Two weeks ago I promised to talk about how to get engaged in the story (i.e. acting!) when you’re singing a song. Here we go!
At my very first acting class, the question was posed: ‘What is acting?’
You can imagine the range of answers, and I’m sure you can think of your own. After a bit, the instructor steered us toward the dichotomy of telling the truth vs. lying. We were a hard bunch to convince, and she certainly did her best, that great acting was not a matter of lying, as we thought, but of telling the truth. One of the best ways I understood it was to tell your own truth, but wearing another person’s shoes.
Let’s apply this to singing: every song is a story. To best serve the story, we must figure out these things (the other person’s shoes!) in relation to the song:
Who am I?
To whom am I talking?
What is my objective/what do I want from them?
What is the obstacle to me getting what I want?
How will I know (or what will that person do) if I get what I want?
My chorus is singing Sting’s stunning piece, Fields of Gold, so let’s use that to answer these questions. (Tip: to connect most deeply, answer in the first person – WEAR the shoes.)
Who am I? I am a man who has loved his woman for a long time. (Feel free to change genders as appropriate – the feelings are more important than the pronouns!)
To whom am I talking? I am talking to my woman. Deeper still, I am talking to her in three places, chronologically: about the future, ‘You’ll remember me…’, in the present, ‘Will you stay with me? Will you be my love?’, and the past, ‘In his arms she fell as her hair came down’.
What do I want from her? *This is the most important place to make the strongest choice.* Not just what you think you might want, your absolute deepest desire. It doesn’t even matter if, rationally, you know you can never get what you want. A strong goal gives you strong drive and engages your deepest truths. So – let’s say you want to express your love to her. That’s always great! But why NOW? And why this way? I have found that imagining myself in the last possible opportunity to say/express whatever it is, i.e. facing imminent death, puts me in a position to access my deepest emotions and to express them fearlessly. Yes, it’s morbid, but at that point none of us would beat around the bush! Let’s imagine saying these words to our love, while walking our last walk with her, in our most special place together – the Fields of Gold. (You get to decide the meaning of the fields, too.)
What is in the way? If you’re dying (last possible opportunity!), your loved one is very likely overcome with grief, so you’ll have to deal with that somehow so you can really connect with her. You’ll have to comfort her at the same time, pull her into a situation so utterly compelling that she’s forced to be totally present with you. Maybe that’s why you’ve taken her to your most special place, the place where she can think of nothing but you and the life you had together. (Note: it doesn’t matter a lick if you see the ‘fields of gold’ as a 50’s diner, a beach at sunset, the top of the city’s highest tower, or a broken-down barn. The picture in your headdoesn’t have to match the lyrics, all that matters is your reaction to the picture.)
How will I know? In this situation, if it were me, I would know I’d gotten what I wanted if I felt that wonderful and amazing feeling of time stopping. If I felt that my love was totally present with me in the moment, receiving my love (my song!) and returning it with his/her eyes, smiles, physical touch. Maybe you’d want him/her to cry, or maybe stop crying. Again, you get to decide what would be the most satisfying response.
Hint: both your objective (what you want) and your obstacle (what’s in the way) have to be pretty strong to carry you through the entire song. If you can get what you’re after early in the piece, you need a grander obstacle. Ideally, you reach your objective either at the pinnacle of the song or not at all, so that the audience can empathize with either your victory or your defeat – both strong choices.
Try this with your next piece and let me know how it goes!