Curtain UP, Light the Lights!
(A Discussion on Authentic Performance Aspects)
You will notice that I put up a lot of songs on the various profile pages I have all over the web. And it’s not to show off…well…not entirely.
I put the songs up there because when I record them, while I can get a vague idea of whether or not they reflect my inner self, I don’t have sufficient objectivity to make a concrete decision about what songs to put on a CD I am preparing for this Summer, so feedback is important.
Of course, when we seek objectivity, we’re not always thrilled with the responses we get from others, are we? Well, after all, we’re human, right? But we should, all of us, embrace the feedback, whatever form it takes, ‘cause it simply makes us better!
And Sure! I love it when I get positive feedback on my singing, but my job here is primarily to teach, not perform.
Perform! That’s your job! And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
I found some old articles I wrote years ago on the subject of what makes an authentic performance, and I’m going to try an string a few of them together to articulate what I think are some key components that create the Magic!
So let’s begin…
There are 3 elements that come to mind right off the bat:
- Song Choice
- The Quality of your Communication
- Gotta Have a Gimmick – Really?
(some excerpts taken from SYL Newsletter April, 2004)
"The Song is You"
The words to this old standard suddenly invaded my dreams the other night and I awoke with a new revelation. Although it is a romantic love song, the last 2 lines seemed to speak to me of something else...something genuine, authentic, and true...kinda like the way I want you to sing.
The words to the last lines are, "The music is sweet, the words are true. The song is you".
When I talk to you about being real when you sing, I am talking about choosing songs that are comfortable to you in style and mood, as well as lyrics and melody. When you choose comfortable songs that say what you want to say, AND are based on your beliefs, your traditions, your customs, your upbringing and environment, then you ARE the song, and the song is YOU!
Finding Your Song
I grew up in NYC and was influenced by Jazz and Broadway musical styles.
Jazz songs feel very natural for me...the way jazz notes are bent and improvised feels familiar and comfortable, and when I sing Broadway songs, they flow from me with an effortlessness that feels as if I could go on singing for hours and hours.
Yes, I'll sing a Country tune when asked, or Pop power-ballad, or a rock tune, or even an Art Song if requested on a job to do so, but although I can appreciate and perform all musical genres, if I were to choose an audition song to fully express my essence, it would have to be a Jazz tune, a standard, or something from Broadway.
And the reason for this is that as early as I can recall, the sounds of the melodies, harmonies and rhythms contained within these 2 styles drifted through our house non-stop. Examine your roots to find music that fully expresses you!
I have students who love the Jazz style, yet find it difficult to negotiate through jazz nuances that are not part of their comfort zones. They simply sound better, freer, looser, more confident when they sing in styles that are part of who they are. It's where they can best express their own essence.
The Singer's Comfort Zone
Now I can hear you saying, "WAIT, Chrys! Are you saying that we should never venture out of our comfort zone? How can we ever grow if we don't?"
That's a good question! And "No", I'm not saying don't widen the border lines of your comfort zone.
On the contrary, we should always be willing to stretch ourselves through our performances. And especially, if you wish to work as a professional entertainer, you just gotta know a whole lotta tunes for when customers make requests.
We can also stretch ourselves within our own style. For instance, if we're used to clutching the microphone, we should try sometimes to sing with the mic in the
stand and our hands free. And we should try to stretch our range and to listen to music that is popular, but may not be what we would normally purchase at Tower Records.
But everyone has a center where the music of the heart lives and breathes. In this place is where the Song and the Singer are ONE. And it's where you are at your very best!
And you can find that place by singing in as many different styles as you can, and then checking yourself out.
Do you find it hard to breathe in places; notes that are inside your range, but still not easy to hit, rhythms that seem to pull you off track, phrases that get stuck in your throat?
If "yes", then while you can sing these songs on a job if asked to, they are not the songs of your heart, and you'd never want to sing them at an audition or competition. Songs of your deepest soul expression flow from you
like honey; effortless, fluid, smooth, sweet and clear.
You can read more about choosing the right songs for yourself by reading “The Art of Stage Presence”, because song choice and stage presence are related…and how…for when you sing a song that’s comfortable, you really connect with your listeners!
(from SYL newsletter, May, 2007)
It's so important to choose correct material to sing, people. Choosing songs to
perform is like trying on coats. They need to make you look good, feel good and fit you well. So it's important to know who you are as an artist.
I am delighted to say that we have a great deal of experienced and more mature singers here in this online community, who are most aware of what works for
them, probably because we have had more life experiences, but you younger singers can sharpen your song selection skills too...just by understanding your particular style, connecting with the lyrics, and knowing exactly how to pitch the song into the "meat" of your voice.
