Saturday, September 25, 2010

Could We Understand the WORDS please?

Saturday musings...

Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves is nothing understanding singers - in ANY genre and style - while they sing.

As someone who learned to speak before she walked,  and who grew up in a family of actors, language was CRUCIAL!!

I have heard many a singer say to me "if it was just on 'ah' it would be so easy to sing!"

Perhaps you are over-estimating the excitement of your "ah" vowel - and perhaps you simply don't have the linguistic knowledge of how LANGUAGE informs tone.

As an instrument, we are the only one with language.  It is there for a reason and it would be extremely wonderful if we could enjoy it and understand it!!

Language itself is complex and marvellous.  It has its own musicality, its own cadence, its own pitch and physicality.  It is up to us as singers to weave this complexity of language into the fabric of the composer's musical choices.

The complexities of these two forms do not need to be COMPLICATED.  They need to be completed TOGETHER.   The language will inform the tone and the styles more completely.  If the composer had wanted the singer's "ah" he/she would have just left it "ah".

So, instead of just complaining how difficult it is to sing it with the words, learn how to DO it.

Language can help not hinder, the release of the voice into the line.  As we learn and understand the nuance of the language used,  how it formed and shaped, how it resonates naturally,  how it intensifies with given pitch - we begin to realize and physicalize the athleticism of language in the singing body.

EACH language brings another set of nuances, sensations, releases.  We begin to physicalize the differences BETWEEN languages, dialects, accents.  Using an Italianate [a] or an Italianate [u] will not suffice for an English one.  Language is NOT interchangeable!

And guess what?  This takes time, thought, study and discovery!!  To sound AUTHENTIC in the language presented is just as important as creating the authenticity of style and genre in tone.

The marvellous complexities of singing language and style and genre can scare the faint of heart - and cause excuses galore!  They are for those singers who are willing and able to dig in and discover the truth and reveal it no matter what it takes!

As a singer, we have the responsibility to discover these complexities - not make excuses for them, or for us.

Language has "foot" - feminine or masculine;  it has meter;  it has pitch;  it has melody; it has cadence;  it has shape and fluidity and release.  Language is music in its own sphere.

Its purpose is to communicate further, deeper, higher - and to put the music of the composer in higher relief, or in some cases, allow the music of the composer to release the language of the text in higher relief!

Whatever the decision,  the language is CRUCIAL and needs to be heard AND understood, simply from the linguistic stand point.

If we try to learn all of these complexities at once, we often come out with a giant mess - like a huge ball of yarn matted together.  If we work one weave at a time, and then gradually work them together - a wonderful tapestry of textures and colours reveals itself fully.

Just the PHYSICAL and ATHLETIC aspect of language and how it enables us to create a line,  develop a dramatic subtext,  draw on resonance subtleties and reveal timbre and tonal suggestions can open up an entirely new and exciting aspect of our singing to us!

I haven't even begun discussing the KNOWLEDGE of what that language is saying - or what it means - especially if you are singing in a foreign tongue!

Just the physicality of language and how it becomes a part of YOUR physicality is about time and practice;  about paying attention to the authenticity of its music!

As we find this authenticity of the naked word within the singing behavior of our bodies and our voices, we can begin to get excited about how is projects and is understood.  We begin to worry less about "does it sound okay?"  and realize "can you understand it?"  is more important.

If the language is internalized,  understood physically and released with authenticity - not only will the singer sound okay,  but the sound will be a glorious release of tone, timbre and clarity - of sound AND language.  Language is sound after all.  Why separate it?

Language weaves into the fabric of voice, and voice into the fabric of language.  These two musics should never feel "put upon" but rather, need to develop a sympatico that is real and necessary in the singer's body.  Anything less isn't worthwhile.

If you are going to do it - do it with conviction, til you get it right!


  1. AMEN! For me the text has always been primary - it's difficult to even care about performing music unless the text speaks to me. The main reason I rarely listen to singer songwriters: the voices are often non descript, and the music very simple - all of which I could accept if the story was interesting - but I become utterly bored because I often can't understand a thing...If we have a deep need to communicate something (often when we are upset!) in speech, there are few problems in making ourselves understood...I've never understood how diction could not be a priority when with music, that need is heightened!

  2. I remember a discussion with a conductor about words or instrumental music...which allowed the listener more space to feel, was a riveting conversation and each side had great points....