Singing & Performance: What if singing were easy? - Missy Wise
May 20, 2014
Being both a performer and teacher is extremely rewarding. At times, however, it can be incredibly challenging. I was cast as “Mother” in Stage Center’s production of RAGTIME several months ago. It’s been a dream role of mine for a while, so needless to say I have been nerding out since casting. As soon as my score came in the mail I dove straight in and got to work. A few months after, I got my wonderful Voice Associate job here at Davin Youngs Voice. With Davin as a mentor, I knew I would not only receive excellent job training, but I would have great vocal coaching made available to me. This was the ideal situation. Maya Angelou says “when you learn, teach” and at DYV I have the opportunity to do both simultaneously.
Naturally, I brought Davin my RAGTIME music. I thought at the time “well, maybe he could help me clean up this here and there…” Understatement. Upon my first coaching we worked on a passage in my 11 o’clock number, “Back to Before”. At the end of this song, like many in this beautiful Ahrens & Flaherty masterpiece, there is a long, strong belted note in, you guessed it, the center of my break. As a performer it felt ok. I was working a little too hard, but ok. As a teacher, I knew something was not quite right. Luckily, Davin knew just what to do. Tongue tension. What? That’s what it is? My tongue is dampening in my break? After a series of funny tongue release exercises, things got easier. Singing in a normally difficult area to navigate got easy. It was a weird feeling. Then, upon looking in the mirror I noticed it also looked easy. I wasn’t furling my brow (a trait of mine on trouble passages), I wasn’t looking haggard and worn out. My body didn’t feel as if it were under distress.
At one of my Ragtime coachings, Davin said something that stuck out to me. “What if it was easy? What if singing was easy?” As a performer, easy & relaxed singing can be less gratifying. When you’re in the heart of the scene emoting your guts out, you want to internalize those feelings in some way. You want your sung voice to match your spoken voice and your emotional scene work. If it feels easier, then how can I get as emotional? This is the difference, I suppose, between making art and being pretty good at something. Musical Theatre singing is way too often an unnecessarily labored event. We’re working too hard. Why not instead take the time to make it easier on the body so that your emotions and your work can pour through in far more powerful ways. Instead of having a pretty good voice that you default to, what if you knew what great singing felt like and got to make CHOICES? Not only that, but make it so that you can actually last for several shows…maybe even 8 shows a week.
This has changed many components of my rehearsal process. I not only discover more about my character in every rehearsal, I am also discovering more about my voice. Hard work doesn’t mean hard singing. Hard work in a vocal sense is making it easier on your body. I’ve been having to make decisions on how to physically show tension and a wide range of emotions without putting my voice through the rollercoaster. This is the art.
Here’s one of my favorite RAGTIME promotional images! More to come on my journey through this beautiful piece of theatre history. Until then, happy singing! - Missy