Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Kashu-do (歌手道): Innies and Outies
No, I am not talking about navels, but I misspelled the German word “Innig” and found a heap of pages dealing with “innies and outies”. After working with a couple of exceptional singers getting ready for a run of Tannhäuser, it became so clear why some singers succeed big and some do not go as far even though they sing technically very well.
Having a well functioning voice is like having a megaphone in front of a large outdoor crowd! The megaphone makes you audible!
But what if you stood in front of the crowd with your perfect megaphone (or microphone) and say: “hmm...er...aahhh...”, or spoke in a monotone?
What if you stood in front of the crowd and spoke like a great orator or actor?
Many singers give so much worth to the mechanics of their instrument that they do not even begin to understand why they may not be getting any work even though they sing difficult arias with great ease and in that regard may even surpass most of their competitors.
Of those who do have something to say, there is the question of whether the thoughts come through or not. There are singers who require no coaching on communicating their thoughts. It was a part of their singing since before they understood what they were doing. It was always “communication” and there are singers who have had to learn the techniques for communicating thoughts, emotions, state of mind, etc...
Of course these things can be learned, but what are the obstacles? What psychological imprints are there that make a singer resist going to the vulnerable place whereby communication is immediate. The “état d’âme” that is necessary for communication that strongly impacts an audience is specific, effortless, almost meditative. One of my most successful students, who is also a terrific teacher, conversed with me yesterday about this:
JRL: The time between the intake of breath and the release of sound is the length of time that a pendulum is still. It is theoretically the shortest time and can feel extraordinarily long.
Student: Sounds like “relativity”! That moment of timelessness is the place where unfettered communication occurs. It is the “silence” that makes the audience listen in a different way.
What was meant as a technical idea from me was turned into an artistic premise by the student. This student already understood artistic communication at a very high level. Her audience was already listening even before the “megaphone” was working efficiently. Call it “presence” or “charisma” or any other word! It is what makes the difference between sound and music. This silent place of communication where unnecessary noise disappears can be found, but only if the singer wishes to find it and will invest as much time to it as with technique. Like technique, for some it is easy to find. For others, it is the block that keeps them from making a real impact. It is the obstacle that keeps them from succeeding.
But why would a singer not want to find this “state of mind” that brings the audience to him/her?
Because it requires confronting the true self--the imperfect, vulnerable self. It is what makes us artists. It is a scary place to be. Without pretense, facing our scary fallibility! The place beyond skill, where everyone is compelled to listen.
Is it only that some singers are afraid to be vulnerable? Some yes! In other cases, some are afraid to have the undivided attention of others because they are afraid they might not have much to say or that what they have to say is not worth hearing. Before we can get in front of people and bare our souls, we must believe in the value of our thoughts, our ideas, ourselves!
As a teacher, I can only guide a person to this place, but only the singer can decide if s/he ready to communicate at that level. To be able to make a loud noise is sometimes enough! A lasting career however or one begun late is only achievable when we touch the listener in a place that strikes their core. To do that, we must speak from our core and trust in its inherent worth.
It is a choice and some will never go to that place! Sadly, I cannot even say it is absolutely necessary because some make careers without ever truly communicating. That is the greatest challenge to teaching. When superficial types find a way in, it is tough to ask students to the the "inside" work. Innie or Outie? That is a personal decision for each artist. For my part, I am not interested in "outies"!