Sunday, July 11, 2004

Your pig is not welcome at my hootenanny

'Do not try to teach a pig how to sing -- It wastes your time. And it annoys the pig.' This is a piece of folk wisdom supposedly from the heart of the hillbilly country in the Ozarks.

It’s certainly true that there are few things in this world more vexatious than a frustrated pig with a limited vocal range. But are Jed and his kin are really justified in making this one of the those rules that absolutely must not be broken?

Surely, out there in the back woods of Arkansas, there exist pig-prodigies whose natural talent makes it worth your while persisting with vocal coaching? ‘I mean, for Christ’s sake, Jeremy, I could be the next P.J. Harvey and they won’t even try!’

I also have my doubts about this fatalistic approach to education: that the teaching of song to a pig will waste the time of the educator and irritate the educated. Well, welcome to the real world, buddy. How many music teachers have not felt the same way as they struggled to inculcate the joy of the clarinet in a recalcitrant 9-year old? How many such children have wrestled with the instruments of wind and reed only to give it all up as soon as their parents recognise that the only effective blowing their little Joshuas and Zoes are doing is on the mouthpiece of a bong?

Perhaps if these teaching resources had been spread a little more equitably across the animal kingdom, we might have had a few more pigs making it big in the Billboard Top 100 (other than Meatloaf, I mean).

And why, I wonder, did they focus on singing? Surely it would have been just as applicable to say: don’t try to teach pigs to become structual engineers. Pigs are rumoured to be amongst the most intelligent animals but the number of bridges built by porcine-dominated construction firms can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I suspect a darker, more self-serving motive at work: simply that any consideration of pig careers of whatever type presents an undesirable obstacle on the road to the abattoir. ‘Yes, Babe, your vocal range shows real promise and your finely-honed moral sensibilities make you potentially suitable for some of the more demanding operatic roles being performed today, but, dude, I need the crackling.’

And who among us will argue with that?

I only ask that we treat the pig with the respect he deserves and not sugarcoat it. We should not hold out the false promise of a life on the stage if only the pig had a little more ability or worked a little harder or had a better agent. Will not the pig hold us in higher esteem if we simply say to him from day one: ‘the only singing you’ll be doing, bacon-boy, is when you get up close and personal with the business end of a spring-loaded bolt-gun.’

After all, isn’t honesty the best policy?

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