I have one of those voices which naturally connects to my emotions. This is both a blessing and a curse. As a singer it’s a blessing, because my voice easily expresses what I am feeling, and I am able to communicate that to an audience without too much difficulty. I seem to have been born with that connection intact. (Maybe I just have an open system between my heart and and throat chakras.) However, it can also be a curse, because, as we know, emotions can be very powerful and they can take over like a giant wave taking out a surfer. Naturally, as a singer it’s also my job to find the balance between vocal facility and emotional expression-sometimes I am more successful than others. Some singers prefer not to access any true emotions and they are often called “stylists”. And of course it depends on the genre, etc. as well.
Another way this impacts singers is trying to overcome fear, as in stage fright. Anxiety takes over the breath, suffusing the muscles with untold tensions, making it nearly impossible to create sound at all, let alone desirable sound. That is a battleground many are familiar with, certainly I am one. But sometimes the problem lies within the content of the song –it suddenly wells up from a deeply personal place, in a bigger swell than we have anticipated, catching us off guard. We did not bargain for those tearful cries threatening to erupt, so we try to squelch them, in an attempt to keep the voice buoyant and masterful, instead of just letting it out, and letting it transform the sound. Our vulnerability frightens us.
This happened to me at the recent Singer’s Salon. I felt mostly good about my singing, but my second song of the evening-the beautiful and moving, “All in Love is Fair” by Stevie Wonder got me. I welled up like hell and hit some rather sour notes, that fell, shall we say, short of the mark. The voice caught in places, in other places I managed it. I was disappointed because I totally nailed that song repeatedly in rehearsal, while connecting to the emotion. Someone posted a video of the song, and tagged me, (several people actually-I guess somebody liked it!) and I was really bothered that that slice of the pie was what was available on the internet of an otherwise great evening. I agonized over it.
So I thought I’d turn it into a teaching moment. When the emotion rises up in you, you can’t squelch it. Now if you’re a bank teller, or a plumber or math teacher or a CEO, or any number of professions where emotional expression is not part of your work, that probably won’t fly,
(although it could make for an interesting day….) But for artists of all kinds, I recommend going with it. Maybe not a big deal if you are not a performer. If you’re an actor-great! Acting a scene with plenty of emotion is often part of the job, but the breath requirements are massively different. If you are a singer this requires extra skill, and preparation. Singing through the emotion is possible, if challenging. You have to ride it out-and keep the breath going. If you squelch the emotion you squelch the breath. And you stop the voice.

This year in the early days of summer, I took what felt like a crazy leap into doing theater again. I whipped a few monologues into shape, a few theater songs, and started going to auditions. I just literally jumped back into something I had not done for a long time. I stopped doing theater shortly after giving birth to my son, and then life took its meandering path, as it does, leading me through many personal transformations. Although I performed a great deal, singing in a band for ten years, creating and performing at the Singer’s Salon, etc., I had no idea how I would fare at auditions. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt to act again, and how quickly I started getting callbacks, and getting cast. I did a short film, and got cast in an original musical theater piece, and am now rehearsing for another play.
The musical was a great deal of fun, but fraught with a certain amount of difficulty for a variety of reasons. Throughout the rehearsal process I was constantly debating whether or not I had made the “right” decision. But once the show closed, I realized I had learned so much from the process, partly perhaps due to being at a very different stage of life. Here it is in a nutshell:
• I learned that no matter the circumstances, no matter how good or bad the show is, no matter the experience or lack thereof, of the rest of the cast, crew, directors, writers, etc., you and only you are responsible to yourself to do your own best work. Even if things are not ideal (are they ever?) you can still and always do the best you can do, then and there. And that is awesome. No one can take that away from you. Your work can and will work if you work it. Of course it’s wonderful when everyone is devoted and talented and doing amazing work. That is an absolute blessing!
• I learned or rather, was reminded, that having fun while you are working is great, but that the most fun while working is being highly focused and doing great work.
• I learned that your actor/singer preparation , while still being highly important, is also helped a great deal by being comfortable in your own skin.
• Life experience translates directly into Art. Your life experiences feed your Soul; your Soul feeds your Art.
• I realized that the reason I am not the most sociable actor in the room is because I am still and, doubtless, always will be largely introverted. I need time to myself to concentrate before and to unwind after. I am wayyyy over-stimulated by everyone else’s conversations, warm ups, hair spray and loudness. I have to create a bubble around myself in order to feel ready to go on, and it’s NOTHING PERSONAL! Just the way I’m wired.
• Being the “lead” or the one everybody is expecting to carry the load can be intimidating and a lot of pressure, but it’s always a group effort. ALWAYS!
• And FINALLY (well probably not finally but for now) I learned that being appreciated is indeed WONDERFUL and you simply must be willing to let yourself receive it! Deflecting recognition and appreciation with self depreciating criticism may be not only counter – productive, but just annoying and even rude. LET IT IN!