A singing legend shares his heart with singers.
A 55-year singing career. Over 500 Songs. A legend of Rock and Pop History.
Just look at a tiny portion of the list: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”…
Then there’s his music for other artists: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, The Monkees, and The Fifth Dimension…
He is unstoppable. His latest album, “The Real Neil”, features new songs as well as classic hits –and even a piano concerto.
With a creative heart that is still going strong – and a voice to match – we couldn’t resist bringing Neil’s wisdom to vocalists across the world.
Your voice is so powerful and iconic for so many of us. And it’s still sounding powerful. What’s your secret?
I never took singing lessons. However, in my first few years of singing I was scared stiff and sang too much from my throat and not enough from my tummy. There are certain things I do to keep my voice strong. I try not to go into a loud room where I have to shout over the noise and I avoid drinks with ice in them. The more concerts I sing, the stronger I am – it’s like being an athlete.
Any other tricks and techniques to keep your voice in top form?
I am from the old school: one nice soft vodka before dinner relaxes the throat and the mind. Some will disagree with me on this. But, it’s psychological: the audience can sense when you are uptight or relaxed. I always eat my meal about three hours before the show and if I feel I want a glass of wine with my meal, I do. I’m too excited to eat after the show. If I feel that I want a glass of wine with my meal, I do.
Any other vocal health recommendations?
Singers should go to a vocal doctor regularly to check for nodules. I’ve been lucky to never have these. We have to remember that the voice is our instrument – and this instrument is not like a violin that you can put safely away in a closet when you’ve finished playing.
So true! The voice is a unique instrument.
Singers walk around with their instrument – and expose it to wind, rain and all kinds of other factors that don’t face that violin in the closet. Pavarotti told me that tenor voices are even more susceptible to environmental factors. You do have to vocalize at home
and then, when you get out in front of an audience, you use more muscles, energy and power – this is why vocal care is so essential.
Can we bottle the secret to your strong voice and distribute it?
I think that part of the secret of my vocal longevity has to do with confidence. I am proud of the songs and can interpret them with my voice. Remember, you can’t please everybody – I try to sing the way I speak, very directly, very humanly. I try to not put on airs. One of the things about my style of singing is that people feel they know me, went to school with me. I am a part of the family, touchable and reachable. Sometimes I get into a taxi and the driver, without turning around, says, “You’re Neil Sedaka” – they recognize my voice.
Let’s talk about performance pressures and how you handle them – since this is tied into one’s voice.
You have to clear your head in the dressing room – I actually never spend more than 20 minutes there or I freak out. When I walk out on stage I like to feel fresh. Like the people are in my living room as a part of my family.
Do you like to get to the theatre early in order to mentally prepare yourself?
No. I never go to the theatre early and walk though it; it frightens me to see all the empty seats. I’d rather create my own visualization in my head to see the audience as my friends and family. Then I walk out on stage and treat them that way.
Does this mean that you don’t feel stress on stage?
No matter what is on my mind when I get out there, I put it into a state of suspended animation. If you have an itch, you let it go away; if you have a worry on your mind you let it disappear – the stage to me is not an escape but a marvelous kind of meditation. When I am singing on stage I can remember the actual moments I wrote those songs.
It sounds like a great time – how do you function when the performance is over? Is it a “downer”?
There are those who cannot function off the stage – I am speaking about those who need drugs or drink in order to continue the high of the performance after it’s done. I think that is very sad. I have learned moderation. I have learned that when you get off the stage the adrenaline goes down and you become the “real Neil”. In fact, there are two Neils – the one on stage and the on off stage. You don’t want to get these confused.
Finally, who’s your favorite vocalist?
Dinah Washington. There are many great singers of course, but she is my all time favorite. Her aggressive articulation was perfect and her attitude was feisty. When I have my glass of Vodka before dinner, that’s who I often listen to.
Neil Sedaka, the American singer, songwriter and composer has sold millions of albums during his 55-year career and written or co-written more than 500 songs for himself and other artists. Having toured in 2009 simply accompanied by his piano, legendary singer, songwriter and musician Neil Sedaka has released ‘The Real Neil’. A collection of new songs (and a few classic songs from yesteryear) performed simply with piano and voice. Quoting Neil’s remarks at the beginning of the album, “This is how my songs come to life, right here at the piano. This is the pure form of the song, the way I wrote them.” For more about Neil Sedaka see www.neilsedaka.com ‘The Real Neil’ is released on October 1st.