Studying Musical Theater Repertoire in Voice Lessons- Why is it a Good Idea?
There are many facets to singing as most music educators know. Breath support, posture, and communication of the song are the most important. Does the average person know about these things as well? There is so much more to singing than meets the average eye. How you breathe, support your sound and stand affect the overall quality of the sound. However, if one stops there in their singing study, we are still missing an important part of singing: Communicating the meaning of the song. Here is where learning musical theater repertoire can be very helpful. It allows the student to truly connect with a character and develop the emotional content of a song.
“God gave us music that we might communicate without words.” This is true, but add words to the music and the communication is amazing! Whether it is a classical, pop, or musical theater song, we must take time to focus on what we are truly saying while singing! It changes so many things.
We develop the 'cake' of singing through technique. Emotion and movement become the 'icing on the cake' of singing techniques. The tone quality of the voice is enhanced when tapping into the emotion of the piece. A sad song will sound slightly different from a happy song if the singer addresses what they are really saying. When a singer connects to the emotion of a song, it touches a different part of the singer, and also reaches the audience in a profound way. A true mark of a good performer is being able to touch the audience with the music. If someone in the audience is so moved to cry in a sad section of music, it communicates that which the spoken word cannot. Combining music with the written word touches the soul.
The beginning singer focuses on the technique of singing and works to expand their ability to communicate through song. When working on conveying the meaning of a piece, students are often encouraged to listen to professional artists in the genre perform their song. When studying musical theater repertoire, students not only study the individual piece itself, but the character of the play, who they are, and what is going on in their life. There are both auditory and visual sources for them to go to for study. By studying a literary person, the student is really asked to identify with the emotions of someone else and empathize with themand 'be the character' in the performance of the music. There is a true element of acting that comes into play which enhances the ultimate performance.
If voice teachers guide students in what musical theater repertoire is appropriate for their voice, it can be a wonderful developmental tool for the singing artist. Many of our students want to learn musical theater repertoire so that they can be in the school play or community theater productions. This is an appropriate goal for them given where they are in their lives. Why not use this as a portal to get them to truly communicate a piece? They can relate to a character in a play (often more so than to the person singing about love in Italy in the 16th century). Encourage the student to use what they learn by studying a character from a musical theater production in the singing of their other repertoire!