The Meaning of Meaning

I have long been fascinated with the way our minds work.

How we think, how we perceive through the balance of mental and physical interaction, how we remember and store our experiences, how we organize things in logical and personal ways — all of this and more is interesting to me and it is a vital part of singing and learning to sing.

One of the most enjoyable things about being an artist is to explore diversity for its own sake. How many ways can I sing this phrase? How many things in this phrase can I do without losing it or its most important ingredients? How far can I go away from what was written without going too far? What is too far anyway? Delving into these questions is delving into the mind, the senses, and the body over and over again, each time discovering something new.

It is with verbal communication, however, that we falter. What do I mean when I say I “sound sad”? How does sad sound? Is there just one way or several ways? How do you know I sound sad? Do you also feel sad when you hear me? Maybe that’s just your reaction, and maybe the person sitting next to you doesn’t feel that way at all.

This is where clear use of language, clear intention in both thought and spoken word, and clear communication are vital to teaching any of the arts. I can certainly ask you to open your mouth, open it more, or open it while shaping your lips in a particular manner. I can ask you to make a sound while you do that, or just do it quietly. I can ask you to look at yourself while you do it or just feel it from inside. I can ask you what it feels like to do it. There are whole bunches of things that I can ask for clearly and communicate to you in a manner that is not confusing, but at some point I can’t know what you are experiencing, and that is what matters. I might think you understood me, and you might think you understood me, and we could both still be wrong if don’t both agree that what I asked for and what you gave me were in agreement.

What do you mean? How do you mean it? What other implications does that meaning have? How have you categorized this experience? In some ways, it’s amazing how well we all do when there are so many variables.

The KISS system (Keep It Simple Stupid) is the best. If it can’t be said simply, something is wrong. The simpler the communication, the less likely it will go askew. That’s why I don’t like “spin the tone through the forehead” and why I do like “sing that a little softer and allow your jaw and tongue to relax”.

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