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Connect With Your Voice

Singing has become a high level competitive sport. Television programs promote power, agility and flash - it’s impressive, but all too often it leaves me cold. When I heard Joni Mitchell sing at the Grammys a few weeks ago, I was riveted with tears streaming down my cheeks. She sang pure love, and the musicians accompanying her, including Brandi Carlile and Jacob Collier, were also emanating such love and respect for Mitchell who overcame so much to be on that stage. I had a similar response to Tracy Chapman’s performance of “Fast Car”, she brought me right back to 1988 when I was starting out, singing in bands and learning how to play acoustic guitar. Singing is about sharing a story, a memory, an idea, a proclamation, a prayer. 

No matter your age, level of experience or voice quality, let yourself sing if this is what you want and need to do.

I am an accomplished singer, yes I put in my 10,000 hours and more. I never had a notable performing career, I never released any albums, or sang in any major operas or musicals BUT I have sung and still sing A LOT!. I sing because I want to share my love of song with others. I sing because I love to sing. It took many years for me to get over perfectionism, which eventually  turned into paralyzing stage fright - I’m not kidding - this is a whole other story, which I will share soon. 

For the last month, I’ve been preparing a program of songs by Richard Rodgers. I grew up loving these songs. I still remember how awestruck I was watching The Sound of Music for the first time. My parents brought my brother and I to the movie theater to see it. From that moment on, I wanted to be like Julie Andrews. I sang all around the house, played the record over and over, and drove my parents a little nuts.

Last week, my wonderful colleague, and talented pianist, Giancarlo Scalia and I performed the program, A Richard Rodgers Songbook for the first time at a senior’s residence in Montreal. My intention was to share that magic I felt as a kid with the residents - and it worked - Wow! 

I will share part of a letter I received from a resident  - yes, she actually wrote a letter and mailed it to me! 

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered are we…happily! These old songs are still singing in our heads and hearts as we know. Yes, If I Loved You and still do, and Some Enchanted Evening has always been available in my imagination. Oh! What dreams I had before I went to sleep last night!” 

This is why I sing.

Here is a short video of some moments from that evening:

Honor Your Sound

— David Darling,

Sing What You Play - Play What You Sing

The voice is the most flexible instrument! It is always with us and it is capable of so much! I am always deeply saddened when I meet people, including accomplished instrumentalists, who say they cannot sing, and I have met many! I also feel sad when I work with singers who are apologetic about their voices - love your voice for what it is! The joy of singing can be experienced by anyone who wishes to do it. However, it is vital that you share your singing with people who get it, who understand the need to sing. Well meaning friends and family may trivialize it likely out of fear, so let them be, and just do what you love with people who are there to support you. 

David Darling and Mary Knysh always said “Honor Your Sound”. These words struck me to the core. 

In improvisation I love to sing and play and let my voice merge with the instrument I am singing with. It is a wonderful feeling when I shadow each and every note blending my timbre with its timbre so the sound becomes one sound. I also love doing that with other singers! At MfP, we call this shadowing - that is when one person slides their voice slowly up and down while the other person follows the sound with their voice like water in a river. The voices, like the flowing waters, merge. 

One of the wonderful challenges I learned at Music for People was “Sing What You Play - Play What You Sing” 

As I echo back what I just played or what an instrumentalist played, I am listening to more than just the notes - I am listening to the articulation, the timbre, the volume or gradual change in volume, the vibrato, and so on… listening at this micro level opens a whole other world.

Play What You Sing was terrifying to me at first. I don’t have perfect pitch, so the practice of singing a phrase and then playing it back on the piano became fraught with fear and disappointment when I missed a note! My inner judges would say “WRONG!” or  “You should know that!”. Eventually, and with self compassion and curiosity, this practice became very illuminating because I really wanted to know what I just sang! I remember the fear I felt in my musicianship classes and wished I would have known this practice back then! 


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