My teenager students will tell you that I will not let them perform a song until they understand every single word of the lyric.
You can also reread more about song choice in the March 1, 2009 posting, which is already on the blog at www.SingYourLife.com/blog
THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION
(some excerpts taken from SYL Newsletter of April, 2003)
I have found that once a student of singing has established firmly the fundamentals that are given in "The Art of Singing”, (previously titled, “A Voice For A Lifetime in 30 Days"), and is ready to start performing regularly, something strange begins to occur. The progress made in the learning process of the correct way to produce sound seems to slow to a crawl.
I have wondered about this since the occurrence happens to almost every one of my students who have apparently gone through the fundamentals of vocal training, and feel that they have mastered the principles which are breathing, creating the sound, using all the body's resonation chambers, supporting tone with the diaphragm, and avoiding the Seven Deadly Sins of Singing.
What seems to occur is that the singer, having successfully made the transition between the drills and the songs, at least to their satisfaction, quite inexplicably and suddenly performs without any truth, or real expression of self!
When we are learning how to sing correctly, we move from just doing the exercises to singing familiar favorite tunes while applying the fundamentals we are learning.
This is good, for since we are programming the body's cell and muscle memory patterns, we MUST USE the principles of singing in an actual song.
But something else MUST eventually occur in order to be a performer.
And that something is the quality of communication, in other words, the level of realness. How can we express our feelings in a song using correct technique alone? We CANNOT!!
Everyone has parts of our personality or character that we hide from others. We all do this in our day-to-day experiences. We replace our deep-seeded fears and negative opinions of others and even ourselves behind a mask, or a “persona”, that may show as real enough, but really isn’t.
During a Performance -
Now, when these negative feelings show up in a performance as discomfort; maybe by forgetting a line of lyrics , or a distraction of some sort like missing a note you were going for, and getting stuck in that moment of failure, your level of confidence and hence your “persona” identity can usually go out the window.
Remember when I told you that performing takes courage? I wasn't speaking about the courage to stand in front of an audience and sing. That can be learned and as you build your confidence in your abilities, it gets easier and easier.
No! I am speaking of the courage it takes to ALLOW all of your hidden fears and discomforts to SHOW to an audience!
I can hear you say, “WHAT? Are you serious? Expose my weaknesses to an audience? And have them laugh me off the stage??
My experience -
When I was a student at the High School of Music and Art in NYC, I considered myself quite clumsy, and although I was very talented vocally, I never tried out for any school productions that required dancing because I was afraid being humiliated at the auditions by not being able to dance very well or really at all. I couldn’t even fake it by being graceful, so I missed out on many a role that I could have probably been great on because of my fear.
Later on in college, I continued to play it safe, by singing with a small band in a
club with a small stage that limited my movements. This way I could disguise the fact that I thought of myself as homely and clumsy, even if I knew I could SING.
Peoples' comments on my performances back then were, "You sing so well. We enjoyed it." "You have a great voice". "Your range is exceptional!" "You have great pipes."
No one back then ever commented on how my performance made them feel.
It wasn't until my 30's that I discovered something quite by accident. I was singing in a Dinner Theater in
The medley consisted of 3 songs about Rhythm, "I Got Rhythm", "Fascinatin' Rhythm", and "Crazy Rhythm". I had told the musical director that I really didn't think I could pull off this medley and begged him to give it to one of the other singers.
"No way!" he said.
"You are the best singer in the house. Why wouldn't you want to do it?"
I reluctantly admitted to being too clumsy to sing about rhythm. He laughed and said,
"I thought you'd know by now that a pro takes a deficit and turns it into an asset.
You are a pro! Do it as camp! Make it funny!"
That one phrase about turning a deficit into an asset changed my entire view of myself and my performance, and when I finally did perform the medley,
I purposely and exaggeratedly stepped all over my own feet, (A la Fannie Brice), and had the crowd in the palm of my hand. They roared with approval, and I learned that by revealing something that I had tried to hide for years, I was more accepted than ever before.
As the customers filed out of the theater that night, they said things like,
"You made us feel as if we have known you forever", "You are so expressive and funny, and we just love you!" "Your vulnerability really came through. Thank you!"
So what IS it that you don't want to show, singers? Do you have the courage to reveal it?
Reveal it to an audience? Dig down and search the corners of your psyche, singers! Don't be afraid of your weaker parts or even your darker parts! Have courage! Because the truth is, when you take that mike off of the stand, and hold it in your hand, THAT is the time and place when you can SAFELY be YOU… warts and all!
I want to say here that perfect vocal tone is NOT, repeat, NOT a prerequisite for giving an authentic, magical performance! There are performers out there who are still filling theaters and auditoriums whose voice have long since gone south, or even those who never really had a voice to begin with.
