Wearing your heart on your sleeve requires regular practice.
From an early age we learn that effusiveness, and being exuberant can lead to being stomped on, rebuffed, mocked and ridiculed.
So gradually – one incident at a time, we shut down, become too cool to care, and otherwise protect our hearts and keep them safely out of reach. One incident at a time we stifle our self expression, until we’re just a shadow of our real selves. Rigid – because we’ve been taught, and we now believe, that ridicule is the worst thing that can happen to us.
But then we become Barbershoppers and we are expected to feel and communicate every nuanced emotion of a song. Something begins to thaw.
It takes us a while to realize that in the Barbershop world, not only is it safe to be emotional – it’s demanded by our presentation teams, coaches, judges – and our audiences. It’s not enough to sing well and move well – we need to be in emotional synch with our neighbours – and the more emotion, the better.
There’s something really satisfying about hearing and seeing real emotion in the important words in a phrase. We believe the singer – as if it’s the first time these words have been spoken.
For example in the song ‘I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over’, one of the lines is “….and the thrill is gone, when your lips meet mine.” When I asked my chorus to think about the implications of that one word ‘gone’ as they were singing it – the lost love, intimacy and trust – the tone colour changed completely and you could hear the hollowness of the disappointment. Such a richer emotional experience. And that was just one word.
Fear of telling people how we really feel is such a normal part of everyday ‘civilized’ life, that it becomes difficult to express even the wonderfully positive stuff. It takes practice.
When that practice is not only tolerated – but encouraged once a week at chorus rehearsal, something begins to free up. Exuberant self expression begins to leak out into other areas of our lives, where it inspires others to do the same. And with more exuberance comes a richer life experience.
Even my non Barbershop choirs are starting to notice how much more fun it is to wear your heart openly and proudly on your sleeve.
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.