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Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson

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Jenny S 20 May 01 - 08:41 AM
Jeri 20 May 01 - 09:37 AM
Peg 20 May 01 - 10:03 AM
Bat Goddess 20 May 01 - 03:15 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 20 May 01 - 06:54 PM
Jenny S 28 May 01 - 01:42 PM
nutty 28 May 01 - 02:14 PM
Jenny S 28 May 01 - 02:22 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 28 May 01 - 10:10 PM
Callie 28 May 01 - 10:28 PM
Erica Smith 29 May 01 - 02:25 PM
GUEST,Hille 30 May 01 - 01:40 PM
Jenny S 02 Jun 01 - 11:40 AM
GUEST,jayohjo in Russia 03 Jun 01 - 11:19 AM
Jenny S 05 Jun 01 - 11:54 AM
Erica Smith 05 Jun 01 - 02:48 PM
Jenny S 05 Jun 01 - 06:03 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 05 Jun 01 - 06:15 PM
Alice 06 Jun 01 - 03:54 PM
Bat Goddess 07 Jun 01 - 08:06 AM
KingBrilliant 07 Jun 01 - 09:16 AM
Alice 08 Jun 01 - 08:37 AM
Jenny S 09 Jun 01 - 10:43 AM
Deni 09 Jun 01 - 05:26 PM
Jenny S 11 Jun 01 - 08:45 AM
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Subject: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 20 May 01 - 08:41 AM

Well, I came in to Mudcat today to ask if anyone knows of a discussion group for singers... and in the process got sidetracked by the "Norma Waterson" thread which is pertinent to my present quest for the singer's "Magic Ingredient"

It seems to me that it is this magic ingredient that singers such as Norma Waterson have in such fine measure - I would say that it has little to do with technical expertise or vocal attributes, but has everything to do with the love of singing. (To my mind Gordon Hall and Fred Jordon are both well blessed with it.)

I've been singing in public for 30 years or so, and have never been able to understand why it is that sometimes I can sing incredibly well, and other times I just can't. (I'm told that I once upstaged June Tabor - didn't mean to, honest! I'd been lurking in the other bar all day, too scared to open my mouth in such prestigious company until someone twisted my arm. The magic must have been with me that day.)

We've got a concert to do next month, so I've been getting the voice back in trim after not singing for a while. The vocal chords (cords?) are in fine fettle, the breathing is OK, but still I was having the all-too-familiar problem of a certain missing "something". In all these years I've never been able to work out what the magic ingredient is - until last night, perhaps...

I was trying to recapture how it was on specific occasions when I sang well, recalling how it felt, what it sounded like, what others said about it etc.

One occasion that I always remember with surprise (and a chuckle) was when a friend said I was "the best femail singer in the Westcountry", singing with "such energy". The reason for the surprise (and the chuckle!) was that I reckoned his wife to be a far better and more experienced singer than me. And I have always thought that the "energy" he referred to was a physical energy, to do with vocal attack and breath.

So there I was last night, trying to recapture that "energy". I knew it was not physical energy, vocal attack or breath - I had tried all those many times before, with no results other than strained vocal chords, stiff back muscles etc. I remembered another friend, a "trained" singer (operatic style) talking about an "energy" which she perceives as located above her head. This brought to mind the "Crown Chakra" as recognised by those who are involved in things esoteric... So I decided to try for a "subtle" energy, and voila! It worked!

I could not locate an energy point above my head, but I did find a point somewhere behind the collar bone. Sounds crazy maybe, but it is very real, very very effective, and manifests in a very physical way. (When the magic is there you can sing just about anything you like, for as long as you like with no strain or fatigue) But will I be able to recall it tomorrow? Next month?? I don't want to lose it again now I've recognised it.

So what I want to know now is, have other singers any tips for retaining this magic ingredient, to discourage it from going A.W.O.L.? For I have never known when it would be present, nor when it would desert me. Sometimes stage fright calls it into play, sometimes quite the opposite. Sometimes it is there when I just sing for myself, other times not. (Maybe just locating it and recognising it will have been enough?) Help!


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jeri
Date: 20 May 01 - 09:37 AM

I'm not a very experienced singer, so take this with a grain of salt. The magic, for me, is a combination of confidence and lack of distraction. What happens is you quit thinking about breathing, relaxing, words, etc, (because you have all those things nailed) and the song just flows like a great river of sound. You don't worry about what you're doing, so all your energy is focused on the song. The people who are listening recognise this, sometimes just on a gut level, and their attention on the song feeds back to you and intensifies the feeling.

It sounds like your focusing on an energy point is a way to prevent distractions. I think stage fright could interfere, but doesn't have to. After all, nervousness and downright fear are just forms of energy, and can also be focussed. Stage fright is a problem when you fight it, because it's a distraction. If you recognise and welcome it and turn it toward that energy point, I think it can actually help a performance.

