Essence

If you answer the phone, “Hello”, and the response you hear is, “Hi,” but that response is made by someone you love and is uttered as part of a sob, you immediately know to respond, “What’s wrong? What happened”?

How is that possible? In just two seconds, you knew. No visual clues, no body language or facial gestures. But, even if you did not know the person, you could hear upset. The people who answer 911 have to determine very quickly what’s going on with the person calling and they are usually accurate in their assessments.

The voice carries a huge amount of information in it. It isn’t very easy to flatten out emotional meaning and still sound interesting. Delivering the news with evenness, without sounding emotionally charged or boring, is a skill news anchors need to master, and it isn’t necessarily easy.

Since human beings respond to emotion, and since it gives meaning to everything we utter, whether it be in speech or song, being in touch with those emotions would seem to be a crucial ingredient in getting a message across. Unfortunately, emotional communication, truthful utterance, is often lost in singing training. Singers are taught to think more than feel, and that is not a plus.

I recently attended a student recital in which the young vocalist sang four classical songs without the slightest bit of emotional connection to either the music or the words. Although she sang everything accurately, musically and linguistically, and her teacher was beaming at the student’s vocal and musical progress (which was, of course, only known to the teacher and not the audience) there was no evidence that the youngster was doing anything except mouthing lifeless syllabels as taught to her in her singing lessons. That’s not, to me, teaching someone to sing. Singing CANNOT BE SEPARATED from emotional truth if it is to be valid. CANNOT…….not in a student, not in even one song, not ever. Ideally, even the exercises have “juice” in them. A fast 9-tone scale should have some excitement in it.  A happy phrase should sound happy. Seems obvious, but often it’s not.

I once sang a performance of “Rejoice” from Handel’s Messiah smiling. I sang it as if I was really happy. It made it much easier to sing. Afterwards, someone said to me, “I have never heard this piece sung like this. It was so unique.” I remember thinking, “Why?Shouldn’t it be done that way all the time?”

The essence of your voice, its unique one-of-a-kind quality is most communicative when it is flooded with emotion. The power of truth that rings through your words is amplied when you feel what you sing or speak and the impact it has upon others is deeper and harder to dismiss. When was the last time you were moved by someone who sounded like they were a machine?

If you study singing and the teacher doesn’t get around, eventually, to helping you connect to your honest feelings about the music and the words, ask some significant questions. If you don’t get better at these things in your studies, leave and go to someone else.

 

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