Spontaneously bursting into song in public is, as a general rule, a conceit best left to characters in stage and screen musicals simply for the fact that in most everyday situations it will cause others to question your sanity.
Now, no one is insinuating that Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau’s in-the-moment decision to favour the crowd gathered for a Martin Luther King Day event at Ottawa City Hall with a self-penned, a cappella song on Monday was a sign that the prime minister’s wife has suddenly gone mad.
The impromptu rendition of a song Grégoire-Trudeau apparently wrote for her daughter called “Smile Back at Me” — for a small audience expecting to see former prime minister Joe Clark receive something called the DreamKeepers lifetime-achievement award, and not “Sophie Sings the Blues” — did, however, cast serious doubt upon her musical judgment, not to mention her ability to sing in key.
In her defence, she did seem to get caught up in the moment without really thinking things through. In a video clip posted on various media sites, Grégoire-Trudeau said she was inspired by singers earlier in the program and wanted to offer something of her own.
“It’s not planned, trust me,” she said. “I am going to sing you a song that I wrote for my daughter Ella-Grace at a moment when I was going through a difficult time and where I remind myself of all the hope that there is in one’s life and all the hope that there is in life.”
Grégoire-Trudeau’s performance is still not likely to do her future singing career any favours. She wobbled in and out of pitch the entire time, reached rather painfully for notes well outside her range a few times and failed to present any evidence that the song, such as it was, had any sort of formal structure or coherence.
But don’t listen to this writer. I asked an actual music teacher with whom I have some acquaintance — and who didn’t want his name associated with a critique of Justin Trudeau’s better half — to give “Smile Back at Me” a quick listen and shoot me some notes, and he had numerous concerns of his own.
“Although I see she claims she ‘wrote’ it, it still comes off as improv, for better or worse,” he said.
Among his other professional criticisms were “some worrisome wandering of pitch and beat, including complete loss of meter at one point — unless it’s in a complex, changing meter”; a “precarious portamento” (ie., “sliding notes on one syllable”) towards the end of the song; and the distracting “little humming interpolations” Grégoire-Trudeau makes during the first verse.
“The less deconstruction of the lyric the better,” he concluded. “But a creditable, if misguided attempt.”
At least Grégoire-Trudeau — who could also be heard online warbling “Jingle Bells” with her husband in December — can’t say she’s the first wife of a Canadian prime minister to raise eyebrows with an ill-placed bout of song. Justin’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, once made headlines for offering up an off-the-cuff sing-song salute to Venezuela’s First Lady during a state dinner in Caracas. As the Washington Post recently recalled: “Half the room teared up, while the other half cringed.”
The Conservatives can’t really make much hay of this gaffe, either, since former prime minister Stephen Harper wasn’t above ticklin’ the ivories and busting out a tone-deaf Neil Diamond or Beatles cover in public from time to time.
The crowd in Ottawa was polite, at least, giving Grégoire-Trudeau a standing ovation for her heartfelt efforts. But sometimes, it should be said, the kindest thing to do in these situations is not to encourage them to happen again in the future.
– With files from The Canadian Press