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Peg
Date: 20 May 01 - 10:03 AM

I liken the ability to capture this magic to something I learned when studying acting in college. Confidence could, in some measure, be borne of being comfortable with knowing all your lines cold, being properly warmed up, knowing you could count on your fellow actors and crew to do their jobs, and of course being confident you have soem talent in the first place.

I remember having an epiphany one night, doing some sort of period piece, a Moliere play perhaps, and realizing, hey, I can do this, I have the voice, the body, the intelligence, I know this material, my colleagues on stage with me are very good, and the audience loves me! Of course I also realized right away I could not keep thinking that way because it would take me out of the job of ACTING!

I feel much the same when I sing in performance. It is such an exposure, physically and emotionally, that soem fear is not only natural but healthy. You have your past experiences of "magic" to bolster you when you feel unsure. And if something happens (a crack, a loss of breath, a forgotten lyric, you simply put it behind you and do a whambang job on the NEXT song. If your audience gets to experience some of your magic, they will forgive its occasional absence.

For me singing traditional music IS a lot like acting; placing oneself in a persona, character, place and time, telling a story and using one's gifts and talenst and hard-won experience to work that magic. It can be an act of supreme concentration, but also a profoundly freeing act of "letting go."

Hope that makes sense.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 20 May 01 - 03:15 PM

I sing best when my audience is close at hand, paying attention and enjoying the song. I pull my energy from the listeners and give it back to them in the song. 1 plus 1 equals 3 (or more).

Bat Goddess

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 20 May 01 - 06:54 PM

I got to hear Jeri (an experienced singer if ever I heard one!!), Peg(ditto) and Bat Goddess (ditto ditto)in one room last November at Barry Finn's; it was an experience I hope to re-live in this lifetime. Listen to them, and let me add what has been alluded to that a lot of the magic has to do with a connection with the listeners; there's a kind of elecrical current that pulsates between you and them so that the air fairly sparkles. It makes you open up more, smile (even if inwardly) more, and your voice just glows!

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 28 May 01 - 01:42 PM

Many thanks for all your thoughts - Bat Goddess's "energy from the listeners" and Animaterra's description of the "electrical current that makes the air sparkle" are exactly right. However, the energy from the listeners is not an essential ingredient - though it is always a great boost.

As Peg said, it's a combination of profound concentration and letting go. I rarely have a problem concentrating on singing - the song simply takes over and sings itself - Jeri's "great river of sound". If I do feel likely to be distracted I simply close my eyes. (Gasps of shock and horror - I've never understood why singing with closed eyes should be considered so awful since, in my opinion, the result is invariably more powerful.)

I can't imagine why I'd never thought of the magic in "subtle energy" terms before. It's certainly not just a convenient focus for concentration. In fact, no concentration is needed once it has been called into action. Observing it over these past few days, I wonder if perhaps it is the result of the Throat and Heart Chakras working in resonance (now there's an interesting term, in view of the nature of sound!) So maybe it's no wonder that the listener does tune in (another appropriate term) at a gut level.

I had a particularly powerful experience of this soon after we came to live in France... At a rowdy mid-day barbeque party an English friend had asked if I would play Dark Island for him on the dulcimer. It's not a tune that I play well, so I sang it for him instead. The magic was with me that day, despite the difficult conditions, and afterwards a french lady asked me to tell her what the song was about, for she had found it "very poignant" - So I asked her to tell me, first, what she had thought it was about... and (despite knowing not one word of english) she gave me a pretty accurate translation! The actual words had not been necessary in order for the essence of the song to be conveyed at a gut level.

No wonder music is a universal language!


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: nutty
Date: 28 May 01 - 02:14 PM

"energy" often has something to do with the circumstances of where you are singing ( particularly when singing unaccompanied ). A room full with people and furnishings will sap the voice ... making it much harder to project. Similarly, if the room is very hot and humid.
Whereas , if a room has good acoustics - singing can be a joy as the voice resounds and grows.

The other important factor is confidence .... in the song and in yourself.
Singing a song you enjoy and are comfortable with will transmit to your audience and make them enjoy it so much more.

It took me a lot of years to realise that and when I did I stopped being nervous.

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 28 May 01 - 02:22 PM

Yes, but the energy I'm referring to is that inner energy that overcomes all the practical problems like awful accoustics etc. Wish I'd recognised it sooner.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 28 May 01 - 10:10 PM

This is what I have learned in my seventy-eight years: You are a good singer if you communicate. You know this is true if your audience stops everything else and listens. This is abundantly so of Norma Waterson, with whose name this thread was started...

