The other day I was out for an early morning walk and I was listening to a podcast on VocalFri. This particular one, from April, featured voice scientist Christian Herbst, who was talking about the role of voice science in vocal pedagogy, and of all the tech-y, geeky, science-y things that that entails.
But although all that science is invaluable for figuring out how to measure the data involved with singing – the acoustics, registration, anatomical – Mr. Herbst said one thing that made me stop walking and jot it down in my little “blog notes” file in my phone:
As a singer, as a performer, I am more like a politician than a scientist. There is no room for doubt. I have to convey the message. (Christian Herbst, VocalFri, 4/25/2020)
This reminded me of an interview from tenor Ricky Leech from a Classical Singer article from 2003 (!!), where he likened singing to golf. When you learn to play golf, you learn all the techniques. And then once you start to play, you can’t think of them or you’ll tie yourself up in knots. You can think about it when you start (the swing thought), but once you’re on your way, you just have to trust. The same thing with singing:
“If you’ve done your homework, when you stand up and start an aria, your swing thought will be the meaning of what you’re singing, and an occasional technical issue. You never get far away from the meaning of the piece, because you’ve done your homework, and you’re out of the way.” (The Student Becomes A Master, July 2003)
You can’t have any doubt. Like a politician, you have a message to share. Hopefully, your message is more sincere than some politicians, especially this one…
And like a golfer, you have a game to play, and you have to play through.
You must be convinced that your technique will carry you forward and that you believe in your message – beyond the shadow of a doubt.
- Is your technique solid enough so that you can erase all doubt after you’ve taken that initial swing/breath?
- Have you learned your piece backward and forward so that you can erase all doubt that the words and notes are going to come out in a way that serves the composer, that serves the audience, and that serves you in the way that you all deserve?
- If your piece is in another language (or in a style that is foreign to you), do you have it translated word for word not only into the vernacular but into your internal monologue so that you have no doubt what you are saying, not only from word to word, but from phrase to phrase?
- Do you like your song? And if you don’t (and that happens, because sometimes you are assigned things that just don’t speak to you), can you find something you like about it? Can you fake it so that we can’t see that you don’t like it? Because if the audience doubts you, it doesn’t matter that you don’t doubt yourself.
Take that swing thought and let it go.