Tag Archives: intention

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.

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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.

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Carriage and Silhouette

From her first appearance on stage, before an artist has done anything to prove her talent, her posture will inform the audience. Even the grandest of introductions from a master of ceremony will be compromised if she walks on slouching. The performance begins with the first part of her that enters – her big toe, her index finder, her forehead, a prop – and ends with the last thing to leave – her heel, her rear, her index finger, her coat, her skirt.

A singer must know how to move on stage, how to hold the head, the shoulders, the hands, where to place the feet. This isn’t always taught in voice classes, but it is taught in the theater. And one can study it in the mirror. It is said that a singer is ready for the stage when she is able to sing in front of a mirror naked.

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How to hold oneself upright and what to do with the body, ought to be partly rehearsed and partly left to the moment. Being comfortable on stage, in one’s silhouette or costume, and feeling relaxed and in one’s power is what creates natural movement. Nervousness is expressed through awkward movements, fidgeting and lack of intention.

Sometimes a gesture or some patter will emerge from the creative flow and feel completely wrong. One should commit it to memory as a thing not to be repeated. Sometimes a gesture or some patter happens that feels completely right. It should go into the reference manual in one’s mind, ready to be accessed again. If something really unique and sublime happens, it should be taken home and rehearsed until it is natural. Grace is a thing you can learn if you aren’t born with it.

As important as carriage is the silhouette: how a singer looks, what she embodies, her physical style, her costume. I found my silhouette among the characters and the era of my songs. I love details and the era provides an abundance of them. Since my repertoire is diverse and rangy, I must choose an ensemble that will suit the many songs in the program. It is important that one’s silhouette reveal something of what one feels inside. Clothes can be worn or they can be expressed.


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