Becoming a Better Singer

Ugh, I went to an organ recital recently and the organist, though technically proficient, was devoid of energy, interpretation, originality or excitement. No wonder today’s youth are not taking up the organ as an instrument because they have to listen to people like that in their churches every Sunday. What a turn off. In many of our churches on Sunday, the organ is like a sports car, backed out of the garage for one hour each week and only to the end of the driveway then back into the garage.

When I work with singers either in the church, workshop or theater venue, I often share one of several simple videos with them. We first watch the video with the sound off. Then we watch it a second time but this time I tell a story based upon the facial expressions and movement of the singer. Then the singers each take a turn doing the same. I then tell them the story of the song and we watch it one final time with the sound still off. Finally, we watch it with the sound on. Listeners often hear the notes and not the words because singers, like organists, put more effort into the notes rather than communicating.

This exercise not only makes the singers aware of their expressions, movement and inflection, but it also makes them cognizant of the importance of words and story telling. All too often singers are mired down with technique, notes and style rather than simple communication. This applies not only to theater performers but church musicians often fall down into that hole, too. I’m not saying they need to employ theatrics into their delivery of the Psalms and holy scripture, just become better communicators of it through basic facial expression, making eye contact and most importantly – BEING PREPARED. If you have to look at the page more than 20% of the time, you’re not prepared to interpret.

I’ll say no more on the topic. You can use any video you like but one of my favorites to start with is Betty Buckley’s interpretation of the song “Meadowlark.” The first video with commentary but, without sound can be found here:

Here is the original video with sound:

So, all you singers, story tellers, poets and organists, “SING . . . ” for me.


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