accomodation."

Since singers range in their ability and LDS missionaries have a stronger desire than most since they desire to feel the spirit and set an example I wonder if they are under pressure to sing in some ways more than the general member. Mission presidents tell them to sing and they themselves want to model for the investigator good cultural practices. I know from experience that they are human too and want good-looking young adult sisters viewing them or their missionaries peers to think they are okay as singers and missionaries. I for one as a missionary felt a sense of shame when I sang and that the young women in the ward and my fellow missionaries felt sorry for me. A way that I found to get around it was to lip-sync. I felt either way whether I sang or whether I lip-synced a sense of failure. I knew I couldn't sing my mission president even threw me out of a missionary singing group for a mission-wide conference. It took me more than a decade to be able to sing passably and that was because my wife forced me to sing in a couple ward choirs. I felt sorry for people who performed putting up with me so patiently for so many years.

Many missionaries who have never sung can't just miraculously start singing like angels. On the other hand they will never learn to sing if they don't actually put the music with the words. My expectations were that I just had to open my mouth and a good sound would come out. Unfortunately teenage girls and young women laughed when I sang which reinforced my behavior. It took Heber J. Grant who is held up to us missionaries as an example by our mission presidents thirty or forty years to get the hang of singing why should it be any different for those of us without that gift. For many of us musically challenged we might need a culture of immunity. The only place I didn't have a problem singing was in small struggling branches where twelve year old girls played the piano or in an area where it was just us six missionaries. We all can't measure up the David Archuletas in the Church and that is who a modern day missionary would measure themselves with. When I was a missionary it was the Osmonds. In a singing culture with the likes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir you can't escape the fact singing is an expectation for missionaries.

I wonder how we can overcome the need to lip-sync among our young men and older men who have continued the practice in to adulthood.

No comments: