How to Hold a Difficult Emotion While Singing
If you've ever written to me and said:
Fel, when I sing a song I become very overcome with feeling and want to cry, and then I lose my technique.
Fel, how do I show real emotion when I sing?
-- then the following process will serve you incredibly well.
But first, a quick story . . .
This past Friday I attended a business conference, and in one of our small group exercises, I started crying.
If that sounds weird, it's because it kind of is. But this was no ordinary business conference. The goal of our group exercise was to relive a past memory and to hold the feeling of that memory in our bodies.
(Among other things, one greater goal of the conference was to expand our consciousness, to learn to hold feelings, and to use these skills in the service of creating heart-centered businesses.)
What does it mean to "hold a feeling?"
To me it means: not buckling under its weight, or letting your mind reactively race in anxious thoughts. Instead, you learn to embody the feeling, hold it in your heart, head, stomach, whatever, without getting freaked.
In turn, the feeling (1) doesn't flee from you, (2) doesn't overwhelm you, (3) becomes a welcomed part of who you are.
As I did this exercise, I realized the process was almost exactly aligned with the dramatic process of getting into character onstage, whether for a play or for a song performance.
Getting into character basically means: are you able to hold the character's emotion -- without fleeing or worrying that "this is too much"?
That's what today's post is about!
So let me ask you: what makes a good song performance?
We're all familiar with the answer: good pitch, pleasant sounding tone, and consistent technique.
Now let me ask you: what makes a great song performance?
A great performance conveys real emotion, vulnerability, and connection. In short, the singer touches the audience in a memorable, true, and vital way.
The first (good performance) is simple. Practice your technique, my dudes, and you'll get there (I'm here to help with that if you need daily guidance).
The second (great performance) requires some special sauce. This sauce is made with the ingredients of empathy, self-awareness, and a performer's ability to hold a feeling without running from it. (Yay Italian cooking metaphors!)
This process of holding a feeling will serve you tremendously not just in life, but in your song performance.
HOW TO HOLD A DIFFICULT EMOTION WHILE SINGING
Step 1: During your song preparation, determine the feeling behind the song (e.g. hope, joy, jealousy, despair, etc.). (These don't have to be "bad" feelings per se, because even joy can feel overwhelming sometimes.)
Step 2: Get centered in your breath. Visualize a connection from your feet to your butt, to your belly, to your heart, to your head, and then back again. At this moment, you are grounding yourself and connecting with your body.
Step 3: Recall a time from your own life when you felt the feeling from Step 1. Close your eyes and step forward. Allow the feeling to overtake you. Feel it in your body. Notice where it lives. Does it have a color? A shape? A direction? Let it come to your body for a few moments.
Step 4. This is the really cool part! Physically take a step back, outside of the emotion. Literally step back, "out of the feeling." In doing so, you return to your grounded state of Step 2. This is called "Second Position."
While in "Second Position" consider the feeling. Where did you feel it? What is the positive intention behind the feeling? How might it be trying to help you? (E.g. Is the jealousy trying to keep you safe? Is the joy trying to lead you to fulfillment?)
Take some time to observe and understand the feeling. Is it necessarily "bad?" Or is it just....a feeling?
Step 5. When you're ready, physically return to the original feeling, stepping forward, but keeping your expanded Second Position consciousness or mindset. This means you literally take a physical step back into the original position but you try to retain that feeling of groundedness and expansion.
At this point, it's sort of like you blend the two states. You're able to both understand and "hold" the difficult feeling, simultaneously. As you return to your feeling state, recall the feeling of being grounded in Second Position, even as the feeling comes.
Recall the wisdom you had of accepting the feeling for what it was. You knew that even fear, even jealousy, even _______ (fill in the blank) is an important part of who you are and can exist in you without hurting you.
Step 6. Repeat this exercise as many times as necessary until you and the difficult or overwhelming feeling are best buds! Remember, you can always step out of the feeling to Second Position if it gets to be too much.
This ability to not only feel but to self-regulate and hold feeling in a grounded (and non-reactive) way is one of the greatest performance skills I know!
And while I certainly have good and bad days in achieving this, I'm committed to practicing the process, to serve both my life and my performances onstage.
What about you? Will you use this technique to hold complex, difficult, or overwhelming feelings -- and to ultimately understand and integrate them into your performances (and life)?
Please leave me a comment!
P.S. If you're digging the idea of holding deep emotion onstage, but still want to develop consistent vocal technique to support that goal, I'd love for you to check out my Lazy Singer's Warmups.
These vocal warmups are fun, quick, and effective at growing your voice in just 10 - 33 minutes per day. No complex thinking required. Just a little bit of commitment each day.