Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Cyberspace Recital -- Do You Have Something to Say?

I have been considering a question over and over again for the past couple of weeks, and it seems as if it is cropping up everywhere:  Do I have something to say?  Do I have something to say to the world?

Not only that, do I have something to say with my singing? Am I holding back my emotional truth for when my technique is good enough to finally say something?  Do I need to wait to say something, or can I begin to start saying something now, even when the singing is flawed, even when the dream of what I would like to say does not match the reality of what comes out?

As I write this blog, and read books and articles about how to develop my writing abilities, the topic of whether I have anything to say, what I will choose to say, and how I will say it is very frequently on my mind.  So it seems obvious that a writer has to think about what he or she might want to say.

But does a singer have to think about what he or she might want to say?

The judges of the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions seems to think this is important.  In a television documentary about this event, The Audition, which I watched on PBS recently, one of the judges tells us that this is something they look for in a singer -- someone who has something to say.

This message also popped out of the pages of a book I'm currently reading, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear, by Ralph Keyes.  He confirms that, yes, everyone has something to say, and what we have to say is important, but the most important thing we have to say, and what we would really like to say, is often very scary to expose to an audience.  The real things we would like to say are often mortifying.

At first glance, the 24 Italian Songs and Arias appear to be "saying" the same things over and over again in different ways.  The poetry is mostly about love and basic emotional fundamentals surrounding the human experience of falling in love: Unrequited love.  Hope for love returned. The pursuance of love.  The hopes for romance.  The torture and teasing of love. The vulnerability of love. The deep pain of love. On the surface, we think immediately of classic situations: "I liked this boy in high school and I thought he was noticing me but I found out he didn't even know who I was" -- or, "We were going to be married, but then he met her" -- or, "He left me after many years of marriage.  He said he never loved me."   Yeah, yeah, yeah -- unrequited love.  Been there; done that.  I can sing that.

As I've looked at the song "Tu lo sai" I have gone through the usual tasks of examining the language and figuring out what the poet of the song has to say.  As I've examined the music, I have tried to understand what the composer has to say.  This is what I usually do with a song, and I have to admit that I have often hid behind expressing what the song is trying to say, but not thinking too much about what I want to say with the song.

But, bearing in mind the words I heard from the Metropolitan Opera judge, I have begun to realize that as a singer I must -- just as I do when I write -- figure out what I want to say as well. Just as writing can be murky when the writer is not sure of what he wants to say, a singer's performance of a song can be "murky" if the singer is not clear about what she would like to say.  So I must look at the poetry and music of "Tu lo sai" with new eyes.  Can I use this song to express something about me, something I would like to say?

In this case, the answer is yes.  There is a way I could use this song.  I have been struggling with something that is painful to me and I realized today that this song can help me say what I would like to say about it.  For the purposes of learning about this aspect of preparing a song, I'll tell you a little bit (but not too much) about that "something."

I had taken the risk of having made overtures for a friendship with someone I admired greatly. At first I experienced joy as I saw the promise of a response from this person, but my joy turned to pain and disappointment when later my overtures were completely rejected, and to make matters worse, this person will, in a short time, be absent from my life almost completely, so a deep sense of loss is being added to the mix as well.  I have been trying to resolve these feelings, but have not yet been able to work it out emotionally within myself and find resolution and peace. Perhaps "saying something" with a song would be useful in this process.

The language and sentiments -- musical and verbal -- of  "Tu lo sai"  match up somewhat with this personal event of mine.  It is not exact, but it works with my personal experience, and I think I may be able to use this song to "tell" this person how I feel.

You know how much I loved you
you know it, cruel one!
I wish no other mercy
than that  you remember me
and then despise me an unfaithful one!

Usually, a singer would not need to explain the personal experience behind her song.  In fact, it would be safer not to, because when they know, people might listen more critically. This motivation may now be scrutinized. Is the singer succeeding to express her intention?

