Today’s blogpost is inspired by the great Annie Lennox, one of my favorite performers of all times. She wrote an article for The Guardian entitled, “Why Everyone Should Sing.” And since this blogpost is titled Why I Sing (and you can go back and check out my very first post explaining that right here), – I think it’s very appropriate source material on which to base today’s post.
The very first words of her article are:
I love singing. I love the fact that there’s no external instrument that I have to master, that the voice is within me, the voice is me. And through my voice, I have the opportunity to express whatever I feel.
I have said in the past that singing is so personal; our voices are unique and even if we’re imitating someone else, we still sound different. It’s why we take it so personally when someone doesn’t like our singing; because “the voice is me.”
In a piano competition, assuming everyone is at the same level of technical ability, all the performers are playing the same instrument. It’s what they do with it that determines who the winner will be. What is the difference in phrasing? In interpretation?
In a vocal competition, assuming the same technical factors exist, all the singers could be singing the same song. But it’s going to sound different in each voice, because it is their own voice. They are not playing an external instrument. The winner could be the singer with the best voice – but maybe not.
Hopefully, the winner of a competition, no matter what instrument they’re using, will be the one who has something to say. And that’s something else Ms. Lennox says:
Singing a song is one thing, but expressing a song is another – it’s deep. That’s why you don’t have to be the best singer technically, as long as you can convince people of your emotional authenticity. Performing isn’t just about the voice – there’s a magic to it, an alchemic quality. All the separate elements add up to something else that’s really powerful. It’s that something that I’m interested in. [bolding mine]
Her reference to magic and alchemy struck me and inspired the title of this blogpost. What is alchemy?
According to Merriam-Webster:
- a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
- a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way
She probably means the latter, but I think the former definition is exotic and exciting. The implication that, as performers, we are combining some kind of chemicals with speculative philosophy (which is defined as “being marked by questioning curiosity”) in order to convert that which is ordinary into something precious – that is thrilling to me.
If your singing is emotionally authentic, you are an alchemist, creating magic and transforming the ordinary into the sublime. You are combining the elements of vocal technique (breath, resonance, registration, alignment, articulation, and phonation) – which, by themselves, are basic – with the idea of “What would happen if” in order to create something new and exciting to your audience.
It’s not enough simply to master the individual elements and play/sing what’s on the page. It’s the extra step, that curiosity, that exploration, that sets you apart and makes you an artist, an alchemist, maybe even a star (if that’s what you want). It worked for Annie Lennox (the crystal clear vocals didn’t hurt either).
What are the elements of your performer’s potion?
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I’ve always got something brewing!