I love this Jim Henry line. “Sing with your intelligence – not your talent”
The artistry is in singing with so much intelligence, that it appears to be talent. And the intelligence here is not simply focusing the mind on all the correct technical things (though these are important in order to prevent distracting our audience from the message), it’s also bringing life experience and emotional intelligence into the communication of every line of a song.
As directors, our work is to assist amateur singers to transform their mindset from ‘singing along with the group’ to that of performing artist – singing with all the aliveness they can access.
There are several crucial steps:
1. Notice the technical hitches that get in the way of artistry
2. Drill the corrections out of context during warm up in as many innovative ways as can be dreamed up
3. Reinforce those corrections when singing songs
4. Drill the artistry until it becomes habit. (Directors – this will take you your whole life, but it’s worth it, because it is a magnificent life’s work. There’s no rush. Just give it everything you have – all the time)
5. Draw attention to the artistry when those corrections work well. Directors – this is sometimes a long haul, because not all your singers will have enough experience with really listening to notice the difference – or even enough body awareness to feel the difference. The broader strokes will be noticed immediately by everyone, but the subtler, finer ones take more long term awakening and a more acute and developing sense of present moment awareness.
6. Draw singers’ attention to the fact that fun can only be had in the present moment – and that life can only be rich and exciting in the present moment. So it’s worth the effort of applying the artistry that will make the moment more fun and more exciting.
Once we all awaken to the fact that we live only ‘right now’ we become highly motivated to make that moment stunningly beautiful, alive and intelligent on every level.
Here’s a new trick I thought up the other day as I was remembering the pullstring on a talking doll I once had. I actually came across a Barbie once – in Italy – who, when you pulled the cord on the back of her neck said “Math is hard”. Nuff said.
Imagine that you have a cord like this, but that you can pull it out and away from yourself – from the middle of your chest. You need to really feel the resistance in order for this trick to work.
Now, every time you sing an emotion word that evokes something a little more intense, like ‘heart’ or ‘pain’, pull this cord out and away from yourself for the full duration of the note.
I found when I tried this with my women’s chorus the other night that they sang the word with more emotion, and more artistry while they were pulling the cord.
Asking a group for more emotion on a particular word invites some singers to accent the note, and others to swoop up into the pitch. This eliminates both problems. With this action, we’re bypassing the conscious mind (where all the small highly personalized decisions are made) and speaking directly to the Limbic Brain.
Of course this will need to be drilled for a while because like so many other physical tricks, we can’t use it on stage. Unless of course, you’re a small group from my men’s chorus who entertained us all at a party by performing a song using as many of my Magic Choral Trick actions as they could.