Monday, August 6, 2007


Sometimes, after people hear me sing, they tell me that I have a gift. I consider this to be a wonderful compliment and a tremendous responsibility. Allow me to explain.

I get the call. You are asking me to sing for you. I get the logistical info - what, where, when, why, etc. I check my calendar. I tell you, "yes," I take a deep breathe, and I quote my fee. I am always pleasantly surprised when you don't gasp and instead accept the fee arrangement.

I discover that I must choose the music myself. (It's amazing how many people don't even know what they want sung at their own weddings, but I digress.) I read each lyric to assess for appropriateness. I check the range and scan for tricky intervals. I quickly determine what type of emotional "treatment" it begs for. I choose two more songs as backup, just in case I wake up with a weird vocal thing that day.

I go about the business of memorization, which for me is the most difficult part. I sing the song over and over, ad nauseum, until I know it cold. If it is a tear jerker, I practice it until I no longer cry when I sing it.

Once I am completely confident with the notes and words, I sit down with sheet music and pencil to formulate my plan of attack. When does the lyric line imply a change in dynamic? Where do I breathe - there are never enough places to breathe... Tempo changes, fermatas... got to be sure to get with the accompanist beforehand and go over my strategy...

Now it's time to record myself. I sing it a capella so that I can hear every detail of the sound. Every word sound (consonant and vowel) must be present. Words must be recognizable. Notes must be in tune. One word needs to be caressed a bit more, while another needs a touch of humor. Is there any "spin?" Did I manage to ring one lousy overtone? I do this several times. Then I do it in the mirror to assure that my physical expression matches my vocal expression.

Okay, now for the packaging. Outfit, hair style, makeup, it all matters and is dictated by the event. Shoes are important - must be on the balls of the feet for the best pelvic position for diaphragmatic support, but if they hurt too much.....

There will be no coffee, dairy products, peanut butter, bananas, etc consumed on the day of a performance. I've been drinking nothing but water for days. Unsweetened apple juice is great for cutting phlegm. Alcohol only makes you sing flat and loud. I have this irrational fear of getting the hiccups right before I sing.

Warm up begins when I rise in the morning. Ideally, I sing before I talk that day. I avoid talking as much as possible if the performance isn't until later. My friends will tell you that this is difficult for me.

The moment finally arrives. I approach the microphone, and somehow I must deftly step out of the analytical left side of my brain and into the creative right side. I must stop thinking and start making music. I must now present the gift, and I must do it with confidence so as not to cause you any anxiety. And I must try not to let my face reveal that I am making a mental note of every error as I move from phrase to phrase.

The gift is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than notes and words and air and vocal skills and appearance. The gift is the little part of my soul that I send straight out to you on a silent prayer. I hope to please you. I hope to touch you. I hope to make every cell in your body hum, because mine are about to spin right off of my skin. I hope to be one with you for just a moment.

The gift is delivered with love. It wishes to be received in the same manner.


BB said...

You do have such a gift! I've had the pleasure of hearing you sing a couple times, and the work you put into it is evident to even my untrained ears.

amcnew said...

Thanks, BB!