Always the Singer, Never the Bridesmaid: Emotionally Connecting to Songs
It’s Friday and I’m sitting on an airplane headed for Chicago where I’ll catch an Amtrak to western Illinois. I’ve been dreading this weekend my entire life. Well, ever since I met my grandma, anyway.
She passed away in February but because of COVID, our huge family wasn’t able to come together to celebrate her life. So we’re doing it this weekend. And I’m singing. You know that expression, “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”? Well, I like to joke that I’m “always the singer, never the bridesmaid”. I’m also always the funeral singer and have sung at my fair share of funerals.
Singing in funerals is not an easy task when you know the person who has passed. The reason it’s so hard is because it’s the one time it’s fairly easy to emotionally connect to the song being sung. In fact, many funeral singers try NOT to emotionally connect to the song so they can keep it together (a performance coping mechanism I call “robot mode”); that’s how easy it is to connect under these circumstances.It was months ago that I decided to talk about connecting to a song during the month of August, so it’s pretty wild to me that I’m going to get a real-life opportunity to practice what I preach this first weekend in August.
I’m singing “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace” in the church service tomorrow. It’s not a song I’ve ever been particularly fond of, although Mark Hayes did a fabulous job of arranging it and composing a deliciously beautiful accompaniment to the song. Even though I don’t really care for the song, I can’t seem to stop crying when I sing it unless I focus solely on vocal technique instead of the words.
So, why is that? It’s because Grandma considered The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi – which comprises the lyrics to this song – her life’s mantra. Whenever my brother and I were fighting – which was a pretty constant thing during our childhood – Grandma would calmly but firmly say to us, “bless-ed are the peacemakers”. It was her technique for getting us to stop fighting and, oddly, it worked. So, when I sing this song, all I hear in my head is Grandma’s peaceful but firm voice saying, “bless-ed are the peacemakers”.
My personal connection to the lyrics of this song makes it a powder keg of emotion. With most songs, however, we have to do a little more work – a little more digging – in order to find a way to connect our authentic emotions and previous experiences with the emotions in our songs. When we get it right, it’s a pretty incredible experience and method of expression, so it always surprises me that so many singers skip this powerful step.
All month long in No Limits Academy, we’re practicing emotionally connecting to our songs. In our monthly workshop last Tuesday, I walked our members through each step in the process of how to do this, and we talked about the reasons why doing it the way I taught them is most beneficial. The rest of the month, they will be practicing what they learned in the workshop on a song of their choice and I’ll be there to critique and help them master this skill. Then, we always have a master class at the end of the month where they get to sing for the class and receive my live feedback and critique.
Besides singing songs that are powder kegs of emotion like I’ll be doing this weekend, there are other challenges singers face when connecting emotionally to a song. These are the kinds of challenges I expect to be coaching my singers through this month in the Academy. They’re some of the big ones; let me know if you’ve encountered any of these challenges in your singing:
- Getting distracted by your own desire for perfection in your technique
- Difficulty maintaining the connection for the duration of the song
- Having an expectation of how the song “should be” expressed
- Manufacturing emotions because it’s hard to connect authentically
When you ARE able to connect to your song emotionally, in addition to having a powerful tool for expressing your own emotions, you are opening the channel for your audience to connect to the song as well; your audience is able to be moved by your expression and feel their own sense of the emotion, possibly even being reminded of their own life experiences.
It’s an awesome time to join the Academy so you can learn my step-by-step process for connecting to a song and get coached on your progress in it all month long.
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