When you are trying to get your song ready for a performance or audition it is really important that you find the story that you are wanting to tell. Sometimes that is laid out for you and sometimes it takes a little more work. Here are some steps that will help you if you are a little lost. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is find your story once your song is taken out of context. So lets say you are singing in a cabaret (or audition room) a song that is no longer in context of its show and see how we might find it.
- What is the original context? Even if you are going to change up the idea of the song its always important to know what it was intended for. What is your character and where are they in the show? Who are they singing this to and why? Once you have a better understanding of what the song is supposed to tell you it will be a lot easier to decide what you want to tell from there.
- What of the original context can you savour? Can you be singing it about someone else but keep the same emotion? Can you consider your current setting as the new scene layout? Think about how your song may be still applicable. Perhaps you need to change a lot to make it work for your setting but most likely there is something in the essence that can stay the same. If you are making the choice to do an entirely different retelling that is ok too but make sure it is a choice rather than a lack of research.
- What journey do you go on in the song? Your song should achieve something emotionally. Do you start happy and end sad? Do you become more angry as the song progresses? Does your song cause a realisation? Think about your song the same you would a monologue. Your song is your character’s way of finding and expressing something out loud. Don’t ruin its beauty by not sharing the realisation. Have a good think about the lyrics and what they might be feeling. Sometimes a good idea is to read the song as a monologue or summarise first in non rhyming words and read it out.
- What does each part of the song add to the story? Is there a musical reason you can see that may have an emotional application? For instance – why is the song suddenly in a minor key? Why are these words placed in the bridge? Why is the final chorus sung with different words? Your reason can be very much your own and may not have even been what was intended. The important thing is that you find a purpose for the music in telling the story. Seeing the clues will help you shape when you reach the final step. Write in brackets next to stanzas what your character is feeling and if its not obvious make a decision.
- Can you put the emotion back into the song musically? Can you use your voice and your acting skills to demonstrate the story the same as you would with your speaking voice? Can you translate that musically? Think about what voice and musical choices you could make to demonstrate your emotion without straying from the intended composition. For instance, should you keep all your notes really straight to show decisiveness? Should you fade out a note because you are feeling unsure? Can you knock in your vibrato halfway to show a realisation and build is coming? There are lots of reasons to do different things. The point is using colour to demonstrate what you are feeling. If you were painting, red could have a thousand different meanings (anger, love, boldness) – but you will only interpret them when you see the overall painting. There is no one emotion associated with a musical choice but certainly they are transferrable to an audience when used intentionally. There are no wrong answers.
- Can you make the story more interesting? Now this is a tricky one because you should never change the story or character in a dishonest way merely for the fact of making it more interesting (especially in a show for example). But certainly this can be a way to realise you missed something. For instance – if your character is really angry here you may have decided to go for a very loud and attacking approach. But is that truly what your character would do? Would they try to hide their anger? Would they come at it from a place of quiet coldness? Can it break through halfway? Would they be aware that there is a certain way they have to behave? Might they find some things actually funny when they say them out loud? Remember just because one emotion is overriding it doesn’t mean nothing else can shine through. Let your song (like your character) be three dimensional. Don’t place them in a tank full of sharks with the stakes on 110% just because it adds an interest factor (although in a cabaret for instance this might work very well) but think about being true to the full range of emotion your character is capable of accessing if you are completely honest to them.
- Can you summarise your song? This is the big one. And really it tells you if you are ready. If you can describe what your song is about and what it means to the character with a succinct, short answer you are probably on the right track. It is usually good to prepare a summary of what you think the intention of the song originally was and how and why you have modified it for your own benefit and also as a resource for you should you be asked (ie in an audition room). For instance – In the original piece my character is singing to her son in her arms and slowly progressing from being very broken to powerful as she realises how lucky she is to have him. Obviously I do not have another player to respond to so while I have chosen to keep the emotional journey from hopelessness to confidence I have made her focus on her son indirect and her thinking of him helps stem her realisation.
At the end of the day the most important thing is that you go on some sort of journey. If you have identified or chosen something in a different way to what was expected that is okay. That’s what makes different interpretations so special. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to tell the story. The worst thing you can do is sing to prove you can sing.