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How to perform a song? #gathering

Throughout my experience as a performer and teacher, I have observed and learned how important it is for all of us who work in the performing arts to do a good job of "gathering" In this post, I refer to gathering in terms of singing, but I believe that many of the ideas are also applicable to acting, dance, or other performing arts.

Now then, gathering: the Merriam-Webster defines it as "(...)the collecting of food or raw materials from the wild (...) {or simply as} COLLECTION, COMPILATION (...)". I transfer this concept to our field and call it a practice that has to do with collecting or adding "elements" that allow us to condense or expand the meaning (content) of what we want to sing.

I think there is a lot of artisanal work to be done here, and as such there is no ONE way to do it. However, we could point out some items that might be helpful:

Understand the story

try to grasp what the song is about. In many cases it is very clear, but in other cases the lyrics are quite cryptic and metaphorical...

In this sense, I think the most important thing would be - even if the story is the most obvious in the world - to try to "not conclude" that the ideas are not over after each sentence, but that they evolve, are cause-and-consequence, consequence-and-cause of each other.


I think it's important to take the lyrics of the song and work on them without the melody. That is, to sit down with the text and read it as a poem, as literature, and work on it - perhaps stanza by stanza - to bring up all kinds of associations. I always think of it as a kind of flooding, which means that any kind of image, experience, film, text, scene that comes is valid. Just take notes and do not judge. When the work on the whole song is done, you should go through all these references, but not so much to "extract" something useful from it, but rather so that all this information is loaded into the " RAM memory" of our being-performer.

If you feel that something of what I talk about in the first two points happens to you, watch this little video that I prepared with a lot of loveeee 😉 * English subtitles included ;) *

Always have a top 3 of references

always have at least 3 good versions of what you want to sing in your ear. Listen - in principle - to as many versions as possible... and then choose the ones that best fit your hypothesis of the song.

If you are singing a popular song, and the song you want to sing is originally sung by someone who belongs to a different sexual genre than you, you should try to find a cover version sung by someone from the same genre. This can help you find a good tonality for your voice, for example.

Transform the critic

What we call the "critic" is the alter- ego that we all carry within us that evaluates and criticizes us as we sing (or do anything). Often it is something that blocks us or makes us suffer while singing... It is important that we do not deny it, but recognize it, embrace it, accept it and - with the help of a teacher - work on it, because the critic does not disappear, it only loses power or transforms. In this sense, it is important that we use all this energy to our advantage. Example: If my critic tells me, "I do not know why you are trying, you are going to fail," and my song is about someone who feels fear, then all you have to do is take a deep breath and sing with it... that is, "the dramatic situation" you have to perform, is from now on the real situation you are going through. Or if the song you are asked to sing needs you to be confident and extroverted, then you should use all the anger or frustration that this critic is causing in you to stand up and "sing against it".

I know that sounds a bit fanciful, but it's true that as singers we process many aspects of our personalities and psyches when we sing. All of that is there and it moves when we sing. In fact, it's no coincidence that the programs of many singing universities include topics related to the psyche and "mental health".


All of this, of course, works as background. Then there are many other aspects, such as learning the melody, working on pronunciation, working on "technical" complexities.

What is certain is that in the end everything will fit together and it will become a kind of "pastiche" between all the small and big artisan works we have done. What I mean by that is that at the end you stand up, take a deep breath "and just sing".


last words...

One aspect that I think is important (for both popular and operatic singing) is that in many cases this gathering "fixes" many technical difficulties (and vice versa). For example, if at a certain place in the score it says "piano", it means not only that I have to produce a sound that matches the characteristics of that kind of dynamic, but (and most importantly!) it means that "something is happening" there. That is, for some reason it is "necessary" to sing softer... Composers (when we work with scores) always give us signals or traces. Our job is to decode them and honestly translate them into our voice. With popular music it's the same, the difference is that the spectrum is much more flexible and you can really vary when and how you want to emphasize something. But the case is the same: if I want to sing a "piano", I can make it more "technical" by articulating it with my breath support, or I can sit back and let the lyrics guide me to "soften" the phrase. At the same time, the same song can be approached one way or another in different performances... the important thing is to have all this background that makes the song richer. Oddly enough, this form of gathering shelters and protects us from "the heinous situation of exposure": it's no longer about my critic, my fears, or my voice, but about the story I have to tell.

Some of it has to do with singing 😊

Have a nice weekend!



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