"Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality." - Ralph Marston
Where to start… I enjoy watching both “The Voice” and “American Idol”. What I love the most is experiencing the blossoming of each artist musically, vocally, physiologically, and performance wise as the rounds get tougher toward the final cuts. And I love listening to the small clips of what the coaches impart to them. I’m never quite sure if all of what they suggest is understood, because sometimes that’s just a matter of experiencing it for yourself. But last night on “American Idol”, Harry Connick Jr. was the coach for all as they were introduced to and expected to sing a “classical standard” piece. Most of what was chosen were ballads. And it was interesting because the simplicity of each piece threw off these young talented singers because they were taken out of their musical comfort zones. They may have heard these songs before, but never really paid attention to “how” they were delivered, emotionally, vocally and musically by the artist of yesteryear. Even some of the lyrics tripped them up because they were not familiar with the use of specific words or phrases that yet once again, took them out of their comfort zones. They hadn’t taken the time to find out what the words meant by googling them or maybe didn’t have the time, but none the less, it really threw them off track. Also they were intent on adding all the runs and musical doodads that they can’t seem to sing without. Making a word that required just one long beautiful tone and one vowel seemed very uncomfortable for them. Mr. Connick kept insisting that they simply sing what the composer and librettist wrote first, just the exact pitches/notes, and then add the words, still keeping true to the simple musical line. He said that if they didn’t know what the notes, dynamic markings and rhythms of the line were and could execute them as written first, they would never master and appreciate the harmonies that move the piece forward making it exciting and emotionally exquisite. He wanted the audience to appreciate what each of the performers could bring to the piece, musically, vocally, stylistically and emotionally and the only way to do that is to always start at the very beginning; the boring and mundane process of learning the notes and rhythms of the music first.
"If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music."
- Gustav Mahler
What all of this brought to mind was how very true this all is even in the classical music world. It is simple, just not easy mostly because it is such a simple concept. You, as a classical singer, have to go through this same process. You have to take the time to first get the notes and rhythms in your ear by playing them over and over again exactly as written on the piano. Then you sing technically each note as it is written before you even start thinking about singing the piece through for the emotional content.