Tonight in the shower, which is where I seem to have so many important thoughts, I was thinking about my journey as a singer. A lot of the things on my mind were things I detailed in my post summing up my 7 month adventure as a singer on a cruise ship. One particular lesson rose to the top though. To put it very simply, the thought that singing higher isn’t singing better.
I started singing somewhere around age 16, and at first I was timid, shy, and not very good. I still remember my first real public attempt at singing. I was auditioning for a local musical and we needed to bring a piece to sing. I had a little Casio keyboard with these music cards you could slide through a reader and it would play that song, so I picked one (“You Must Take The A Train,” which I was completely unfamiliar with other than the Casio rendition) and practiced it. I brought my keyboard to accompany me and auditioned for the Music Director, Mrs. Kosztolnyik and the director. I was nervous and horrible. I did not get cast.
Eventually I developed my voice, and more importantly, my confidence and became known as a “power tenor” who could belt Journey songs and rock a mean falsetto on “Kiss” by Prince. While I’ve been lucky enough to receive many compliments over the years, I’m fairly positive I’ve received the most by far on being able to sing high and powerfully. The Journey thing really sticks in my mind as that was a very common comment. “Whoa! I can’t believe you sang Journey! You sounded just like the record!” or other similar things. This common feedback trained me like one of Pavlov’s dogs to “value” singing high and powerfully. It conditioned me to think that it set me apart and made me special.
While on my cruise ship adventure, I was singing 6 nights a week, battling cruise ship air and circulating colds and such, and trying my best to be a good vocal athlete and keep my voice in shape, but much to my frustration, I feel like most of my contract was spent performing well, but sub-par to what I knew I could do. Somewhere along that journey (no pun intended) I learned the concept of “Fach,” which, to put in overly simple and possibly not entirely accurate terms, is the sweet spot of your voice. I had noticed that singing so much had really honed my tone and accuracy and there were nights when I would think “Hey, my voice sounds really good in that sweet spot range when I’m not trying to perform amazing spectacles of vocal daring!”
I’ve always appreciated emotion and soul more than anything else, but this was a deeper epiphany than that and it has stayed with me. I still love that feeling of being able to belt out something impressive and sound good doing it, but I can equally appreciate singing something that feels effortless to me just as much for other reasons. There are so many singers I love who don’t necessarily sing anything technically impressive or set any records for sustained high notes. I guess I’ve finally learned that those vocal highs are like those crazy flashy guitar riffs that make someone seem like they’re from another planet. I can appreciate and be very impressed by the technical prowess, but I can be just as moved or more by someone who can play one note in just the right way, in the just the right place and knows just how much silence to leave between it and its neighbors to reach inside you and pull out an emotion like pure magic. I’ve learned that, yes, many times those high notes will get more comments, but that’s ego singing. That doesn’t actually mean anything or impart any more inherent value. Another example I always remember from my days on the ship is that I sang “Take On Me” by A-Ha which has that last really high note in the chorus, but it’s falsetto and for me it is almost completely effortless. In my mind, there is absolutely nothing “impressive” about it as it’s “easy” for me, and yet that note, on multiple occasions on the ship got spontaneous applause from the audience, something that I don’t think has ever happened to me before or since. Smoke and mirrors. Illusions. Show business. I also had some of my worst nights ever on that ship. Fighting to get anything worth a damn to come out of my throat and while feeling absolutely mortified and wanting to curl up and die, yet for the most part, no one else even noticed. “Great show! You were great!” they’d still say.
So I write this mainly to remind myself but also for anyone else who needs to hear it: singing higher is not singing better. As with every area of life, a lesson I learn again and again is that literally everything is made better by getting the ego out of the way. Find your Fach, and revel in it.