Vocal Performance: The Eyes Have It, Pt. 1 — Points of Focus
The eyes do have it. While your voice can fill a room with energy, it is the eyes that bring it all into focus.
Points of Focus (Left/Center/Right) are crucial in vocal performance; in sharing your eyes or line of sight with the audience.
Some people read lips. Everybody reads eyes.
Simplest approach (for now) is to:
1) Stretch out your arms in a “V” in front of you. It should look like you’re about to hug someone. Eyes are already at Center. Pick a point about 15 feet in front of you and “see” it. Really see it.
2) Turn Eyes and Face (just your eyes and your face, not the whole body) left along the left arm. Don’t go beyond the left arm. Let the eyes lead the face, don’t go all robot on us…Pick a point about 15 feet in front of you on the left and “see” it.
3) Back to center. Eyes first, face follows. Center Point of Focus.
4) Eyes lead face to right along right arm. Pick Right Point of Focus (15 ft., etc.)
5) Back to center. Eyes lead the face.
That’s the start of it. More tomorrow…
Removing The Emotional Distance….
Music has some very magical properties. Magic happens in my studio quite a bit, mostly because I push my singers to “remove the emotional distance” between themselves and the song.
We don’t ever want to fake ourselves or our audience out of the real energy that is present in our being. That would not only be inauthentic, but, ultimately, pretty boring.
Of course, we don’t need to be a serial killer barber in real life to pull off the lead in Sweeney Todd on stage, either.
Our job within the context of a song or a musical theatre role is to find the through-line of humanity and spirit, which makes all things “relate-able.” Let the sets, lights and costumes do their part. Let the orchestra do theirs. Let us choose to be the vessel of informed energy, armed with words, pitch and emotion, and, having burned said information into our DNA, let us become full energy in performance; concentrated and free, focused and present.
The Five Octave Range Myth
Uhm, did I miss something in my college music theory class? If I read one more time that pop star #1 or voice teacher #2 has a five-octave range, I’m gonna start holding protest rallies in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
If you’re a singer, don’t buy into it. It’s a publicist’s claim for more ink in the Calendar section, not a claim rooted in music reality.
First, claiming five octaves doesn’t mean one is a “better” singer.
“Circus freak” comes to mind, but not better.
There have been hundreds of female belters in pop, jazz and Broadway recordings who did groundbreaking work within an 11 or 12-note range. Think (old school) Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee… I never heard anything about those gals having a 40-note/five octave range! My female belters work from a low F (in the traditional alto range) up to a high Ab (about a 16 or 17-note range or two-plus octaves) which is more than plenty for a true pop/Broadway belt song. Elphaba in “Wicked” belts about a two-octave range. Perhaps Stephen Schwartz didn’t know what to do with the other three octaves? For us guys, even Luciano Pavarotti in his prime probably had a 20-note range (about two and a half octaves). Sure, I didn’t count his falsetto which could have given him maybe another octave — maybe — but I guess that, like Stephen Schwartz, Verdi and Puccini didn’t know what to do with those two extra octaves either.
Really, composers simply don’t write five octave songs.
Burt Bacharach wrote some range-y tunes (“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” comes to mind), but a five-octave song would have been professional suicide (and think of poor Dionne Warwick!).
No one person could sing the material — and if one person could, probably only dogs and whales would want to hear it anyway…..
Imagine your favorite karaoke bar then…
The most popular melodies of all time have well under a two-octave range. That’s because the public, the untrained singers out there, likes to sing along, too.
The best dancers don’t have the biggest feet, nor do the greatest singers have the highest or lowest voices.
In singing performance, it definitely helps to have a solid, flexible range with some excitement or “heat” in the voice complemented, more importantly, by knowing what to do with a lyric — how to interpret a song.
But great singers don’t need to “brag” about their range because, frankly, that’s not what made them great singers in the first place.
By the way, from the very bottom to the very top, a four-part choir sings in about a five-octave range.