Zen in the art of entertainment

I’ve gotten a couple of emails about this clip and see that it’s showed up on at least one other blog: David Phelps doing “No More Night” partly in Romanian:

What’s so striking here is how effortless  all this is for him at this point. I don’t mean the Romanian stuff but the superhuman vocalizing. Go back and watch him on some of his earliest Gaither videos, and though he’s never seemed to struggle like most singers … ever … there’s a visible concentration to his manner, a certain selectivity about where and how he adds his ornaments and flourishes. It’’s not so much uncertainty as a degree of carefulness about how and when to hit the turbo button. Now … it seems like he’s just a one-man improvisational machine, riffing off his own ability.

There are draw backs to this approach for sure. A friend of mine emailed a few days ago to say Phelps singing this song gave him … well, the musical equivalent of something inappropriate to describe in polite company. But it actually seems to me like less could have been a lot more here at times … all the improvised filigrees and soaring acrobatics on nearly every note leading up to the big finish. My point here is not so much to complain (shocking, I know) as to note how unthinking all this overmuch ornamentation seems to be for Phelps. Reminds me a little of Loren Harris after he’d been singing “Wish I Coulda Been There” for so long that he started basically scatting his way through entire passages.

Back in another life, when I had been a church pianist for many more years than most children and young adults can stay focused on any one thing, I started to lose interest … in the songbooks from which I was getting material, in the bag of tricks and runs and fills I relied on, in myself, really. And so one day for the offertory I played a slow-downed, self-indulgently ornamental and fully sentimentalized version of … the Flintstones theme song.

A stupid stunt, I know, though actually, it wasn’t that bad, and I got several compliments afterward. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone ought to start pulling juvenile stunts to freshen up their repertoires. Rather it’s this: off-the-rack creative people in general get bored easily with their  own work. But astonishingly talented people like Phelps don’t just get bored. They reach a kind of zen in the art of entertainment where the crowd thrilling, ear pleasing inventory of moves and sounds and phrasings pour uninhibited from some deep-set wellhead of showmanship. And back on earth, all the rest of us can do is just stand and stare.

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  1. SGM Blog wrote:

    Interesting, I wonder how widespread your creative indulgence is…. as our church organist in my 20’s, I played soulful renditions of Stairway to Heaven, Sweet Home Alabama, Freebird, Chiseled In Stone, et al. Same goes for the 30 minute preludes to weddings and funerals. No one ever complained; probably no one ever noticed. Or cared.

  2. KC wrote:

    I heart David Phelps. He’s ridiculously talented. He’s also amazing in his solo concerts. More David, please!

  3. Janet B wrote:

    My cousin, an incredibly gifted pianist - as well as a minister - has been doing that kind of “slight of ear” for years. The Pepsi & McDonald’s jingles, Beatles’ songs, tv & movie themes…always makes me giggle, but then, I’ve learned to pay attention to what he’s playing!

    As for David - could it be that, as an experienced artist, he was reading his audience on this particular night? Notice how the background chattering & such stopped about halfway through the song. He got their attention! (Either that, or someone like me knocked the offenders unconscious.)

  4. TheLord wrote:

    I was highly amused that Phelps sang “Nessun Dorma” on the last Gaither video. Does no one in Indiana bother to translate the lyrics? I will win!

    That aside, his voice is much better suited to pseudo-classical singing than the real thing.

  5. Lisa wrote:

    David Phelps has sung Nessun Dorma in solo and GVB performances since he released his last CD –which included it.

    I don’t see anything wrong with it, but Turandot has been my favorite opera for a long time. Calaf’s aria has been done by a good number of people–mostly with less-than pleasing results.

    Phelps is NOT Pavarotti–but it’s not bad.

    Are you, in any way, by the use of your comment-name–passing judgment on his performance?

  6. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    I recently saw David Phelps perform Nessun Dorma at a Gaither Homecoming show. The performance was endorsed wholeheartedly by a pair of obese pentacostal women sitting near me, who raised their hands, closed their eyes and babbled away in support of a song about a dude pursuing a chick.

    Clearly they didn’t also have the gift of interpretation…

  7. canuk wrote:

    Stand and stare…that’s what I did when I heard David’s solo on this one…


    Starts at 2:15. Love the reaction of everyone around him when he hits the big note(s).

  8. KC wrote:

    David singing Disney seems to go over well, too. I love this one:


  9. A Friend Of A Friend wrote:

    I hated it when Loren did that mess you speak of. I hate it when anyone slurs their words around like they are drunk. I also hate it when folks get so tired of singing their fortune-making sugarstick, that they decide to ’soup’ it up, making it have a totally different sound and feel.

  10. Wade wrote:

    When you perform much you get CHOPS!!! David has Many!!

    In most performing when you as a performer get tired what you are doing as far as material…that is about the time you are getting GOOD @ it!!!

    As far as Phelps not being Pavarotti.. I have heard both and I’d pay money to hear David.

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