Emotion in Singing

When was the last time you heard someone sing who made you cry? Was it on a recording? Was it live? Was it amplified?

Voices filled with emotion are very potent. They should be able to move anyone who is open to that. (Of course, many people are not). Music is also supposed to be able to carry emotion but a lot of music doesn’t do that and some composers wouldn’t want it to. They make sure of that by writing it to be very dry.

In training singers to make certain kinds of sounds it is possible to loose track of the emotions that might be connected to those sounds, and that is a terrible loss. I remember well a performance of “Tosca” on PBS in which the Tosca was singing “Mario! Mario!” while looking for him. The sound she made was so awful, so ugly and frightening and hideously loud, that if I had been Mario, I would have hidden behind a pew in the church! I heard a tomb scene at the end of “Aida”, with some of the most beautiful music you could ever want to hear, sound like a recitation of the alphabet. There wasn’t even the smallest attempt of either vocalist to sound like they were about to die or even that they might be late for dinner.

I am at a loss as to what to do about any of this. It has always been so that some people sing with greater emotional expressivity than others but it seems to me through my own person experience that this is less likely to be the case now than ever before in the past. So much is done to voices in recordings and so much is written that discounts emotion that finding someone who actually feels a genuine emotion and is singing music that allows for emotional expression is a rare event.

If you sing, make an effort to connect to your own emotions when you perform. Find a way to make every song a personal communication about something that is meaningful to you. Don’t let anyone talk you into singing something that is disconnected from your ability to communicate authentically. It’s never worth it and it won’t help your career to let go of what you have to say that only you can.

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