Monthly Archives: December 2012

Silence

Music begins inside human beings, and so must any instruction. Not at the instrument, not with the first finger, nor with the first position, not with this or that chord. The starting point is one’s own stillness, listening to oneself, the “being ready for music,” listening to one’s own heartbeat and breathing.  Carl Orff

Watching other artists perform is an invaluable part of one’s craft. It is the way one learns what works and what doesn’t work. Watching others artists, especially instrumentalists, is how I came to understand silence in stagecraft.

Silence creates a distance to time and place, therefore most people avoid it. It makes us uneasy. As actors, we work on tightening beats, avoiding the silence that sucks life out of a scene. As musicians, we adapt to the loud drone of electrified instruments, amplifiers and fans. As people, we escape into the harried world of sound and sight bites and the ever-present background noise. Silence has become a very precious commodity. My songs and the era from which they are drawn are inherently more silent. The mere fact that they are performed in a room where people can actually listen already sets this kind of music apart. Gradually, as people become tired of being assaulted, they are returning to the listening rooms and the salons where music played for centuries.

I use “Kunstpausen” (artistic pauses) to frame my songs, create mystery and maintain my power. Simply put, I draw whatever energy there is in a song out beyond its boundaries. I insert them at the beginning of songs so I can focus and gather myself into character. I pause within the song if I wish to emphasize something or be playful with the text. At the end of songs, I maintain my character for seconds before acknowledging my audience – my aim being to allow the scene to drift away rather than be jerked away by an habitual “thank you,” or a change in my expression and focus. I am quite aware of the effect this has on my audience. They want to linger in the moment with me, relish the space, their thoughts and their mood.


Gesture

Every singer, actor and anyone who doesn’t have their hands full on stage, struggles with what to do with them. Should they hang down straight? Should they point and lead? Should they give visual cues as to the words being sung or spoken? Should they be cut off? How easily they can be underused, overused, and simply misused. How to hold the hands isn’t always taught in voice classes, but it is taught in the theater.

kk043.jpg

The hand, attached to the arm, gloved or bare, is as expressive and sensual a thing as the eyes and mouth for the performer who knows how to use them. The important thing is that the entire limb, from shoulder to middle finger be completely relaxed. Then if one opts to stand with the arms hanging down along one’s side, or held as in prayer, or secured behind the back, or used to accentuate a word or a part of the body, or to beckon and otherwise gesticulate, it will be natural.

Intention is the key behind my gesture. I may make it look spontaneous, and sometimes it is, but often there is forethought and intention behind it. A part of my artistic head, separate of the one concentrating on making good sounds, is actually calling out the moves seconds before they happen. This is how they can be remembered later as successes or failures.

Gesture is a risky thing. It can easily steal focus and interfere with the music and the rest of the scene. Less is always more. An audience is accustomed to seeing a trained singer hold her arms at her side. Everything else is extra. If she has good gesture, it’s called a nice touch. If she has exceptionally good gesture, it’s called style. It’s part of her overall “package” – her mystique – and people will attend performances for it alone. 

Gesture is the reason that I, when singing with a microphone, prefer one that is standing to one I must hold in my hand. At a standing microphone my hands are free to be used as tools in my song, extensions of my spirit, my heart and my intelligence. When I do use a handheld mic, whether corded or cordless, I make it an extension of my hand. It is invisible. It draws no attention to itself and simply moves with me. I don’t wave it around but keep it close to my body, relaxed. I have no death-grip on it. It is my friend, my link to the one up in the booth whose own artistry in sound brings another element to my work.

Experience is no guarantee of great gesture. I am thinking right now of a few world-class singers I know who can stilted and clumsy with regard to their gesture. Their limbs flop about as though the strings to which they were attached were severed from above. It is disheartening in so much as it distracts from an otherwise beautiful presentation and truly good vocalizing.

If you struggle with gesture, go the dancers, go to the actors – the movement artists – and study with them. In trade, teach them how to tell the truth, in words.


%d bloggers like this: