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.