I attended a Masterclass last Friday held by jazz saxophonist Lew Tabackin. (http://www.lewtabackin.com )
He reminded me of a very important thing that we, well I, tend to forget when we focus too much on technique. Music is storytelling. It is not really about having the correct technique and playing the correct notes. It is about telling our story.
I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point in my life I realised that I have A purpose. Yes, just one, pretty simple. My sole purpose is to tell stories. It took a while to understand that, but now that it’s clear it surely makes my life easier. I mean seriously, what else can it be? I’m a writer and a singer.
Maybe because of the fact that I am a schooled writer and musician I find that the media I use for storytelling is not important, meaning that I already tell stories through two different medias. What I mean is, we should be able to tell our stories regardless of the media or the art form we choose. You can tell stories equally by painting, writing, singing, or just by playing an instrument. Stories don’t necessarily need words, you can paint a picture in my mind by simply playing a song. If you are telling your story, I’m sure I’ll hear it.
But what is storytelling? For one thing, it is surely universal, everybody loves a good story. A good story is something that awakes feelings inside us, it takes us to new adventures, new worlds. If it is really a good story, it teaches you about yourself things that you didn’t know existed. Yes, it is also a tale that has a beginning, a middle and an end. (except in open ended French art films)
But how can you put that into singing? Easily. Normally I do sing with words. I tend to choose songs that mean something to me. I ask the question why? Why is this song with it’s lyrics speaking to me? I try to find my own story, not the one that the songwriter intended necessarily. But you can do the same without words. With music. Forget the lyrics and listen to the chords, what do they tell you? They seem to have a life of their own so to speak and sooner or later I start to hear what I want to tell. And then I just improvise. Sounds, words, anything that comes into my mind. Most importantly, I try to feel.
Music and singing is really powerful. The thing we have to realise as singers is to sing our own stories, even when we sing someone else’s lyrics. The story starts from the first note, not from the second verse. But how do we get there, how do we become great storytellers? I find that the key is to be brave enough to share a piece of you with others. I don’t care if you are technically the best singer in the world, if you don’t reach me with your story, your feelings, I will stop listening to you. Be brave! Find your own story to tell with every song that you sing!
Lastly, here is a great song from the late, great Donny Hathaway, that speaks a language of it’s own: