Domingo is to Denver
High Church is to Low Church
The song was “Perhaps Love,” and it was sweet and innocent. The singers were none other than operatic tenor Placido Domingo and country-folk star John Denver. Domingo was always my favorite among the “Three Tenors,” and Denver was a favorite of my good friend Helen when she was a teenager. I learned a few of the latter’s songs, such as “Annie’s Song” and “Country Roads.”
These days, I wouldn’t necessarily choose Domingo over Denver, although my training and background might suggest such a preference. In fact, I’m now more attracted to Denver’s stylings (although not to his voice or his self-oriented atheism). The point is that there’s quite a contrast between the two in terms of vocal production. Not all listeners would initially find the contrast as great as I do, but even if the focus is only on vowel sounds, it’s pretty easy to hear if it’s pointed out. It’s not unlike the difference between formal British and twangy southern U.S. accents.
The difference between Domingo and Denver strikes me as analogous to the contrast between a high-church organ prelude or choral anthem (on the one hand) and a folksy “y’all c’mon & praise the Lord, now” that might be heard in a really southern Southern Baptist or Pentecostal group (on the other). Listening to the first 60 or 70 seconds of this recording of “Perhaps Love” will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. The contrast is first heard at about 0:41 (as compared with 0:16).
Ya gotta give credit both to Domingo (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would have laughed at) and to Denver (for caring enough about music in general to sing with someone that most of his fans would otherwise never have heard of). The “crossover” can potentially bring new listeners to each “side,” expanding horizons.
I wonder if any churches think like this. Seriously think. Can Lutherans and Presbyterians gain from nondenominational teachings, low-end crossover stylings, and Getty music? Can Baptists and Nazarenes and Church of Christ people be built up by intentional formality, serious scholarship, and Charles Wesley hymns? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.
For more on style in church music: