Butoh performance by Syv Bruzeau, photo courtesy of Jacopo Gianninoto
When starting a new blog, you never know if readers will get past the first post. Thus, I decided that I should start this blog for singers by writing about the single most important thing that every singer should know.
The problem was, I had no idea what that was. Certainly many things came to mind; singing often and well, enjoying the process and art of singing, engaging and emotionally connecting with an audience; all topics I am eager to further explore in this blog. None of them, however, seemed so important when considered all by themselves.
The answer came to me a few weeks later, while meeting a friend in a local café to go over some Italian text I was singing. He introduced me to a woman, a French dancer from Singapore who would be performing Butoh in that same café later that night. She was full of joy, full of life, and we talked about traveling and Bangkok and the city life. A few hours later, she disappeared to get ready for her performance, and re-emerged from the dressing room as a completely different character. Her face, lips and neck were painted in pale, ghostly white, with red streaks at the corners of her eyes like tears. She moved like a statue, with painstaking, livid awareness, and it seemed the space around her was also alive. Her gaze was at once unsettling and deeply beautiful, like someone staring straight into the face of pain and death, who, by doing so, saw beyond them both. There were no tricks or special effects, and what became apparent to me was the depth of her honesty and courage.
Good singers have solid technique, beautiful or moving voices, and a talent for language and lyricism. They might even have winning personalities and a commanding stage presence, all things we put loads of money and years of effort into achieving. Great singers, however, are honest. They’re honest to their own emotions, to the nuances of a character, to the human experience, honest to great degrees of vulnerability. They surrender to the music, letting it shape them, free them, transform them. Such openness and honesty, more than anything, draws us in and makes us want to listen for hours on end, because we feel as if we’re listening to someone sing about ourselves.
Great singers don’t stop at honesty. They must also cultivate and possess great amounts of courage in order to share themselves with others. There are many self-help books for business people, artists and singers alike which promise to increase your confidence and sense of self-worth, but I myself would be a liar if I didn’t confess that the only lasting confidence I have ever experienced comes from the truth that,
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
1 John 4:18
For many, this is love from family, or from friends. As a singer, I’m eternally grateful for both, but the only perfect love that I’ve experienced - perfect in constancy, in power, and in character - is God’s.
I know there are many people and things in life which give us the peace and security we need in order to be courageous, to get onstage and sing from our hearts. For me, that is my faith, but I’d love to hear what gives you the courage and confidence to sing, and what you think makes a singer truly great.