I have read more times than I can count, “I could listen to Grace Vanderwaal sing the phone book”, or “when I hear Grace sing, I feel better”. Others have mentioned the endearing rasp in her voice and her ability to generate a strong emotional response among her listeners. Grace’s voice, just seems to make people happy. Let me try to explain why I think that is.
Although determining whether someone has a “good” singing voice is a subjective matter, people can agree for the most part whether someone has at least some ability. At the bottom end of the scale of judging singing talent is to determine if the voice is pleasant, or easy to listen to. For those of us who saw Grace sing “I Don’t Know My Name” for the first time on the 11th season of “America Got Talent” there was an instantaneous and joyous effect. People in the audience rose to their feet, clapped their hands like mad, and unanimously gave Grace a standing ovation. They recognized something special, despite the voice cracks and nerves.
What is the genesis that started humans on the hunt for that perfect voice? Famed Danish linguist and University of Copenhagen Professor Otto Jespersen wrote in his 1922 book; “Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin” the following;
“Humans sang their emotions, before they could even think their thoughts. They were clueless as to whether they were communicating, they were simply making sounds like birds, or other animals might make. They did this because they had a craving to do so, those cravings to express one’s self are as strong today as it was then.”
To be a great singer, one must have the appropriate physiology: the conditioning of the vocal cords, the shape of the mouth and nasal passages and head. They must also have the ability to control their pitch, intonation, their timbre at will. A good ear, good breath control, proper posture, confidence and an ability to not only comprehend the piece they are singing, but to interpret it through all of the above creatively and artistically.
What they also need, is the right song and melody. The ability to sing that song with the exact amount of emotion needed to trigger the pleasure center of a listener’s brain. The ability to know who their listeners are and what they might want to hear at any given time doesn’t hurt either. All of the above is a tall order, but if everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be that special.
I remember Grace answering questions from her fans during one of her livestreams while she was on tour opening for Imagine Dragons last summer. Sitting in her tour bus she fielded questions: “Can you sing any song?”. Without hesitation Grace said “No, I can’t”. Grace understands that her voice has limitations. She also knows her strengths; that her voice is distinctive and unique. People just remember it!
Grace has the ability to pull us into her songs, to make us feel her music. She may not have the range of the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band “Queen” (yet). She makes up for that with her ability to punctuate certain words, using her raspy voice that gives, what I call, the “Grace Quake”. She was born with her brain wired for sound, with the craving to sing her heart out.
A couple of good examples of this extraordinary ability are the way she sings cover songs, such as the one she performed at the Honda Stage in New York City eleven months ago: “Riptide” by Vance Joy, and most especially Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” two years ago at Paste Studios, in Brooklyn, NY.
What makes Grace a fantastic and memorable artist is her ability to use her intuition and her imagination so effectively, to make her music linger in our minds, leaving us all begging for more! Grace may not be a “great” singer (yet), but let’s face it, with the competition in today’s music market, being someone who stands out in the crowd is more important than just the ability to sing with the multi-octave range and precision of an opera star.
Our girl Grace just has “it”; she’s a musical prodigy. She can write and compose her compositions in a way that very few others are able to accomplish. She pours her beautiful songs out to us like sunlight shining into our souls.
What makes someone a great singer may be different for each of us in general, but we fans can all agree that Grace is a phenomenal singer in the truest sense of that adjective. It takes someone with a genius level understanding of the human condition to pull that off. Leaving us all scratching our heads and asking how someone so young is able to do that? I’ll leave that one to the philosophers for future debate, but in the meantime I’m just grateful that I’m alive to witness it and write about it.
This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RMyfR1R3y4&lc=Ugy_8ggvbFqYsx5TepB4AaABAg