How Song Interpretation Can Save You From Your Nerves (part 4)

THIS BLOG POST IS #4 IN THE SERIES ‘HOW SONG INTERPRETATION CAN SAVE YOU FROM YOUR NERVES’. HERE YOU CAN READ THE PREVIOUS POST.

In this series of blog posts we are examining some tools that will help you create a concrete structure for working on song interpretation. The title of the blog derives from my fascination with the connection between interpretation work and relieving performance anxiety.

Today we will examine how to make the song interesting by adding some interaction and drama to it. We will also talk about how creating an imaginary setting for the song can help us feel more focused and less nervous in the performance situation.

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Image by Alfred Schmidt (1958-1938) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

WHY are you singing the song?

What is your goal? What do you want to achieve? What do you wish the outcome to be?

This is an essential aspect of song interpretation. Knowing what the song is about and to whom you are singing is not enough. We need to have a reason to sing the song. The reason is somehow connected to the Receiver.

Here are some examples of objectives:

  • Comfort someone.
  • Convince someone they should stay with us.
  • Tell someone they should reconsider their decision, because they might end up getting hurt.
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Photo credit: Emagic via Photopin

Using interpretation tools to create a safe performance setting

Remember the singer I told you about in blog post #2 of this series? She was working on ‘Help Me’ by Joni Mitchell. This singer was used to perform with a loud rock band. Now she was making the shift to acoustic repertoire. She loved singing her new repertoire, but the smaller setting made her very nervous. She felt vulnerable, like ‘there was nowhere to hide’. We needed to create an imaginative song setting that felt safe for her.

She had concluded the song was full of emotions you feel when you are having a crazy romance. When choosing a Receiver, she could have chosen to sing the song to the (imaginary) character she / her song character fell in love with. But she had concluded the romance didn’t only feel wonderful, but also scary and not that stable. So it felt better for her to choose a Receiver she felt very safe about.

To whom are you singing and why?

I am telling this to my best friend, because I know she will understand me, she has been there herself. 

In this case the reason for singing the song is: singer is looking for comfort, understanding, sympathy, perhaps even good advise. Or, like we put it in the session: “It’s girl’s talk that we are having over a glass of Cava.” Which brings us to the next point.

WHERE are you?

Where is the story taking place? What happened just before you start singing?

Creating a setting for your story will help you stay in the story from beginning to end. Some singers do not know ‘what they should do’ during an instrumental interlude. This makes them often feel nervous. Watching others perform, you can clearly see that they have trouble ‘getting into the song’. In both cases, you could solve the problem by making sure there is a clear objective, and by focusing on the Receiver and the setting.

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Photo credit: Stefelix via Photopin.com

Communication is a two-way thing

While communicating, we are always looking to evoke some kind of response (or feedback). Feedback is an essential part of the communication process, and included in most communication models.

The Sender and the Receiver in the story need to communicate too, in order for the story to remain interesting. When you sing your song, imagine how your Receiver would react to the things you say. You can imagine verbal reactions, and also actions, like turning away, standing up and walking towards the door, and so on.

Focusing on the Receiver and the goal can save you from your nerves

If you have a clear picture of what you are singing, to whom, and why, it helps you take your focus away from external things such as worrying about what the audience thinks about you. When you are completely in the story, the music can flow through you.

If we return to the singer working on ‘Help Me’, she found focusing on the interaction between her and her (imaginary) Receiver a very helpful tool. Whenever she felt she got ‘out of  the story’, she could imagine a reaction or response from her Receiver. This would help her continue. Having a Receiver to focus on made her feel calmer and more more centered in her performance.

An exercise

We will end today’s blog post with an exercise.

Read the lyrics of the song All Of Me. Read them out loud.

(Yeah, I was referring to the Jazz standard. And there is another song called All Of Me, written by John Legend. You can use those lyrics too.)

Then, try to answer the questions we have gone through until now:

  • What is the song about?
  • Who is the Sender?
  • Who is the Receiver?
  • Where are they? What has lead to this moment?
  • Why is the Sender singing? What is his/her goal?
  • How could the Receiver react?

Post your answers here, so we can get inspired and learn from each other!

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

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