Ever listen to someone sing and come away unimpressed? Of course. We all have that experience very frequently. Sometimes while listening to very famous singers. What is it that impresses us? Why does something leave an impression?
EMOTION. What we react to, what we care about is emotion. Without it, sound is just sound. The power of sound, when backed by emotion, is likely one of the most personally powerful things we have at our beck and call. The problem is the split between our societal need to suppress emotion (if we don’t, we are in trouble) so that we can go along in daily life smoothly and the need to be deliberately emotionally demonstrative while singing. The one situation opposes the other and it is, for most of us, the former situation in which we spend the most time.
So, if you are an emotionally demonstrative person by nature, someone in touch with your own emotional reactions to things, you have an automatic advantage as a performer, provided, however, that you are not TOO emotional, as this will make it impossible for you to deal with all the other things that performing requires, (like traveling, getting paid, and getting out publicity) and provided that your throat and body can handle a lot of raw emotion without overloading.
And, emotion for its own sake can also be limiting, as it gets old quickly. Raw anger is a one note rag. It’s interesting for a while but then we want to understand what caused this anger, why is it so strong, where is it going? Any single emotion gets to be like that. It’s a little like watching a serious car accident — fascinating at first, but then static. We want to know what is behind and underneath the emotion. What is being communicated and why. (Unless, of course, we are watching professional wrestling on TV).
Being a singer means that you know how to be emotional in a way that is deeply personal and connected to meaning and communication of intention. It means that you are someone who is able to deeply feel, in your own body moment by moment, the emotions and sensations of emotionality while you are singing, while remaining in control of the entire process in a deliberate, albeit free, manner. You also have to do this while singing specific pitches and rhythms and words, while breathing in specific places, and controlling the level of volume. Not so easy.
And, not all emotion is obvious. We all know that creating emotional impact isn’t the same thing as being hysterical. Sometimes emotion is couched in very subtle expression. If you aren’t listening for emotional meaning, it might be there and you might miss it. You have to listen from an open and receptive place with a desire to receive what you are hearing in a deeply emotional manner yourself, else you may not even notice your own reactions to what is being sung.
Does most vocal technique training investigate how to express emotional truth while singing? How many people are taught to deeply feel emotion or be emotional while singing vocal exercises? How does one make a connection between being emotional and singing in a healthy manner? Doesn’t most of the “interpretation” given to songs reside only in the mind of the singer? Is it a surprise then, that many singers don’t successfully bridge the gap between what they are thinking and how that thought makes them (or should make them) feel? And is it any wonder then, that many singers are making sounds but not making music? And could that be why we aren’t impressed?
The next time you hear something memorable, something that leaves a strong impression upon you, notice if it is because of the emotion in it. It won’t be a surprise if you ending up thinking to yourself, “This is good”.