I believe that every singer has a little rebel living inside them. In fact, I would encourage every singer to find that little rebel as soon as they possibly can. Why?
Well let me first explain who that little rebel is. Rebels generally have a bad reputation – think James Dean, surly, possibly chain-smoking (please, please do not ever smoke or give up if you do – it kills!), reckless, anti-social, maverick, and unorthodox. But the music rebel I am referring to can actually be a great asset for singers and musicians.
Singers can get stuck in their ways – possibly thinking that if they are only singing in one type of genre or have been trained in one particular style, that they are forever consigned to that. I would instead urge singers to please resist this, and think more broadly about singing and what you include in your repertoire, regardless of whether you are a ‘trained’ singer or not.
Every singer goes through periods in their singing life when it all gets a bit ‘blah’, boring, feeling like you are stuck or lacking confidence, or especially believing that ‘I’m not good enough’ lie. If you sing in the same way or sing the same music over and over again, you might want to try shaking things up to flick your inner music light back on. That’s where you want to pull out your music rebel to fire up your passion for singing again – you know, the feeling you had when you got started in the first place, or when you were a carefree child – remember?
This happened when I found a responsorial psalm for my singing at church, written by a Catholic composer. When I listened to it something within me fired up. I loved it. The music was simple, but more contemporary, and it had a few key changes to boot (oooh, key changes in a song or hymn can be so beautiful!). It was very different from the psalms I’ve sung in the past, which were more classical sounding, with long-held lines, vowels, and generally more reflective – all lovely things to sing – but sometimes you need to challenge yourself with something else and be more versatile to bring your song’s message across more potently.
So this particular psalm also had some riffs and runs which require greater vocal agility and flexibility (I did my research and warm ups). At the same time, another part of me thought: “Maybe the congregation won’t like it. It is too ‘modern’, possibility distracting, or sounds more like a Hillsong ballad, etc.” The worst possible excuse which came up in my mind was: “I may sound like a complete idiot or be doing something wrong by singing like this at church.” As if I would be turning my back on God or something. Sure, I could sing anything at home in my practice room, and I enjoy karaoke in the confines of my private space, but church is a sacred place and I love and respect that. And so the inner battle went on, one side arguing that I can do it – after all, I have previously sung a variety of hymns, including in other languages – and the other part fretting about ‘what other people will think’.
Pleeease singers! Don’t torture yourself! Of course we want to choose music which is sensitive and appropriate to our environment and our purpose (there is no way I would sing a Beyonce or heavy metal song at church for instance), but you can include some variety, and there are some amazing composers out there, especially for church singers, who have produced music which is suitable and beautiful for choirs and congregations alike.
So I decided to go with it and loved practicing. I sang it on the relevant Sunday with joy – feeling like a bit of a rebel too – but the goal being the same as always: that all people, young and old, would hopefully feel the passion of the music and the words, and feel closer to God. Since that time I have felt a greater fire for singing burning much brighter within me.
It is important to let yourself go and think outside the square when it comes to singing. I would be far more interested in listening to a singer or a choir that is prepared to sing a variety of music to express God’s love, rather than be stuck in a rut and sing without feeling and faith. If you are in a choir, and you are in a position to choose or suggest different styles of hymns or composers, take the chance and try it. As long as the music is not offensive and the lyrics are appropriate, why not attempt different styles even – gasp – a tiny bit of contemporary singing in the church? You might pleasantly surprise yourself and delight others in their faith in a new way – and not just for the ‘youth group’ types, but for everyone.
Thinking more broadly, when you are in your practice room, why not allocate time to get away from your usual style of singing or warm ups and slap on some karaoke? Sing some country music, opera, or rock, or something that is totally opposite to what you normally rehearse for. This will stretch your voice and your mind, increase your range, strengthen your vocal muscles, give you stamina, improve your mental health, and give your body a bit of a workout.
The other great thing about singing is that most of the time, you need to develop a thick skin anyway. Unbeknownst to those listening, singers – and accompanists – are often flying by the seat of their pants. You can train yourself or be trained by a teacher until the cows come home, and that is a great thing, but in the moment when you need to sing live (or come ‘performance time’ in a secular environment), you have to let go of total control and just do your best. You need to flow and go with the moment. Your preparation, muscle memory, and technical training are your insurance because they will be there if something goes wrong (eg. the accompanist falters, the sound system screeches, the lights go out, a fat fly lands on your microphone, you have a cold, a baby wails through your whole song, or whatever) – but you can still keep going by relying on what you know.
So when you have the assurance of being able to handle all of this – and you have to just dive in – why not also feel free to try out different styles of songs and singing techniques? That is the music rebel’s life, and is it absolutely thrilling. You grow in confidence to expand your mind and heart, and you develop different abilities to store away in your singer’s toolkit. You also realise that you are stronger then you thought you were.
And oh, did I mention that leather is not essential?
Image Credit: pixabay.com