I am thinking of people like Elaine Stritch, Carol Channing, and yes, my idol of all time, Frankie. No, not Avalon, silly…Sinatra of course!!
By the time I got see him in person he was in his late 70’s and the “voice” was well worn by then. Years of alcohol and smoke abuse had stolen his once gloriously rich tones and he struggled for every note and every breath too.
But what time never took away was his charisma, the electricity he created just by standing there on stage with those piercing blue eyes.
A gorgeous instrument will go just so far and then….well, like Ray Charles said in an interview once, “I’d like to think that when I sing a song, I can let you know all about the heartbreak, struggle, lies and kicks in the ass I’ve gotten over the years for being black and everything else, without actually saying one word about it”.
Here’s something from a newsletter I wrote back in February, of 2005. It’s on Carol Channing and my experience upon hearing and watching her interviewed on PBS.
You younger singers may not be familiar with Carol Channing, but at age 85, I gotta tell ya, she is a force of nature! Not a great voice or a raving beauty by any measure, but quite an amazing entertainer!
Prior to the interview, she had given a performance and had held the audience spellbound for 1 1/2 hours...all alone on a large stage with a pianist in the pit. That ain't easy guys...A rather diminutive and frail-looking old lady on a huge stage...but this frail old lady can pull it off!
The interviewer asked her right off,
"How do you manage to keep an audience captivated as you just did for a full hour an a half?"
This got her talking about the art of performance, and it so validated my own views that I wanted to share her perspective with you singers.
She knew that she wasn't gorgeous even at 15 when she started performing.
In her 70 odd years of being on a stage, she discovered that if she sang to just one single individual in the audience and, to put it her words, "caught fire with him or her", the fire would spread and it wasn't long before the spark would ignite the entire audience.
And that was it! Just sing to one person, and it can even be a single person in your mind rather than physically in front of you.
She said that the trick was to focus on the one person and not on yourself. "If you listen", she said, "to the sound of your own voice, then no one will listen except you! So don't listen to yourself...just sing to that one person...have a conversation with one person, and all the rest will eavesdrop!"
So I tell you singers, STOP listening to yourself! STOP being so involved with your performance, the sound of your voice, the way you look, the movement of your hands, or feet...
SIMPLY FOCUS on someone other than yourself. Put your ego to bed and just COMMUNICATE! Then you've got something! You really have something!
Finally I want to tell those of you have come along with me on this network idea that it is okay of you decide you do not wish to post any of your music here. We all respect each other here and would never make you feel bad for just listening and watching.
I DID find it interesting however when years ago I sent out a survey to my entire mailing list to get an idea of what they needed from me that I could give them. One of the questions was “Do you believe you have talent?”
And over 80% of the answers to that one question came back as “NO”!
Shocked doesn't even describe my reaction! And my answer to them at that time was this:
“Now I know that what I'm going to say is going to get some heated responses, but I'm saying it! When have I ever been less than totally honest with you guys? Cannot and will not do that!
There are tons of voice teachers who figure since you will never actually see them, they can tell you what you want to hear and collect your money. The best teacher I ever had told me right off to be one thing above all other things!
So, pardon me if I have to question your answers to that question about your talent.
If you do not believe you have talent, why are you on this mailing list? Do you think you will somehow develop your talent by reading these newsletters? I'm sure none of you think that! I believe we have a uniquely intelligent group of singers on this list, so that cannot be it.
So what's this all about?
Here's what I think. You'll excuse my waxing philosophical here, but I was truly thrown by these responses, but in my attempts to analyze the results, I had some intriguing revelations.
I believe that we are afraid to claim our own inner talents for fear that once we take that on, the idea that we have talent, we'll be obligated to take a stand on it and actually use it!
I recently read part of a talk by Marianne Williamson, the creator if “A Course in Miracles” , which my son had framed and displays on the mantle in his apartment. It goes like this:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves:
Who am I to be brilliant, (gorgeous, talented, fabulous?)
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God, You're playing small does not serve the World.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us: it's in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we were liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Don't hide your lights, singers! Don't shrink from the power of your talent.
Maybe it's not completely developed yet, maybe there are cracks in your instrument at times, but it's there! Let the song live inside of you and freely share it as YOU and no one else!
Gotta Have Gimmick…Really? (from June, 2007)
I had this article all set to go last night, but after having dinner with my sister last night, I am altering it just a bit, I told her about the subject matter of my article and she said, "Well, of course!" And then bursting into song, (which we sisters are prone to always do), She sang, "You Gotta have a gimmick if you wanna be a star".
Then she said, "What about Bowie, and Elton John, and Boy George? They had gimmicks, and they were, and still are successful"!