Love your story, and tell it as you feel it. Jean

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Callie
Date: 28 May 01 - 10:28 PM

I find that the magic just happens - and seemingly for different reasons every time.

Some things have to be there already - if I don't know the song welll, or the PA is shifty and I'm worrying about it, or Person X is in the room: all these things will be detrimental.

But say you know the music backwards, haven't fallen out of love with the songs and everything is right: there's still the chance the 'magic' won't happen that night. What can you do but persevere and hope your dedication to the craft will also shine through in an artful manner?

I went to hear Luka Bloom a few years ago. I've seen him every time he has visited Australia and he is one of my favourite singers. The last concert I heard was good, but not great. There was no magic. The notes were all there but it just wasn't happening.

A friend who went the following night said it was just magic and the crowds wouldn't let him leave the stage.

Until then it had never occured to me that high profile performers are also affected by this phenomenon. Makes me feel better about the nights when things just aren't right!

Thanks for your insightful comments about performing!


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Erica Smith
Date: 29 May 01 - 02:25 PM

this is someting i think about/have to deal with a lot, too. but actually, i like distractions . . . or at least, having to cajole/win over an audience. Much prefer playing in noisy bars and dives than in hushed folk clubs. then, as kytrad said, to just lay it all on the line and go as deep into the song as possible . . . when people quiet down and tune in, i feel their energy much more strongly.

i have no idea how to get there except through the song.

one exception: on nights when i'm still off, and straining no matter what, i just ask the soundperson to up the reverb in the vocal monitor. the result sounds so goofy and mermaid-like, i can't help but giggle and relax.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: GUEST,Hille
Date: 30 May 01 - 01:40 PM

This is a very warm-feeling positive thread and I noticed that possibly it is also an all-female-posted-to-thread?

Being happy works for me when I sing, even when it's a sad song.

love, Hille x

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 02 Jun 01 - 11:40 AM

Erica - I never sing in venues with amplification, so turning up the reverb is not an option, though I bet it works wonders on a practical level. Singing in a church is the nearest I get to that option, and luckily most concerts here in France do happen in churches... We always pick the Romanesque ones if we can, for their wonderful accoustics.

However, for me, singing for an ecclesiastical event kills off the magic!

It's strange you should say the extra reverb sounds mermaid-like. One of my most "magical" songs is about a mermaid.

Hille - I think you're right.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: GUEST,jayohjo in Russia
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 11:19 AM

This is all really interesting - but slightly off the point, I never realised I wasn't meant to sing with my eyes closed! I just kind of sing, didn't realise I did it til someone told me, but didn't realise it was bad - why is it bad? Jo XX

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 11:54 AM

Haven't a clue - no-one has ever been able to give me a convincing reason!


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Erica Smith
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 02:48 PM

i see no reason not to sing with your eyes closed -- people tell me that's how when they know i'm 'on' (when i'm scared, i look off to the extreme left).

the only danger i can think of is swaying so much that you fall, or clinking your teeth on the mic, if you're using one.

On another note, one thing that really relaxes me and opens up my diaphragm, resulting in the best vocal magic, is yoga. One simple exercise if I'm feeing tight: i put my arms behind my back and press my palms together, working them up my back until they rest between my shoulder blades.

It's called Eagle Pose. I don't know if eagles are good singers, but it sure works for me.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 06:03 PM

Erica, thanks for the Eagle Pose... just off to try it (I love exercises like that!)

So far as singing with eyes closed is concerned, I do have a couple of cautionary tales to relate:

1. A friend was once singing with eyes closed, and shuffling feet at the same time... When he finished singing and opened his eyes he was surprised to find himself facing the back of the stage. Embarrassing for him, but the audience loved it!

2. Once when I sang Love is Pleasing, (swaying as I sang) I opened my eyes at the end of the song to find the entire audience (around 60) standing in a circle around the room, arms linked and swaying, and insisting on a repeat performance. I believe we sang it through twice more, for good measure.

So now I take a peek if I think there's a chance of any hanky panky. And I keep my feet firmly planted.


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 06:15 PM

When introducing me, many years ago in England, the lady introducer said, "Jean sings with her eyes closed because the words to those long ballads are scrolling down inside her eyelids!"

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Alice
Date: 06 Jun 01 - 03:54 PM

Hi, Jenny S. I don't believe in chakras, but like many here, I have experienced that feeling of singing at peak ability (incredibly well, as you say) and having everything about the experience seem at its best - a peak experience. For various reasons, I don't think it's something that can be turned on or off, lost or found, since it involves factors like how my sinuses are that day, something out of my control. I do think the peak experience comes from the love of the song and the singing, and also from being so comfortable with the act of singing that it flows without having to think about it. When the acoustics are good, I can hear the results, which feeds back in to the heightened experience. I've heard various visualization symbols that are sometimes taught to try to get students to improve tone... like a fountain bubbling up from the top of the head, or a spot in front of the forehead that the sound is going out to.... in my opinion, these things are not to be taken literally. They are simply symbols to try to see if that helps in placing the sound in resonating chambers that affect the tone. What is most real to me is the emotion I feel in connecting with the lyrics and also how the melody feels to sing. When I really love the song, it makes it possible to have a peak experience singing it.

