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August/September 2016

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Love The Songs We Sing

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Love The Songs We Sing

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Why we ought’a be in love with the songs we sing.

Now, there’s this song I’ve fancied for years and years, but never had the courage to ask it out. I’d listen to other people singing it and think, “They don’t love it half as much as I do”. Unfortunately I’m cripplingly shy. I avoided it… until now. It’s like we’ve been together for years. Anyone can tell – we’re in love.

Essentially, singing is about love. It’s about intimacy and relationship: our relationships with our voices and the songs we sing/write. Many people feel estranged and uncomfortable with their voice. Similarly, they can’t relate to, or meaningfully connect with, the songs they’re singing. Audiences detect this. It doesn’t really matter what other people think though, it’s about OUR relationship with the song and our vocal experience. I’m madly in love with the songs I sing. I’ll sing whether an audience is listening/present or not.

How can your voice (or the song) feel comfortable and be able to express itself freely when you’re constantly fault-finding, criticising or comparing it with other people? We must develop trust and ease. You can’t judge and unconditionally love simultaneously. Relationship-building requires commitment, devotion, dedication, honesty, skill, acceptance, understanding and patience.

We have to ask the right questions. In relation to my voice, I must ask it why it’s guarded, scared, insecure or strained. What happened? Am I stuck in past relationships? Am I being too breathy? Demanding? Cautious? Intimidated? Intimidating? Emotionally dishonest? Am I trying too hard? Am I self-conscious about something I’m trying to hide? Investigate and listen carefully to the answers.

Similarly with songs. Ask it what it’s about? What feel/delivery does it want? When writing, ask what is significant about this particular situation right now? Have I ever felt this way before? When? Where? Why? How? These questions help us get to know a song. NB: You won’t connect with a song until you sing it. If it’s not working, we’re responsible for establishing and rectifying that relationship.

If you’re interested in the answers, you’ll be in a constant and intriguing connection with the song each time you sing it. Remember, some relationships are slow to develop. We sing differently depending on our emotional state – just as we give different responses to the question, “How are you?” Are you bored because you’re taking your lover/song/voice for granted? Keep curious, receptive and engaged

We sing songs we love differently. Our voices change (as when we speak to people we love) – they get tenderer, sometimes more excited, have more dynamic range and modulation. Notice changes in tone, tension, pitch and energy when you speak to people you love and/or don’t like. How does your voice change singing favourite or least favourite songs?

Don’t sing (or write) songs you wouldn’t cage fight-to-the-death for. I want the whole world to hear great songs, as I interpret them – my arrangement, dynamic map, tempo, feel. I probably won’t sing something unless it makes me cry (out of happiness or sorrow).

Relate to songs. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that fellow, I must get to know him better.” It’s our job as singers to build and maintain loving relationships with the songs we sing. We sing better when we’re in love (not necessarily with a person… with with the song!)

Be loving. Vocal problems emerge because we push, force, restrain or withhold. Would you ever push, force or withhold love? Be present and ‘yourself’ with the song, not overbearing, fake, bombastic and over the top – and equally, not tired, timid, disinterested or complacent.

Think of how you light-up when your beloved walks into the room. Look forward to singing songs because you’ll find out something new about them each time, and about yourself. Singing doesn’t conceal – it reveals. Allow aspects of your voice you’ve never heard before to emerge. Songs are mysterious, fascinating and wondrous. Approach them with respect, reverence, wonder, adoration and nakedness. Show yourself to the song and let it show itself to you.

Interestingly, our throats open when we’re unguarded. Because one primary function of the throat is closing to protect the lungs (a role it takes extremely seriously), we must consciously open our throats. We naturally open our throats when we’re vulnerable – when laughing / giggling or while making love. Think of how loudly laughter penetrates over and above ordinary conversation. What of the ‘screamer’ flatmate we’ve all either heard or been!? We harness this powerful open-throat energy; physically through practising the giggle release, and psychologically by establishing trust and safety. Our voices then become open and unfettered channels for personal expression and communication using songs as their delivery system.

We ‘vocalise as expression’ instinctively and compulsively. Try noiselessly stubbing your toe. When we’re in love our physiology changes, we have butterflies in our stomachs and the musculature of our face activates (as with negative emotions). Feeling a song engages our core and we sing from the guts.

Vocalists can wreck their voices singing in soul-destroying covers bands. This is classic Marxian alienation. If we sing songs we don’t love exclusively because we’re paid to, we’re basically prostitutes. Music is art, not commerce. Don’t second-guess an audience: they want to hear what you love. The voice is the barometer of the soul. Intimacy = into me see. If you HAVE to sing songs you detest, don’t let this ruin your relationship with the songs you love.

Love songs as you wish to be loved – for who you are – your points of difference, your unique perspective, craziness, complexity and the sense that ‘no-one else will do’.

We think we’ll love someone only when we understand them. The opposite is true and it’s the same for songs – we only understand songs when we love them. Don’t worry, our capacity to love is infinite. I’m always madly in love with hundreds of songs (no one any less so) and there’s plenty more where that came from. 

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