The "Ecstatic Experience" and the Authentic Singer

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about authenticity, which makes me wince because I do not want to be a New Age-y cliche-spouting person, but all of a sudden I’m finding a need to define what it is I want to be, how I want to teach, and what I want to hear and see in performers.

This past week I’ve been describing to my students how I recognize authenticity in performers. It’s a very visceral reaction on my part that is almost impossible to describe verbally.  I shake my head, my hands flutter, I suck in air … it sounds like I’m having a seizure. But then I found a book on my porch that hit the nail on the head, and I’d like to quote from it.

On page 27 of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book, Something More: Excavating your authentic self, Breathnach describes (via Emily Dickinson) the “‘ecstatic experience’: what excites us or moves to tears, what makes the blood rush to our heads, our hearts skip a beat, our knees shaky, and our souls sigh.” In my case, it’s the rapid shaking of the head and hands, but that’s what’s happening inside.

Some performers that trigger this in me include:

Young Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl)
Audra McDonald
Kristin Chenoweth
Idina Menzel
Kelli O’Hara
Angela Lansbury
Lady Gaga (seriously)
Brian Stokes Mitchell
Placido Domingo
Bette Midler
Nathan Gunn
Marin Mazzie
k.d. Lang
Samuel Ramey
Jerry Hadley
Leontyne Price
Matthew Morrison
Chris Colfer

Performers who do not trigger in this me (although they might be extremely talented):

Older Barbra Streisand
Michael Bolton
Lea Michele (heresy, I know)
Celine Dion (don’t get me started)
Marilyn Horne
Jose Carreras

I may applaud the latter group when they perform. I may cheer. (Well, not in the case of Bolton or Dion because I choose not to listen to or watch either of them for any length of time.) But I’m not really touched – I don’t feel that “ecstatic experience.” And in the case of Bolton and Dion – I don’t believe they do either.

But this is an individual reaction. Clearly, based on their success, Bolton and Dion are touching people, and perhaps the same people are not moved by any of the artists who move ME.

I wouldn’t dare presume to list the students who fall into either of these categories, but think about this – have you ever made someone cry or catch their breath with your performing, whether it’s me or someone else?

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