Vulnerability vs. Oversharing, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about oversharing being the projection your emotions onto someone as opposed to being vulnerable and having those emotions resonate with them. This brings me to the topic of projection.

People often ask me to teach them how to project (i.e., be louder), and I usually counter that what I want them to learn how to do is to resonate more. It’s a common question. For example, in a master class in Milwaukee some years ago, baritone Thomas Hampson was asked how he approached projection, and he said [paraphrasing somewhat]: “I don’t like to think of projection. It seems so one-directional. Bullets project. Missiles project. Small children thrown through plate glass windows project. But voices resonate.” In addition to amusing me greatly, that resonated with me.

Here’s an example of vulnerability that I witnessed within my Milwaukee studio. In the penultimate studio recital there, one of my students sang “Empty chairs at empty tables” from Les Miserables. He sang it beautifully. He was expressive, authentic, emotional, and he made people cry. He said to me a few months later, “Did you notice that I was crying?” and I told him that I didn’t, because it didn’t interfere with his singing and with his story. Often, singers and actors are told, “If you make the audience cry, you’ve done your job. If you cry, you just make the audience uncomfortable.” I generally agree with that – however, in his case, his emotion was so organic and genuine that it did not become uncomfortable. 

Then there’s the quintessential demonstration of oversharing that I came across a few years ago, when I judged lower college musical theater women at NATS. A young woman came in and sang her three pieces:

  1. Someone to watch over me,” Gershwin, Oh Kay! She decided to sing this while maintaining seductive eye contact with each of us judges. It was really uncomfortable.  And weird. She had two straight women and a gay man judging her and none of us were interested. The singing wasn’t particularly interesting – it was not as though she was coloring her voice or shaping the phrases to express a longing or a yearning – she was doing it all through contrived gestures and come-hither looks.

  2. “Honey bun,” Rodgers & Hammerstein, South Pacific. This involved a sailor hat. And interspersing her singing with shouting, “That’s mah little HONEY BUN!” Now, this song isn’t emotional – it’s a funny song. But the humor fell flat because it was inappropriate vocally and physically. And it depended on the use of a hat.

  3. And then the pièce de résistance, “Your daddy’s son,” Ahrens & Flaherty, Ragtime. For this one, she grabbed a blanket and bundled it up to look like a baby. She sang the entire song to the bundle, but as she got more and more agitated – it is a very dramatic song – the bundle started getting out of control and had there been a real baby in the blanket, it would have suffered from shaken baby syndrome. And vocally, she went out of control as well. She began to scream, “Only ANGER AND PAIN, THE BLOOD AND THE PAIN, I BURIED MY HEART IN THE GROUND –  WHEN I BURIED YOU IN THE GROUND.” The response it evoked from us was not, “That poor young woman, she feels so much grief and guilt,” but rather, “Oh my God, she’s going to have a vocal fold hemorrhage right here in front of us. Blood is going to start spurting out of her mouth.” And then it became funny. Unintentionally funny. On the final chorus, she burst into tears and could barely get the words out between sobs and when she got to the line, “You had your daddy’s hands – forgive me,” which is traditionally nearly whispered, she just screamed, “FORGIVE ME!” and I had to put my hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t openly laugh.

It was the worst performance I’d ever seen at NATS. Or pretty much anywhere, for that matter. Worse than someone standing and doing nothing. It was not an authentic performance. It reeked of, “Look what I can do! I can be sexy, I can be funny, I can break your heart – just watch me!” What she should have been saying was: “I’m lonely and need someone to love me,” “I’m in love with a real peach of a gal – let me tell you about her,” and finally, “I hate myself for what I did, and I have no excuses – except this.”

She did not resonate with her audience. She projected her emotions – more like projectile vomited her emotions all over us. And like projectile vomit, we couldn’t wait to wash it off. (Was that too much? Probably.)

Tell a story. Tell the truth. It’s not about you as a singer/actor, it’s about the story that you have to tell. What is the core truth of it? What can telling this story offer your audience? What can it offer you as the storyteller?

Don’t hold back. Give your audience as much as you can, but make it real. Tell the truth.  Be real. Invest yourself fully and not on a superficial level of “watch ME!” or “listen to ME,” but “hear my story.”

Projectile Vomiting

Keep Calm and Sing On – But Not This Week

A week ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio was open every day but Thursday because of the opera. Then the opera was cancelled.

Three days ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio would be open for in-person lessons for anyone who wanted to come and I’d offer online lessons for anyone who wanted to stay home. Then the national emergency was declared. Schools were closed. My church gig has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Today, it is my intention to write that the studio is closed this week. But I’m not taking a break – I am going to prepare for a hopefully short-term transition to online lessons. As I’ve mentioned, we will be using Zoom as the platform. I am going to spend this week doing the following:

  • Preparing my equipment so that I can give you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Watching a veritable cr*p-ton of videos on giving you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Creating support materials to help you practice on your own more efficiently. These will include videos of vocalises to be put on the studio YouTube channel and in the portal on the website. These will be for studio members only.
  • Delving into all the features that Appcompanist has to offer. There’s so much more I can do with it. As I mentioned, Appcompanist is now offering a 30-day free trial for IOS users (they’ll be rolling out a more limited Android version very shortly, with the full one coming out later).
  • Making a list for Appcompanist of things that I want them to add and mistakes I’ve found (I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile).
  • Looking at other accompaniment options that you can use, including ones mentioned by colleagues, including Pocket Pianist and PianoTrax.
  • Creating some scripts for Zoom classes on various elements, including diction/International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Jumping on Zoom and inviting people to join me to check out how this thing is going to work (later in the week). Stay tuned for an invite.

People who teach online almost exclusively tell me that there are so many advantages to the online lesson format. We’ll have to be creative and open-minded about it.

I will leave your existing lesson times up on Acuity for 3/23-4/10. I’ll let you know later this week what kind of schedule I will have for online lessons. I may start earlier in the day M-Th.

I anticipate having to do this through April 10. It is highly unlikely that I will be going to England from April 12-26, as planned. I might take a week of that as vacation, since it was already planned. The studio cabaret is being postponed and an official announcement of that will come as soon as Cyd from Germano’s confirms that the date we’ve picked is on.

I will miss you all terribly BUT please stay home as much as you can. Even if you are not ill, and even if the symptoms are mild, it can be spread so easily.

There was a great article in WaPo this morning showing how social distancing can curb the spread of this illness. IT WORKS.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

TL:DR No lessons this week 😀