Thursday, September 17, 2009

So Like a Video Game

My reflections this morning have centered on a new realization that the journey to learn to sing is so like the little adventures encountered by the heroes in my son's role-playing video games.

I have watched my son progress through the stages and stories of various video games, such as the Legend Of Zelda, for about 12 years now. When he first started, he couldn't read that quickly, so he asked me to read the captions as he moved through the game. When my daughter was born, I would sit on the couch nursing her and watch the game and become interested in the story.

I got to see over and over again the pattern and structure used to present these video games. And this morning it hit me that this structure and pattern served as a little model as to the way the singing journey worked, and even life in general.

A game of this genre usually starts out with a little hero living in a familiar and comfortable kind of home town. It is in this friendly and comfortable place that this little video game hero begins to explore and find out about the world he finds himself in. The programmers use this device as a kind of training ground, and it is where the player learns about the moves his little hero character is capable of. In the beginning of the game, the hero has only a few moves and a modest set of tools with which to work and solve little tasks. He is not able to progress in the game until he has figured out these moves and solved these tasks. The skills he develops while moving about in this safe little place are ones he will need to survive in future levels. What he learns here will prepare him to commence with the game.

I liken this little home town to the place in our voice where we are most comfortable and which develops the most strength and ability. Our speaking voice. When we begin to sing, we start out in the range of our speaking voice and it is there, like the little hero, that we begin to explore what our voice can do. Singing Happy Birthday at a party. Learning the ABCs set to music. Celebrating Christmas with carols. Singing hymns at church. There are little tricky tasks to overcome, such as moving smoothly from one note to another, and then making leaps of intervals and such. When we have solved the tasks of this "hometown" of our voice, it can be time to move on and begin to explore other territories.

Most video games like this have a map of the little hero's "world." When viewing this map for the very first time, the little hometown area will be clear, but there will be some kind of cloud coverings over the rest of the world. After he becomes adept enough at his beginning skills, the hero will finally be able to solve a task that unlocks one of the other territories or lands. The cloud cover is lifted from the map from another of these areas, and the hero eagerly enters the new territory to explore the next level of the game.

Yes, this happens in singing. Once we have mastered the tasks of the hometown of our voice, we begin to venture into one of the cloudy territories. In the new territory, the hometown has been left behind, but we bring what we have learned there and it is of use to us as we begin to explore.

Back in the video game, when the hero enters the new land, he finds that his skills are used in a new way. There are some more difficult tasks here and some monsters that are just a little more scary then the cute little ones he encountered in his home town. Although he is able to solve some of the more difficult tasks with his original moves, usually the programmer introduces some new moves and skills and the little hero will not be able to defeat ALL the monsters in the new land, and solve ALL the puzzles without learning the new moves, and also being equipped with some better weapons and tools.

When I first ventured away from the hometown of singing, it was probably in my adolescence, which was filled with pop songs, high school choir, and musical theater pieces. Like the little hero, working out how to navigate this new world, which added some notes to my range presented new puzzles and challenges. I was mostly on my own, but there were some guides to help. My chorus teacher, for one.

My son has had quite a facility for these video games. He was usually ahead of his classmates in unlocking the doors and mastering the moves. The phone would ring frequently after school with the voices of little boys asking advice about how to proceed to the next level of the game. I noticed that some children were content to stay in the hometown just running around and having fun with all the beginning moves. Others wanted desperately to know how to solve the puzzle to get to the next level, and just needed help, not being able to figure it out on their own. Others, after feeling good about mastering the basics, got discouraged when they got to the new land and found that it was going to get more difficult.

Once the hero has advanced, he may be introduced to his first "dungeon." He must get through the dungeon, facing various "enemies" within the dungeon, and unlocking treasure chests, collecting items, and solving puzzles.

To me the introduction of dungeons is like the introduction of repertoire. Each song is a dungeon, with has its own set of little tasks to solve. A more complicated dungeon would be a piece of musical theater filled with multiple songs.

This goes on and on throughout the game, until eventually all the cloudy lands have been uncovered on the map, all the items have been found, and all the advanced moves have been mastered. It culminates in the hero triumphing over a giant boss enemy. This giant monster, or ultimate enemy requires all the resources and skills the hero has collected up to this point. By now, the hero, besides having added skills and an arsenal of weapons and collected a few friends along the way as a support system, has also increased his endurance and strength (usually marked by special bars) and his ability to recover after being injured is shorter. If the big boss is attempted before having bolstered one's self in this way, it is often not possible to beat the game, and the hero will have to go back and continue to build up and come back and try to defeat the boss later.

Can the big boss be considered a very difficult opera? A dramatic soprano singing a Wagnerian opera?

Well, I don't know enough about the higher levels to say for sure. I've just kind of ventured out of the hometown, finished the second land, spent time in the land of mezzo soprano, and am now uncovering the secrets of dramatic soprano. I'm just getting to the point of entering a couple of the easier dungeons in dramatic soprano land, so I don't know what lays in the cloud covered misty regions beyond. I will continue to write as I journey on. I hope anyone reading out there will be rooting for me as I tackle the monsters and solve the puzzles. Maybe I WILL make it to the encounter with the Big Boss some day.

1 comment:

  1. One reason I love reading your blog is your skill at drawing parallels between singing and the most unexpected things - like video games! And no matter how unexpected the comparison, you always have some insightful point to make, or a learning to share.