Want to know what commodity is truly rare in singing these days? Emotion. Honest, simple, un-messed around with emotion.
What we get is most either faked or not there at all. Breathy insipid singing does not allow for genuine emotional expressiveness, but it is very popular now, thanks mostly to the popularity of Norah Jones. Screaming is also very popular, thanks to our pop rock divas. Screaming can be dynamic but it isn’t the only way to be emotional. In fact, it can get in the way of subtle emotions.
Have you ever paid attention to someone who is actually overcome with emotion? Have you heard what it does to the voice? Someone who is crying, or angry, or frightened has a certain quality of sound that is hard to imitate. Most music today is written by people who do not know much about singing or singers. They just write whatever they do and, if they make money, and many do, then they are validated for that.
The older composers knew how to make it easy for a singer to show emotion in a song and allow that to carry the song along in making it memorable. Now idiots like Simon Cowell, who wouldn’t know actual emotions in a song if they bit him on the leg, think that being emotional is somehow “not professional”. Hello? Just shows you that success and knowledge often do not have anything to do with each other.
You don’t have to literally cry when you are feeling sad in a sad song to convey that sadness. You don’t have to turn red with anger in an angry song either. You do have to allow the song to have an effect on you and some people don’t ever have that experience. The people who are highly reactive to music (who get emotional just listening to a piece of music or a song) don’t try to do that, it just happens. Sometimes the music can be powerful enough so as to be overwhelming.
If you are not one of those sensitive souls (and they are rather rare) it doesn’t mean that you don’t feel anything but it might mean that the depth of what you feel isn’t so strong as it is for those for whom music is a remarkably vivid personal experience.
If you sing and you are not physically strong, conditioned to stand up to this onslaught of energy, you can break down sobbing or begin to get so angry that you lose control of how your body is making sound. That doesn’t work. That’s the reason it’s necessary to have technique, so you can control the flow of feelings that runs across your body, and harness them to your sound in a positive way. Mostly, out there in the marketplace, there is no honest emotionality and so much deadness or hyperness, (as in screaming), there isn’t a lot of anything that really touches the audience.
Genuine emotion will also give you authentic communication with its own set of personal parameters regarding a song. No one will feel that song the same way you do. If you do not have that experience, you will be forced to intellectualize the song, deciding from a purely rational purpose what you want it to be about.
I remember a performance of “Tosca” at NY City Opera (may it rest in peace) in which the Tosca came out on stage yelling “Mario! Mario!” in a loud, shrill, hooty, wobbly screech. If I had been Mario, I would have run away – FAST! I had a similar experience at the Met once, watching Aida and Radames in the tomb where they would die, singing as if it was a discussion about what they had had for lunch. I doubt very seriously that dying people are that bland. Yes, it had to carry, but it would have if the sound had been infused with feeling. Somehow, my guess is that what these two characters were feeling, if they had been real live human beings, had never been discussed or approached by anyone…not the singers, the coaches, or the director.
You can still encounter emotion in a Broadway show because actors are encouraged to connect body, voice and emotion, but not as much as you might have heard before rock became such a big influence in theater. It varies, but sometimes you hear intensity and it’s up to you to figure out for yourself why that intensity is there. Sometimes loud is just loud for loud’s sake.
If you sing, ask yourself, if you were crying and singing at the same time, what would that be like? Your throat would close up, most likely, but even if it did not, could you sing in the same sound with the same kind of behavior in your throat and body while you were crying or would you have to stop crying in order to sing? Try to find a way to experience the emotion and the sound at the same time and a way to express them as partners that is full with feeling and free in production. It’s not all that easy to marry the two, but it is possible. The freer and stronger the vocal production the more it can stand up to vigorous emotional communication without issue.
You shouldn’t have to compromise between the two. Both are possible in equal measure as long as the body has been prepared in advance.