Where to start… I enjoy watching both “The Voice” and “American Idol”. What I love the most is experiencing the blossoming of each artist musically, vocally, physiologically, and performance wise as the rounds get tougher toward the final cuts. And I love listening to the small clips of what the coaches impart to them. I’m never quite sure if all of what they suggest is understood, because sometimes that’s just a matter of experiencing it for yourself. But last night on “American Idol”, Harry Connick Jr. was the coach for all as they were introduced to and expected to sing a “classical standard” piece. Most of what was chosen were ballads. And it was interesting because the simplicity of each piece threw off these young talented singers because they were taken out of their musical comfort zones. They may have heard these songs before, but never really paid attention to “how” they were delivered, emotionally, vocally and musically by the artist of yesteryear. Even some of the lyrics tripped them up because they were not familiar with the use of specific words or phrases that yet once again, took them out of their comfort zones. They hadn’t taken the time to find out what the words meant by googling them or maybe didn’t have the time, but none the less, it really threw them off track. Also they were intent on adding all the runs and musical doodads that they can’t seem to sing without. Making a word that required just one long beautiful tone and one vowel seemed very uncomfortable for them. Mr. Connick Jr. kept insisting that they simply sing what the composer and librettist wrote first, just the exact pitches/notes, and then add the words, still keeping true to the simple musical line. He said that if they didn’t know what the notes, dynamic markings and rhythms of the line were and could execute them as written first, they would never master and appreciate the harmonies that move the piece forward making it exciting and emotionally exquisite. He wanted the audience to appreciate what each of the performers could bring to the piece, musically, vocally, stylistically and emotionally and the only way to do that is to always start at the very beginning; the boring and mundane process of learning the notes and rhythms of the music first.
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
– Gustav Mahler
What all of this brought to mind was how very true this all is even in the classical music world. It is simple, just not easy mostly because it is such a simple concept. You, as a classical singer, have to go through this same process. You have to take the time to first get the notes and rhythms in your ear by playing them over and over again exactly as written on the piano. Then you sing technically each note as it is written before you even start thinking about singing the piece through for the emotional content. As I said before, that means sitting at a piano/keyboard and playing just the melody with the proper rhythms over and over again until it is in your ear. Most singers today seem to learn their music mostly by listening to a plethora of other already famous singers do their piece then decide whose interpretation they like best and imitate that. How many of you do that and think it’s working great for you?
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie
On the other hand, how many of you do this tedious type of homework, looking up each and every word and writing that translation just above each note in your music or score if you don’t speak the language you are singing in? How many of you take the time, once you have the melody in your ear, to sing technically just one phrase at a time until that is mastered. Then slowly and carefully proceed through the rest of the piece as you add one technically mastered phrase to another. Now add the words and notice how what the composer wrote rhythmically helps you express the drama of the piece. In other words, don’t make quarter notes or rests into what are really eights notes, or sixteenth notes and don’t put fermatas where none are written. If you do this you are also without forcing it, singing the musical style of each composer without having to try to change your vocal technique to make that particular style change.
How many of you know how to conquer and master the art of coloratura with ease? Our brains are amazing tools and understand that once you have played and replayed on the piano the pitches of a coloratura phrase and have them in your ear, all you need to do is to find the downbeat notes within that passage as you move through the phrase and the in between notes will be there. And you can even practice without even opening your mouth. It is so cool to go over and over any phrase, no matter what the technical difficultly might seem to be or a coloratura passage that seems impossible, and just practice it in your head “as if” you are singing it. Try it. Start it as if you were going to sing by connecting with breath, then continue on as you pretend to sing that phrase by doing it only in your head. You will be amazed at how quickly you learn the notes and are able to notice where there might be some “falling off the horse” moments. Just get right back up and focus on starting at square #1 of the process.
This is such a simple message and allows us to hear your unique, authentic and consistent sound so we would know it was you singing because we would recognize your sound and style anywhere.
Now that you know what I’ve been thinking about, it’s time for me to from you! What’s on your mind? Avanti and Ciao until next time. Carol