Sample Chapter from Singing Excellence

Chapter 1 -- The True Power of the Singer


I, like so many others, was always interested in singing, but I felt I really didn't have a chance. I didn't believe my voice was good enough. How many people do you know who think the same thing and don't even try to sing in public? I had a classmate in school who had a fabulous voice, but, for whatever reason, was extremely resistant to pursuing her musical love and talent.


Well, I was wrong, not about my voice, but about my whole concept of what singing a song is all about. My voice, it turned out, is quite good, only I didn't know how to use it properly. And, even more, even if it would not have been so strong, it would've not made a difference. You see, I learned a lesson which has changed my whole perspective. I learned that you don't need a great voice to be a great singer. Singing with power is something else entirely.


This concept does not hold true in the world of opera, perhaps, but in the pop and even theatrical world it is not only true, but it has been proven over and over again. Yes, the singer must be capable of singing on pitch and not be grating on the ear, but success does not require the pipes of a Céline Dion or a Sammy Davis Jr.. One of the greatest singers of all time had a voice that rather resembled a frog. I can listen to him all day, his name is Louis Armstrong. What a wonderful world! How did he do it?


He did it by utilizing this concept, that a great singer does not need a great voice. What does he need? What should she work on most? Let's explore some fundamentals.


You Must Touch Their Hearts


A singer performs for an audience. Audiences usually consist of people (although some professors in college may lecture to a room full of recorders). People do not listen just with their ears. They listen with their ears, their brains, and, most importantly, their hearts. If a singer touches the hearts of her listeners, she has achieved success. How does she do that?


Human beings are always fascinated by a story. They love to hear about other people, to know their feelings and struggles, to be in suspense as to what happens to them. They want to identify with the person they watch, help them in their battles, cry with them, rejoice with them.


At the theater, a great actor knows how to get the audience to suspend its natural disbelief and become involved in the story. How else can we understand how, for example, Tom Hanks can make us worried, sad, elated and scared stiff in any movie? We've seen him a million times before, we know he's just an actor named Hanks. He is absolutely not an astronaut on Apollo 13! How does he do it?


He uses the skills and techniques of acting to get us to suspend our disbelief and connect with him. In other words, he tells us a story. Stories fascinate us from our youngest days. We can't get enough of them. Why?


Why Is Acting so Powerful?


Because it appeals to our deepest feelings and needs. Actors touch our sense of vulnerability, our sense of humanity, our need for love, for safety, for being alive. Dead people need nothing, they are static. They tell no tales. Living people need to struggle, to succeed. They are always in suspense -- what will happen next, what will life bring them?

By connecting to the stories of living people, all of these elements come to life. And the more the actor is honest, is himself going through an unpredictable experience, where we really don't know what's going to happen, the more we are engaged. If tragedy strikes, we can really feel that hurt all the more. If the little girl's horse wins the race, we will all cheer and cry at the same time, and mean it!


Go watch a great movie that you've seen before. Think about it! You've already seen this film, why are you still sitting on the edge of your seat, holding your breath? Here is an amazingly subtle point, and it is the key to this whole art. It is not merely the experience of the external story -- who said what, who got killed, married, fired, etc... -- it is the internal story of the actor.


That is the power of storytelling, sharing the story of the humanity of the character and how the actor feels about it and experiences it. If we don't know how we're going to feel about something, it means we've opened ourselves to unpredictable possibilities. Not knowing is the secret.


The Essence of Singing Excellence


And so, a new concept of a singer arises, one which uses that storytelling power to truly move an audience of people. It's not about sounds, it's about story. Sounds without story are dead, predictable, stagnant. Songs with a story, and the honest inner story of the singer, where he and we don't know what will happen next, are the keys of greatness in performance.


The more honesty, vulnerability, humanity of the singer that we see, the more we make a covenant of connectedness with them. Just watch Louis Armstrong singing (croaking?) " What a Wonderful World." Just see the true joy in his heart that completely lights up his face! It's an amazingly powerful moment.


I regularly attend a Broadway class of actors and actresses who are at the highest levels of performance. As they work on their materials, singing every type of genre, the most poignant moments are those when something deeply personal to the performer shines through into the song. We all get many a lump in our throats on a weekly basis. And these are all in songs that we've heard each other sing many times before.


This book is dedicated to sharing concepts, practical techniques and exercises, and other ways to shatter the blocks to singing greatness. Our goal is to become great singing storytellers, but in the process we may accomplish even more than that. This journey may help change us as human beings as well, and that is really exciting!



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