Lucinda Elliot

Transcending Genre: an Intersting Example from Light Music.

I haven’t yet finished my posts about antagonists, but I am writing this short one about something else as waking up with an old song sounding in my dreams set me to thinking.

I have never liked the type of music dubbed ‘Easy Listening’ generally, always thinking of it as the sort of stuff played in chain restaurants and supermarkets, middle-of-the road and bland, with a conventional feel to it and a sentimental tendency. In recent decades, I believe that it has now developed into something known as ‘lounge music’. Of course, a lot of outstanding singers and performers began their careers as ‘lounge singers’ – Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel and others. I am not deriding the talent of the singers, but I never took to the content of what they sang.

Anyway, be that as it may,  I have always been deeply moved by one easy listening song, sung in fact by Matt Monro, ‘Softly, as I Leave You’. This was so even when I was young and hard.

Matt Monroe was to my mind massively underestimated as a singer. His baritone voice was surely outstanding. Frank Sinatra said this of him: ‘If I had to choose three of the finest male vocalists in the business, Matt would be one of them. His pitch was right on the nose. His word enunciations letter perfect. His understanding of a song, thorough.’

That must be mainly why the song comes to passionate life when he sings it. Besides that, though, it is, describing a final parting between loved ones as it does, dealing with rawer emotion than is typical of the ‘Easy Listening’ type of song (whether this parting is a lover leaving or a lover dying is a matter of interpretation: it seems Elvis Presley thought the latter).

I gather that the song as sung by Matt Montro was a translation from an original in Italian, called ‘Piano’ and sang by a singer called Mina. A songwriter called Hal Shaper,  wrote lyrics in English:

Softly, I will leave you softly
For my heart would break if you should wake and see me go
So I leave you softly, long before you miss me
Long before your arms can beg me stay
For one more hour or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
(Softly, long before you kiss me)
(Long before your arms can beg me stay)

I woke up not only with the song running through my head this morning, but also, thinking that it transcended its genre exactly by stirring deeper emotions in the listener than might be expected in light music.

This made me think how that lesson can be applied to other art forms. I reflected all over again how it is surely a fine thing for genre writers like myself to do their utomost to make their writing sour, to go for one hundred percent, not the eighty-five to ninety per cent; to pull out the stops and to write something that makes the spine tingle and the emtoions sour – tin fact, to produce soemething that transcends the boundaries and requirements of genre writing.

Here is the Youtube link to hear the 1962 recording of the song by Matt Monro, which I think the best.


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