The Human Condition

It is nearly impossible to ignore an accident. Even if you don’t want to stare, it is hard to take your eyes off something dramatic, unusual, powerful. Someone screaming on the street, a car crumpled in a heap, a powerful explosion’s leftover debris, a swirling mass of flood waters hurtling past, taking things along with it as it churns.

All of public performance, no matter what kind, is about being distinctive, memorable, different, unique. In order to be that you cannot also be nice, ordinary, OK, just fine, acceptable, typical, like the other people. You can’t.

Sweet lovely young people, older singers who have been around for a while, folks who tried to get out into the world and make it but did not, often do not understand that there is more to singing than just standing there and singing the words and the notes. Sure, you might sound OK and feel OK but why should I care unless you have the most amazing, unbelievable voice anyone has every heard and you would sound good reading the phone book.

Clarity in communication is only possible when the singer has something specific to say. You have to know what it is you are communicating or it won’t communicate. It won’t reach out to someone else in a way that is meaningful. It won’t make the person in the audience change their state of mind, their awareness, their emotions.

Emotions run communication whether we want to admit that or not. We remember emotions. Intellectual information might keep us fascinated and, perhaps if it is on a topic we much enjoy, it could keep us engaged, but, if it is just facts for facts sake, forgetting what is being discussed is very easy. We remember emotions! If someone was angry with us, or if we made someone cry, or we laughed so hard we cried, those events are more vivid and easier to recall years later, even if the trigger was something insignificant.

So, if you are singing something ask yourself WHY am I singing this? Not why is the character in the song singing, no. Ask why you are singing the song. What does the song mean to you and why is that important? If it’s not important to you, the audience will agree that what you are singing about isn’t important and you don’t need that, believe me.

Your voice is only special when there is enough of you in it as to be easily and immediately recognizable. If you are singing in an almost whispered sound, I can’t tell if its you or the girl down the block. If you are busy singing every phrase softly and breathily, I don’t want to know if it’s you or the girl down the block, because you have put me to sleep.

Creativity means that you have to sing whatever it is you sing with an idea that it illuminates something about the human condition, shining a spotlight on it, spotlighting it, so that it can be seen for the first time in its depth. Singing like that requires work and there is precious little of it, and even less teaching of it, in this world. Don’t waste your music-making by sounding “good”. Make your songs about your clear intention to reveal the human condition through your art from your deeply personal perspective. Nothing else will do.

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2 thoughts on “The Human Condition”

  1. Brava!!! Well said, Jeanie. I find lack of content to be the the most widespread problem with young singers.
    The song is like a skeleton. We hopefully pick one with good ‘bones’ but as singers, our job is to bring it to life, make it flesh and blood. We have to fill and enliven the song with our life, experiences, our intentions.

  2. I was teaching an amazing young man for several years, until he graduated from H.S. and went to college out of state. This kid was a true artist – singer, musician, songwriter, film maker, actor. For one of our recitals he wanted to sing “Landslide,” the Stevie Nicks song. We worked on it for a while, and I finally had to ask him what he related to in the song. He told me that it was about this time in his life, as he was saying goodbye to family, school and old friends, about to embark on a new adventure in his life.

    In my mind the song is clearly about a woman aging, looking at her relationship as her children are getting older and seeking the courage to do what she needs to move forward. For him, he WAS the child that was getting older and it had a totally different and very personal meaning. You won’t be surprised to know that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at our recital!

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