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 08:06 AM

I sing for the joy of singing. There doesn't have to be an audience or even only(!) an audience of cats. I stopped being self-conscious about singing (and got good!) when I started singing not caring if my voice was "perfect" or not.

There are still plenty of times when I sing in public, feeling not in the best of voice (and hearing all the places where my voice cracked, or I had to strain for a note, or I forgot the words, or I got cross threaded with the band, etcet etcet ad nauseum) and STILL had people (including my accompanists and those singing along with me) telling me how good it was, that I was in fine voice, that I connected with the audience, etcet etcet.

Relax. That's the best advice I can give any singer. Everything else will take care of itself.

Bat Goddess

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 09:16 AM

Hi All,
I find it really frustrating how much quality fluctuates - and I'm so glad to find out its not just me!
Its good to know its a rollercoaster and not a downward slope that I'm on!! I am (finally) taking Alice's excellent advice and going to a proper singing teacher. For the first time in my life I find I have an overdeveloped chest (but only voice unfortunately!). So I'm trying to pull back from that and develop the higher ranges. It is really confidence-kicking to be singing in that unfamiliar & less developed range in the full knowlege that the audience (sessions & singarounds) are used to the developed & powerful bit & are probably wondering what the hell I'm doing.... which makes me loose faith halfway through the songs - I keep imagining them all with their heads in their hands.
Also - I'm learning more about the errors of my previous ways and am therefor far more aware of all my faults. ARGGHHH.
I'm definitely in a trough at the moment and am dearly hoping for a peak night (sometime soon please)to renew the faith.
I'll borrow that subtle energy and visualisation stuff if I may - and see whether it can pull me out of the doldrums. X-fingers.

PS - Alice et al are really really right. Going to a singing teacher is marvellous and you learn a huge amount. I know I'll end up better than I was, so it'll all be worth it in the end. Plus our teacher (Hamm & I share) is a really lovely lady and a joy to spend time with - so if anyone is looking for a teacher in the Reading area then PM me.

PPS - sorry to do a wingey post - it just kind of all came out....

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Alice
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 08:37 AM

KingBrilliant, glad to hear the update. I know what you mean about having to unlearn while learning. I felt like I was starting from scratch 5 years ago, when I started taking private lessons, but it soon began to pay off, and my self-confidence grew by leaps and bounds, along with my singing ability. It is interesting how the voice strength makes us grow in more ways than just singing. There is something very powerful about learning how to optimize the use of our voice, and to have it under control, like taming an uncontrolled beast. I have more confidence in many areas of my life, now, not just singing.

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 10:43 AM

Erica, Your Eagle is a powerful bird! In the process of trying to do it I inadvertently discovered another stretch which is very chest-expanding (no doubt the yogis know all about it) - I was (wrongly, I now realise) clasping hands behind back, and raising them with arms extended...

Alice, you don't need to believe in chakras for them to exist! - what I know, from experience, is that the energy is real and can be consciously used. Maybe the imagery that you describe is just a physical thing, but maybe it can work on other levels too.

But, it never ceases to surprise me that it is possible to have that "peak experience" despite sinus problems, phlegm, lousy accoustics etc etc. The nearest I can come to pinning down the essential ingredient is the energy that seems to be there when I sing, as Bat Goddess describes, "for the love of singing" - when I sing for me (and the cat!). Then the voice can suddenly become able to cut through any obstacle with ease. I suppose the problems arise when we sing for other reasons (we've promised to, or ought to etc).


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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Deni
Date: 09 Jun 01 - 05:26 PM

Brilliant thread. What I find amazing is that it's only after you stop and think about all the things that go wrong that they do. Apparently pro. opera singers have a lot of trouble with stress, and the MU is doing some work with stress levels in singers, becasue singing is so precarious. I mean, if you've got two or two thousand people coming to listen to you sing and you get a sore throat, or a cold, or nerves, or drunk, you ruin their evening. that's why I like singarounds. If you don't feel in the mood you can just pass up your go...

keep inspiring us. Best thread for ages.

Deni from devon

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Subject: RE: Vocal Magic - was Norma Waterson
From: Jenny S
Date: 11 Jun 01 - 08:45 AM

Hello, Deni.

Which singarounds do you get to? Maybe we could get together next time we are back in Devon... (possibly in the Autumn).


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