Tuesday 17 November 2020

Rexing a song instead of singing it - A phenomenon surprisingly common, but seldom noticed (when done with panache)


Rexing is what I (and my siblings) term speaking a song, instead of singing it - but doing so with such verve and panache that most people will not notice. 

When done well, most of the audience will assume, will indeed recall, that the song has been sung, and perhaps sung well. 

The name comes, of course, from the supreme and perhaps most extreme exponent of this way of performing a song: Rex Harrison. In the number above, from My Fair Lady - Rex speaks every word. I'm sure you will agree that he brings-off the feat marvellously; and few would feel in any way short-changed. A Master at work. 

I don't think Rex was completely incapable of singing - he will sometimes throw in an occasional, strategically placed, fairly accurate - albeit brief - sung-syllable; as with perhaps his most famous (Oscar awarded!) number from Doctor Doolittle:

To be fair; even Rex could not get away with Rexing just any song - Nessun Dorma wouldn't be a good candidate, for instance. But if a song is Rexed with total confidence, it is remarkable just how much can be done with a very high degree of success. 

(In Miss Saigon, Jonathan Pryce seems to have Rexed most of his dancing, as well as the singing - and received multiple awards.) 

My brother was once doing the comic baritone role in an amateur Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and during performance week caught laryngitis. He all-but lost his voice - certainly could not sing a whole show; but there was no understudy. I asked him what would happen, and he stated his intention simply to Rex the whole thing! Which he did, all went well, and nobody seemed to notice... 

(This might mean either that he Rexed-it superbly, or that his usual singing was not significantly different anyway... Make-up your own mind!)

But the plain fact is that most people, most of the time, can't tell the difference between Rexing and singing. 

Therefore - if you are in doubt or despair about singing: Just Rex-it!  



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Leonard Cohen Rexed almost all of his songs.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - It is interesting how many singers weren't. And there are plenty who do sing who I wish would learn Rexing instead.

There is, of course, a continuum between Rexing and singing - about halfway is a thing where one 'speaks the note', and avoids all sustained production of tone - just 'touching' on the notes, rather than 'voicing' them. This, too, is quite common.

Karl said...

Well, I for one certainly noticed that Rex Harrison wasn't singing. When the Doctor Dolittle film came out, I had just learned to carry a tune myself and reveled in my superiority.

Joseph A. said...

Thanks for the links to the other Charlton. Very fun. Christmas must be quite a hoot with your family.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Joseph - My sister is probably the most naturally droll member of us Charlton siblings IRL, but does her only public work in a context of writing the annual nativity play for her primary school. She may well have been the one to invent the term 'Rexing' (and would certainly *claim* to have done so...).

a_probst said...

Oh, I'll bet Harrison could have Rexed Nessun Dorma but it would have worked better if a tenor sang the first verse and Harrison then prefaced his rendering with "The words mean..." and followed with an English translation.

Your brother performed the only broadly-comical Major-General Stanley I've enjoyed. W.S. Gilbert once dressed down an actor for playing Stanley with lots of little pratfalls and other business. The actor protested, saying that the audience had laughed. Gilbert replied that they would have laughed if he'd sat in a pie.

Gilbert died decades before the Monty Python phenomenon. Your brother was 'Palining' it.