Monday, February 25, 2013

Dramatic Intention

Are you having trouble, like some singers do, getting in touch with and expressing the dramatic intentions of your songs and arias?

Me too.  It's been frustrating me for a long time now.

But recently, the art of making salad enlightened me on this topic.

What?  Did she say making salad?  Really?

Yes, making salad.  You see, when I was first trying to teach myself all about food and how to cook, I once read that the proper way to make salad was to tear the lettuce leaves, not cut them.  It was something about the way the dressing was going to adhere to the torn edges or something. (Or maybe it wasn't that -- so long ago, hard to remember).

So, in the early years, I dutifully refrained from cutting and carefully tore all the lettuce for my family's salads.

As the years passed, I stopped making salad because it was so much trouble, and we didn't have it as often.

Then one day, I was reading this great book, How to Cook Without a Book, where the author, Pam Anderson, tells you to just chop up the lettuce for the salad.

What?  She is chopping the lettuce?  That's so quick and easy!  She says that when she wants it to look nice, and she has the time she tears it, but otherwise she chops.

My eyes were opened to what I had done.  I had been depriving my family of salad because I thought it was wrong to chop the lettuce.  They were getting no salad at all!  I realized that chopping the lettuce is better than giving them no salad at all!

Well, this is something like what I did with the dramatic intentions of my songs and arias.  I learned in acting school that I should not play attitudes.  (In this analogy, playing attitudes is like chopping the lettuce.)  "Playing attitudes," if I am remembering this correctly is just taking on an emotion, such as anger, and adopting a general angry attitude because the character is angry, but not really living in the character and being angry for the reasons that character is angry, and responding to stimuli that the character is experiencing.

Little did I know that by not allowing myself to play an attitude I was making the salad mistake.  I wouldn't let myself play attitudes, yet I wasn't getting to the dramatic intention the better way either, so what was left was just a nervous person trying to get through a song and not expressing anything much in particular -- no salad at all!

I have decided that if it is simpler for me to play an attitude, that is better than not coming up with anything at all.  I am releasing myself from this "rule" I have imposed on myself all these years, that I can't play an attitude.  I say now, go ahead and get there any way you can.  Playing an attitude is much more interesting than no salad at all!

If you can't find all the deep stuff in your song, fall back on playing an attitude for now.  Maybe you'll get better at the other stuff later, the more advanced character work.


  1. This is a very interesting post! I was actually told the opposite, when it came to singing. I was told if you're feeling angry or sad, your vocal apparatus is certainly not going to be in the right condition to allow a high note to soar out. In fact one thing I learned recently is that the physiology of technically correct singing is very much like the physiology of happiness: the lifted ribcage, the buoyant midsection, the raised palate, the relaxed throat. I learned that so much of what has been wrong with my singing comes from being in a bad emotional state (whether it mirrors the feeling of the aria I'm singing is immaterial) and letting it interfere with proper vocal production. By all means "act". As the teacher I call the Mentor said to me "You are not supposed to be feeling anything, you're supposed to help the audience feel something."

    As for salad - LOL - even though I don't use many convenience foods, one that I do use is bagged, pre-torn, pre-washed salad. My hands are not that strong, and the less I have to use sharp knives, the better.

  2. As a drama teacher and alto I agree completely! I'd like you to link this post at our choral linky party. Just come over to