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?

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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