Over the many years I've taught singers, I've been a big advocate for songs. Not any particular song
(though I have my favorites, to be sure) but just, songs. All of them. One my my familiar studio speeches is to have my students love the song for what it is. That is to say, figure out what the composer wanted to express, and then appreciate the message for what it is, and convey it the best way possible. But make no mistake -- even if you love the song for what it is, you don't have to love the song at all. You don't even have to like it. But what you do have to do is understand it and then convey the thoughts and feelings behind it. To do this convincingly, one must have a wide set of musical skills. But beyond that lies a greater challenge: the ability to study, learn, and perform any song with a great sense of empathy.
Empathy. The understanding and sharing of the emotions and experiences of another person.
This is a concept that has been on the decline for quite some time. The ability to set your feelings aside and consider those of others. The ability to articulate and share the emotions of someone else. The ability to share the experiences of someone else. It's the polar opposite of selfie and in this increasingly self-promotional, hyper-politicized world, I have to admit that I really miss it.
To have empathy for something or someone doesn't mean putting yourself aside. It doesn't mean you are less important or weak. Quite the opposite, I think. It means you are strong enough to look outside your own orbit and recognize there are other thoughts, other people, and other paths. It might not be your path, or your thought, and that's OK. In my studio a song might not be your favorite. Maybe the problem is the poem. Or the composer. Or the music. Maybe the song is too happy. Or sad. Or silly. Or somber. Or long. Or short. Or boring. Or weird. Or atonal. Or monotonous. It doesn't really matter what too it is. There are a million reasons not to like something, and generally one is more than enough for most people. But when you approach anything with a sense of empathy, you allow yourself the opportunity to step beyond your orbit of existence. You allow yourself to experience the the feelings and stories of others. You allow yourself to hear their songs. You give yourself the chance to understand.
You don't have to love it. You don't even have to like it. But to perform with a sense of empathy makes anyone a better artist. And to live with a sense of empathy makes the world a much kinder place.
One of my least favorite songs.
But I love Purcell, and I have to imagine that
his composition made someone happy for whatever reason that may be.
And so, if asked, I would sing this song with great joy and imagine
my two most favorite words in the whole wide world are "Nymphs and Shepherds"
because they are repeated 95 bazillion times in 2 minutes.