So, I've been thinking about that...and I have concluded, as you will read down the page, that gimmicks are okay, AS LONG AS THEY COME FROM YOU! This shall be explained later.
Many years ago, in my capacity as a health care professional, (Yes,
The choices were something like:
a)The Drill Sergeant: humorless and iron-fisted,
b)The Dilettante: negligent and indifferent
c)The Cheerleader: nurturing and supportive
d)The Effective Manager: fair and objective
As I recall, getting to Letter D was the goal of this particular workshop, and I suppose we all went back to our facilities vowing to be fair and objective, but within 2 weeks or so, we had slipped back into our comfort zone of management. Mine turned out to be (C), by the way.
And it’s true! Letter C is indeed who I am as a teacher and coach, as those of you who have directly experienced me can attest….or maybe not. LOL!
I tell you this because every now and then, and this would be one of those times, I need to "get real" with you people, and tell you things straightforwardly.
And I do you a shameful disservice if I don't drum some crucial truths home.
I received literally dozens of emails about the upcoming “Idol” auditions in August for next season. A few of you sent me clips and asked me straight out if I thought you had a chance at the auditions. Many of you wanted suggestions for gimmicks, to get past the pre-panel process, while others wanted to know what to wear to make them stand out.
While I answered each of you privately, I would like to encapsulate some of my thoughts here. You can take what I have to say at face value, and use it or
not, but basically singers, it all boils down to this:
IF YOU'RE NOT YOU, THEN WHO ARE YOU?
If the 15 minutes is enough for you, then you can work on a costume or a gimmick, and maybe you'll get on TV, but if a SINGING LIFE of some longevity and personal integrity is what you're after, well...hopefully, you'll get the picture.
Okay! Let's begin by asking you some questions:
1. Why do you sing? If your answer is anything but, "because I want to be famous", answer this next one: If your answer is “because I want to be famous”, STOP HERE! You need a reality check and undoubtedly a coach!
2. Why do you love to sing? Again, if your answer is anything but, "because my friends say I'm a great singer", then answer this next one: If your answer is "because my friends say I'm a great singer", STOP HERE and get 10 professional opinions!
3. Why do you NEED to sing? Your answer to this question reveals your inner motivation, and should look something like, "because I am driven to it, because I want to express myself", or "because when I sing, all is right with the world".
To those of you that answered all three questions, this article is for YOU!
I believe that singing is the most personal and subjective art form there is, and furthermore, that unlike dance, or painting, or writing, or even playing an instrument, SINGING, because it comes out YOUR MOUTH, has the potential to totally unwrap your outside persona and expose your inner essence. And because of this [exposure], it can be one TERRIFYING endeavor.
I mean, who wants to stand naked before the world, right?
Even acting can be excused if it reveals too much of YOU in the process. You can always say,
"I was just playing a part", right? But when you sing...when you perform a song, you are telling a story, and you are consciously or not, exposing yourself, your feelings and emotions about it to your audience. That is, IF you're doing it right!
With that in mind, then, let's take a look at you. Do you know who you are as an artist, as a person? Are you comfortable with letting the world discover you from the inside out? Because, as you know, revealing your true self through your performance makes magic on your audience.
What we are talking about here is how much of YOU you are willing to reveal...AND...do you hold back parts of yourself that you cannot or will not share with your audience?
We talk about connecting with the lyrics a lot around here, and then telling the story of those lyrics to your listeners, which means that if some of the lyrics are dark, then you need to be open to the communication of that darkness.
Some singers refuse to go there...to a dark place in a song, whether it be sadness, anger, despair, even hatred. I'm here to tell you that if you cannot embrace the gambit of emotions in a song, your performance of the song can be less than thrilling to an audience.
Please understand this...a nice voice, even a great voice, is only 39% of a great performance.
61% is your delivery, your connection to the words, and how well you communicate the song's meaning to an audience.
But because singing is so subjective as an art form, and so very personal, you'll hear the judges on IDOL say things like, "that song was safe...and it was boring", or "in 4 weeks of hearing and watching you, we still don't have a clue as to who you are". They react this way when the singer is reluctant to totally reveal their essence through a song. He/she will choose a song that doesn't ask for much, maybe just enough rhythm and harmonic changes to be barely interesting and fun, but emotionally vacant.
The accolades come to the singer who will use all the emotions of his/her life in a song, and leave it all out there on the stage.
Okay, so here it is, guys! You need to identify yourself as an artist, and this requires you to identify yourself as a person. You need to embrace all of who you are, forgive the stuff of you that you don't like very much, and "let it all hang out" when you perform. And really guys...quit looking for a gimmick and work on revealing the Source of who you truly are!