“From where do the highest mountains come? So I once asked. Then I learned that they come out of the sea. That testimony is inscribed on their stones, and on the walls of their summits. Out of the deepest the highest must come to its height.” - Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
Are you a flat or a layered singer? We all have a story. We were born out of a womb, grew up, cried, laughed, hopefully tasted delicious foods, went through pain and suffering, went through joyful moments, traveled, read books, watched movies, got education, had a best friend, loved someone, and so on. We are all composed of atoms, cells, organs, chemicals and energy. We are all a compound of all sorts of different layers. We are dust from the stars and water from the rivers. How much more complex could we all be?
The flat singer is the one who is not bringing his own layers into performance space and only delivering a very flat superficial image of his essence. Have we not sat through concerts in boredom, having nothing given to us from a particular singer? What happened? It’s possible that the voice was not so good, but most probably the boredom came from a certain amount of flatness. It just didn’t mean much to us….It just didn’t touch our heart. Pure essence of nothing much…
But this isn’t because the person is not interesting. We are all interesting! We are all wonderfully layered creatures. We are all human Pandora boxes ready to be opened. Some of us are more capable of transforming that inner essence into visible/performing expression, others not so much. But flatness can also come (drum roll)…. from a lack of depth in the vocal technique. I'll get to that soon...
How does one overcome the first type of flatness? An obvious solution, which is part of some lucky college curriculums, is acting classes. Acting techniques explore the human complexities. They help exercise the human conditions and garnish you with different tools for artistic completion.
Here are 4 quick and easy tips for “flatness-less”:
Create a layered character
Even if you are performing a song, you can be a character. Give it a color, what if it were an animal? Give it a movement, give it a journey. Give a zodiac sign, a planetary influence. Is he/she spiritual? Skeptical? Old? Young? Lived in the 15th century? Where did he/she grow up? Can you picture the scenario? Don’t stay within your cultural boundaries, go outside of the box! Read in between the lines. If there is a book about it, read it. Cut scrapts from magazine a create an image you can look at.
Make a total opposite picture of what it is. Is it a slow and sad song? Make it happy and fast! Just like a photo, put a filter on it. Put different filters on it. Perspective is always a good way to incite colors and emotions.
Don’t be a generalist
As in Stanislavsky’s approach to opera you can pick a certain moment in the score and ask 3 questions – What is the character literally doing? What is the essential action? Compare it to a moment in your life when you felt the closest comparable feeling. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that the same thing happened to you, but that you can find a comparable one and pull it out of your tool box in the moment of performance.
Get to know yourself
Don’t be afraid to explore your beautiful complex being. Go on spiritual journeys, travel to other countries, meet and interact with people from different cultures and religions, read more, learn and become proficient in another language, do yoga, chant sacred music, do therapy, find a hobby other than music, make new circles of friends, fall madly in love, walk dogs, try journaling, join a book club, take up dancing!
Now, going back to vocal technique and flatness.
Let’s think about a flat surface. No depth. No core. No meet. Now think of a thick surface. It has a center of depth, a core of strength, a force, a place where to stretch from and come back, space for play as well as steardiness. The voice follows the same idea. A relaxed, un-squeezed larynx, proper vowel modification and coordination of many opposite forces will help achieve depth and beauty within the voice. It will help you achieve that place of play where you can mold your voice and bring out different layers and colors to anything you are singing.
I will explore technical issues and vocal depth on further articles.
So get layered! The richest beauties are hidding in the depth of your soul.