If you have ever answered the phone and heard on the other end, “Hi”, and the voice was low in volume, descending in pitch, shaky in tone, and belonged to your child, spouse, parent or close friend, you would have known within seconds to ask, “What’s wrong?” How is so much information conveyed in a sound without a visual that lasts just a second?

It’s the emotion that we hear…..what does emotion sound like? If you have ever heard anyone sound really emotional, you would certainly be able to identify it. Anger, sadness and fear are universal and, at high intensity, each emotion sounds the same in everyone. You would likely also recognize the lack of emotion when you heard a voice that was flat. Lifeless. Blah.

What happens when you divorce feelings (emotions) from the voice is that it becomes less. Less interesting, less persuasive, less memorable, less alive, and yes, less human. If, however, the training process for singing is based upon constant mental evaluation and a relentless demand to be perfect, being emotional will certainly get in the way. So many trained voices are disconnected from real emotional communication. The singer becomes a sound-making machine. They live in their minds, paying little attention to what the body feels, except perhaps whether or not there is “breath support”. This makes for very boring singing.

Allowing someone to feel, express, experience, and live-through honest emotion while they are making voiced sound is a crucial part of teaching the person to sing. This can’t be done in an atmosphere that is dry, clinical, restricted and judgmental. Stopping someone from feeling emotions during sung sound so that the person can be “in control” is a good way to teach suppression or the opposite of communication.

Co-mingle, Commune (be with), SHARE. We have to be able to experience emotions in the sensations and behaviors of the body. We cannot share what we do not actually feel. It is possible to truly and deeply feel emotional and to let it go out while speaking or singing but to do this fluidly and healthfully, takes practice. If a singer must be emotional every night in a performance while singing a powerful song that is also musically and vocally demanding, he or she must learn to do this properly or it will be damaging. The opposite, however, is also true. If there is an unspoken communication that is or has been continually unexpressed or swallowed, the sensations and emotions pushed away, ignored or avoided, there will be a different kind of damage, just as bad to the person as well as the voice. A good singing teacher will encounter these emotions, sometimes unwittingly, and will be supportive when they finally emerge, even if the emotions have nothing at all to do with the process of singing.

Emotions can swirl and it is possible to feel many things at once and to be conflicted in what those emotions are. In fact, most of the time difficult and painful situations create a multitude of reactions, not just one. Physical reactions accompany these emotions, too. Martha Graham understood that in her work. She observed the human condition in the body and used these movements in her pieces to express the human condition through her dances.

Society asks us to suppress ourselves in order to be “socialized”. We learn to express emotions politely if at all. Art, on the other hand, asks us to do the opposite. It asks us to find exactly what we feel, to become acquainted with it, and to use it as a vehicle to create dynamic communication with others. The link between all of these things is the breath. Emotions effect the way we breathe. Fear stops our breathing, reducing it to a tiny amount. Sadness and anger can make us breathe more deeply or restrict the breath, depending. All of this has to be worked out in a song (or spoken piece) but if the voice can’t manage it the music itself will not make up for its lack of ability.

Music can be just notes on a page, played as pure sound for its own sake. Many composers argue that this is so. Modern music, it seems, can often sound just like that…..sound for its own sake. There may be a place for such music but I, personally, would rather be moved than intellectually stimulated at a performance. I would rather be touched than impressed. I would rather remember that I was transported than notice how incredibly complex the music was. I would rather that someone told me something I had never heard before, in a new way, than hear someone tell me the same old thing yet again.

What is it that you wish to share with this world? What it is that your voice, and your voice alone, is here to say? What is it that you would convey that would shed unique light on the human condition, make us think, make us more? Who are you and are you willing to share yourself from your deepest depths while we hear your voice?

Perhaps, then, “Hi” would tell us all we need to know.

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One thought on “Communication”

  1. What a timely post for today. I am participating in the New Dramatists Composer Librettist Studio in New York where five composers and five playwrights work in collaboration with five singer/actors for two weeks making pieces of new music/theater. Communication is key in this workshop. The music is new. The expressivity of the voice is not just honored and respected but celebrated. I want to believe that the future of music theater lies in such workshops. In my pieces I’ve been exploring characters ranging from a chaos theory professor who is also a sexual predator to a jazz singer to a third grade teacher to a bar tender to a step mother at a wedding. Each of these pieces requires me to use my voice at its highest level of expressiveness. For anyone who reads this and is interested, check out Nautilus Music Theater Workshop in Minneapolis MN and New Dramatists in New York. By the way, I love your blog!

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