Several years ago, I worked with an inspired musical theater coach and all-around delightful wildman, Marc Malamed. Sadly, he departed this earthly life in his prime, but his favorite quote still rings in my ears: “To avoid risk is to ensure failure.” He exhorted his students to go out on a limb, delve deep into their emotions, and bring something personal, raw and alive into the light. He encouraged a playful attitude too, a willingness to make outrageous choices and mistakes, and look silly during the learning process in order to connect with personal truth.
No matter what genre of music you sing, gut level connection is what your audience wants to hear from you. And whether or not you are consciously aware of it, the need for deep communication is one of the reasons you sing. It’s creative, challenging, and a bit frightening — but ultimately liberating.
How do you go about achieving an authentic, memorable performance? Start taking risks, and manage those risks from day one.
1. REPERTOIRE CHOICE: Your audience doesn’t want to see you work hard technically. This is uncomfortable for them. They want to enjoy your artistry and connect with you, the performer. Choose lyrics that resonate with you, and music that complements your personal sound and technical level. Make sure it’s in a good key, or transpose it to a better one. Let your teacher or coach suggest appropriate material. Songs that aren’t good choices now may be fine later on as you develop, so don’t despair if you can’t do your favorites right away. Dazzling technique has to look and sound easy in order to be enjoyable.
2. THOROUGH PREPARATION: Live with your songs for awhile and make them part of you. Work with only a few at once. Read your lyrics as poetry, without the music. Read them out loud many times, and feel the meaning and rhythm of the words. Does the line you’re reading remind you of something? Connect these words with images from your own life.
Listen to versions by as many different artists as you can. Your wonderful subconscious mind will take in and store away all their interpretations. They will become your musical vocabulary and source of artistic nutrition. As you learn and memorize your music, start incorporating your mental images. During coaching, go deep and don’t be afraid if you start to choke up, cry or get angry. You’re clearing a channel for communication. Once these feelings are released, they will become easier to manage. When you’ve learned your piece, sing for family, friends, your pet, or even an imaginary audience. The more you sing for others the easier it will get, and the more freedom you will feel.
3. ATTITUDE: You’ve prepared well. Manage your nerves pre-performance using your favorite techniques, then let go and communicate to your audience! It’s all about giving energy to them now. If you’ve done your groundwork, the result will be a satisfying performance. One day, if the conditions are right, you may have a magical, in-the-zone experience where you, your fellow performers and your audience are in total sync. That’s the Holy Grail. That’s the ultimate gift.