Andrew had created a new piece of theater with music and had written several good pop songs around the theme of alienation; he complained that he was consistently leaving rehearsal with a sore throat.
I knew Andrew fairly well, and in warm ups and during work on short sections of the material, he exhibited good technique, relaxed and free tones and intelligent use of dynamics.
So something was happening in this new setting to tip the balance and causing him to strain.
I decided to attend a full rehearsal to find out.
As I watched Andrew perform it became apparent that he was so passionately involved in the piece that he was frowning and straining to convey all of his powerful feelings.
He was convinced that because this was theater, he needed to be twice the size vocally and physically so he was working ‘from the outside in’ to achieve this.
The solution to this was to teach him to understand that an audience will focus on the singer in character – no matter how powerful or delicate the voice – if only they are involved in their song and the action.
There is an exercise that can help a singer to channel their emotion in a way that doesn’t damage their voice.
I call it ‘Action properties’.
The singer is given a simple task to carry out on the stage in front of everyone and I instruct them not to ‘perform’ but simply to carry out the task and to ignore us; these can be captivating to watch.
Using props that lay around the theater, we played with actions that Andrew could undertake when he sang, such as sweeping the floor or folding clothes and this not only served to release his tension but also to activate core muscles for a deeper source of strength in his delivery.
Andrew worked with an outside director to select aspects of these movements and to simplify his actions; but once he had found this natural strength and engagement he never looked back.
Andrew had realized that size and power are not what captivates an audience but rather an engagement of the performer in their task, whether this is an action or a song or both.
Whilst flexing the required muscles (however gently) to carry out such tasks, we are able to use the core muscles to connect to breath and manage it better by deepening the source of support. It is important to avoid simply tensing exterior abdominal muscles since this can result in a tense larynx area. Musical Theater performers do this core support work all the time while they walk, dance and simultaneously sing exceptionally demanding songs.