Number 17, December 15, 2021
Managing Your Emotions In Singing
In a recent voice lesson with a student, we were in the midst of a great discussion on the topic of approaching emotion in a song. What we were discussing was how to handle the onslaught of the feelings that come up when a song’s subject is emotionally moving. How can you keep your emotions in check so that a good performance of the song can still be maintained? It’s a good question, and it’s my topic for today. What can a singer do to manage emotions? Where does the emotional control come from?
I present and perform many, many songs that have moving subjects and have had to steel myself and control my emotions while singing. Two tunes come to mind specifically: Jean Ritchie’s “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” and Linda Thompson’s “No Telling.” Both songs refer to stories of people who suffer.
In past articles, I’ve written about the concept of “authentic emotion” or “organic emotion” for the singer, and what this entails is the use of EMPATHY. As we use our empathetic muscle to identify with the characters, our feelings are real, authentic, “organic” in the sense that our feelings, emotions, reactions are not manufactured. We really feel them. In the case of singing songs about moving subjects, we feel for the characters. At the same time, we must also remember our obligation to the song itself: we owe the song our best efforts. This includes applying our best technique, our sharpest focus, and our attention to detail. Add to that the empathetic feeling for the characters and situations while at the same time maintaining clear singing and storytelling technique.
What this process feels like is like walking a tightrope. You balance carefully between feeling for the characters through empathy (what would that situation feel like for YOU?), and good singing technique to handle the challenges of the song itself. First: spend as much time in practice with the song as you can. Allow yourself to feel the emotions. Start over, do sections, sing the whole song and let yourself cry. Then leave it for a day or so. Return to the song, practice it again and live with the melody, the words, the characters, all of it, so that it becomes part of you. When and if you go to perform the song, remember that you are giving that story to someone else: your audience. Your audience deserves to feel the story, too – and if you feel it, and sing it well, then you will have become the best kind of troubadour.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I wish for all of you a safe and abundant New Year!
Blessings and love,
Award-winning recording artist, Broadway singer, journalist, educator and critically-acclaimed powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called “one of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today” by Roz Larman of KPFK’s Folk Scene. LA Weekly voted her ensemble Best New Folk in their Best of LA Weekly for 2019, calling Susie “an incomparable vocalist.” “A flat out superb vocalist… Glaze delivers warm, amber-toned vocals that explore the psychic depth of a lyric with deft acuity and technical perfection.” As an educator, Susie has lectured at USC Thornton School of Music and Cal State Northridge on “Balladry to Bluegrass,” illuminating the historical path of ancient folk forms in the United Kingdom to the United States via immigration into the mountains of Appalachia. Susie has taught workshops since 2018 at California music camps RiverTunes and Vocáli Voice Camp. She is a current specialist in performance and historian on the work of American folk music icon, Jean Ritchie. Susie now offers private voice coaching online via the Zoom platform. www.susieglaze.com
VOICE NOTES: A FOLK DIVA’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Number 17
Managing Your Emotions in Singing