“Acting for Singers.” I hate that title that is used so often for classes that teach singers how to act whilst singing. I hate it because to me singing and acting are synonymous; singing IS acting. If something has text, it HAS to be acted to some degree or another. And even without text, music is (usually) inherently dramatic. Just listen to a good film score to know that, not to mention the countless other incredibly dramatic instrumental pieces in the world (a favorite of mine that comes to mind is Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in Gminor
). To me singing and acting have always been inseparable. This philosophy has both saved me and gotten me into trouble. Acting a song well got me through times when my voice was less than ideal and people noticed less because I was entertaining and emotional if nothing else. It is also one of the great joys of singing for me- expressing emotions that I could not put into words, trying on different characters and feelings= fun! But sometimes I used it as a crutch and put myself in vocal peril. Cornelius would often remark, “Now do it without the drama,” after I was crazy enough to sing a piece of repertoire for him. The first time he said this to me was after my rendition of Juliette’s Waltz
. I was dumbfounded. How do you do
that, I wondered?! How can you separate them, especially for such a character driven piece as that? Of course I quickly learned that you can and should use pure technical vocalism as an invaluable tool when tackling a song and THEN you can add in the drama. And more often than not, the drama can actually help the singing voice. The right motivation and thought behind a phrase, a note, a word, can make a difficult element come easily, a good performance into something extraordinary.
(It’s all about balance, naturally.)
But what brought this topic to mind now was my judging of the adult division at the Oregon State Fair Talent Competition yesterday. Most of the vocalists sang pop or country songs and a large percentage did not even attempt to “act” their song, emote in any tangible way, or allow their feelings about their choice of repertoire, the text, or even the very act of singing and performing to inform and enliven their performances. And it made me realize how essential some kind of acting/emoting is to a successful vocal performance no matter the genre. I mean, I always stress the importance of acting/emoting/expression to my students on a regular basis and teach them performing techniques as applied to Musical Theatre and classical music, but I rarely get a chance to address it in other musical genres. The worrying thing to me is the lack of “spark”/passion/emotion/feeling in these singers’ faces, bodies and most importantly to me, their EYES (as “they” say, the eyes are the window to the soul). Share with us your joy of singing! Share with your audience how much you love this song. You chose it, now tell us why through your performance. Tell us a story. Let us get carried away, lifted up, by the emotion, the drama, the comedy you are conveying. I know it can be difficult, but it is as necessary as sounding good. No matter how beautifully you sing, if you are boring, I don’t care to listen/watch. Expression, emotion and musicality go hand in hand with good technical singing. Period. And if you find it difficult, seek out a coach like me who can help you do it! It will make you and your audience so much happier.