I think it is preferable to privately use the personal experience to feed the poetry and the music and the voice.  However, I have used it as an example in this blog for the purpose of discussing and illustrating this aspect of a singer's calling and work.

In the above-mentioned  book The Courage to Write the author says he would rather read something honest from someone who had something to say even if the writing was not technically up to snuff.
The more I read, and write, the more convinced I am that good writing has less to do with acquired technique than with inner conviction.  The assurance that you have something to say that the world needs to hear counts for more than literary skill.  Those writers who hold their readers' attention are the ones who grab them by the lapel and say, "You've got to listen to what I'm about to tell you."  It's hard to be that passionate.  It means you must put your whole poke on the table.  Yet this very go-for-broke quality grabs and holds a reader far more surely than any mastery of technique.
I might tend to agree with that up to a certain extent, but it doesn't address that there is a limitation that comes with lack of technique.  The technique is what gives you the freedom to really portray what you're trying to say. Technique gives the ability to say something more accurately and eloquently.

Imagine the frustration of a child who knows what she has in mind, and would like to show you her idea of a tree, but cannot draw it.  The mother looks at the drawing and says, "Oh, is that a monster?"  The child is disappointed because the mother does not see a tree there.

An explanation like this of not having enough technique to say what I want to say could be a way of backing away from my emotional truth.  Do I lack courage? And do I disguise that lack of courage by claiming I don't have the technique yet?  Do I only give you a little generalized version of the story of my painful incident because I am embarrassed by it?

Mr. Keys says of writers, but true of singers as well:
We all have secrets locked tightly in an inner safe.  Writers must unlock that safe and risk letting its contents creep onto the page ...  Exposing that life takes courage
Aspiring writers are often driven to write because there are things deep inside them they wnat to get out.  But after they peer deeply within, few remain sure that they want anyone else to konw the most interesting things they see.

Well, a singer might have to do a similar thing if they want to "say" something with a song.  But maybe singing and a song (and acting and theater) are amazing tools for being able to express the very real and honest experience of a person while keeping a safe and protected distance from the specifics of that private experience.  Can we express our pain as artists without anyone having to know the details?

In the movie The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers, there is a scene where the character of Eowyn sings at the funeral of her brother, Theoden, and she lets out a crying lament, where her inner pain is definitely present in the sound.  (   High levels of vocal technique are not there, but there is enough ability with singing to be able to connect voice with that wail that is born of pain.

I feel that this scene from the The Two Towers is very "honest" even though it is scripted and we are not using the actress's actual experience.  Yet, we guess that she knows what this kind of pain feels like.  We can tell because she is able to "say" it to us through her character.

I can tell by that the way the vocal line works in "Tu lo sai," when my voice is finally free and can use the line the way it wants to, that this is a great piece to tell "my story" about rejection in friendship.  It is also a vehicle that will allow me to express my feelings to the individual, since I'm not in a situation where it would be appropriate to address the person directly and discuss these things.  Singing the song can work the same way writing a letter to a person does, a technique a psychotherapist might use to help people resolve emotional issues.

Therefore, I conclude that this song, "Tu lo sai" can help me say something I want to say, something I need to say.  Just like multiple revisions of a letter that I am trying to get just right, each time I sing a song, each time I develop a next detail of the song, I come closer to the message I want to send -- to that person, to myself, to the heavens, to the people around me, and to the world.

"Tu lo sai" this week in Frescamari's Performance Space, is a working copy of a letter I'm writing.  It's been through a few revisions but is not in it's final state yet.  Nothing is ever perfect, but the writer/singer will know when it is doing a good job of expressing the feeling.  The writer/singer will know when it's "ready, and time to send it off, time to click "publish post" or "send."

Much progress made, but still stamina issues that cause the end of the song to deteriorate.  Yet I will post this one, since it was the chosen song of the week and I did not prepare another.  Took my very best stab at "saying something with the song," although by the end of the song had to scrap "saying someting," and merely survive.  But that's so okay! Click to to go Frescamari's Performance Space:  Tu lo sai

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