Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet Me In the Middle

In an article in today’s New York Times Rosanne Cash is quoted, I like restraint. I like expression that’s framed in restraint, that gives a certain dignity to it. I don’t like this kind of yelping, where everybody’s’ a victim and everything’s all out there. To me there’s a bottom line that there is a life lived in the back of the instrument, and I want to hear what that life is.

As performers we want to be emotionally honest, but sometimes we leave no room for the audience to have their own emotional reactions to the song because we’re too busy with our emotional reactions. We want every moment to bleed with our emotional truth so much that we forget to leave space for the audience to meet us halfway. That’s where restraint comes in. There are times when what you leave out is as important as what you put in.

It is easy to ruin a song before the first note just by how it is set up for an audience. Talking to the audience is as much an art as singing to them, and can be much more frightening. Some singers get around this by simply not saying anything, which is no good because you’re denying people an opportunity to get to know and love you. But at the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the “Ick Factor”. Some things belong only in a therapist’s office or a confessional, not on stage. When the stage becomes the analyst’s couch the results are usually disastrous. The audience spends so much time trying to unhear what they just heard that the song following doesn’t even register.

Restraint when singing is even more difficult. Singers work hard on our “chops” and we want to show them off, and that doesn’t always serve us well. Bigger, faster, louder, more melismatic, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re effectively telling the story. Again, Ms. Cash You’ve heard plenty of great singers that leave you cold. They can do gymnastics, amazing things. If you have limitations as a singer, maybe you’re forced to find nuance in a way you don’t have to if you have a four octave range. There is such power in finding the nuance, and letting the song breathe. Stepping aside and letting the story shine through without all the “gymnastics” is enough.

When we exercise we restraint we make conscious choices about the picture we’re painting with words and music. We begin to see the music in front of us in a new way, illuminating the human being within and drawing our audience in into that space in the middle where wonderful things can happen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sing! Joy! Spring!

Spring has finally begun to show itself around these parts and I have been struck with a sudden wave of nostalgia. Yesterday I was driving around with my windows down (allergies and gawkers be damned), singing along with the Ronette’s Be My Baby at the top of my lungs and thinking about my mother. Mom and I waged endless war over the car radio station. She asserted that since she was the driver that she got control of the dial. This worked up until I learned to drive at which point, in between prayers for our safety, she claimed that my station would only distract me from the road. Being a child of the early days of Rock and Roll her station was always the Oldies station that played music from the early fifties and sixties which caused great eye rolling and muttering from my side of the car.  Even though I grumbled then some of my best memories are of my mother and “her” music. She taught my sister and me to dance the Twist and the Bop to Chubby Checker and the Beach Boys. Whenever she’d hear The Duke of Earl she’d tell us stories about her old boyfriend Earl, who was a DJ in her hometown of Jackson, MS. She wanted to be a DJ herself, and I have no doubt she would have been a good one, she had a terrific speaking voice, a wonderful sense of humor, and though my fifteen year old self would never admit it, she had pretty great musical taste too. Her joy in good music was infectious and she passed it on to me.

I like to think I’m passing that love on. The other night Spawn was getting ready for the radio show he does at school when he yelled to me, “Mom, you’ve got to see this”. “This” was a Youtube video of Chuck Berry and John Lennon doing Johnny B. Goode. Mom would have been proud.

With this in mind,family tradition compels me to share this little springtime oldies playlist with you…

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Sound of Philadelphia

Photo courtesy of Shorpy 

We're on the road again! On May 7th we'll be teaching a Master Class for vocalists in Philadelphia. If you live in the area or just fancy a day trip and the chance to brush up your chops come on by! Click on the e-flyer below for all the details.