Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It's About Love

One of the things I like most about singing, and about teaching others how to sing is digging into the creative, interpretive side of performing that comes after the rudimentary learning of notes and rhythms, diction and breathings spots, and how to handle the tricky technical troubles that always seem to pop up at inopportune times.  My students are never too pleased when I give them "that look" across the piano and say, "Alright now... what is this song about?"  Most of the time they tell me they know, and then they struggle to put a sentence or two together without falling into that vague no-mans land explanation known as "It's about love."

In all fairness, it's a harder exercise than it sounds, and I tell them so.  Some songs come gift-wrapped with characters, a back story and a conclusion already in place.  Even though there is less digging required for these songs, it is still necessary to know the background.  What happened in the story to bring us to the point of this song?  Who sings it?  Why do they sing it? To whom to do they sing it?  What happens as a result?  Any student who goes to the trouble of answering these questions has a wealth of information they can use as a foundation for interpretation.

Other songs don't have such easy answers.  Some songs don't really tell a story.  Others have no discernible cast of characters.  Sometimes the poetry is confusing, or sparse, or from a time or location entirely foreign to us (Sanskrit, I'm talking to YOU), or seemingly silly to our sophisticated 21st century sensibilities.  As difficult as these songs are, they are some that I like the best, maybe just for the challenge.  Anybody can learn a song, but to really know a song, you have to discover the underlying message that is enhanced or obscured by melody, rhythm, harmony and text.  In a nutshell, the challenge comes in first accepting a song for whatever it is, and then learning to love it on its own level.  And that little nutshell represents a great deal time and thought and maturity.

Songs are a lot like people.  Or is it that people are a lot like songs?  While we spend our time on this earth we all have a story to tell.  Some are obvious.  Some are easier to understand.  Some are shared ready-or-not and come gift-wrapped with a bullet point list of accomplishments and lessons learned.  Others are more difficult to discern.  But despite the challenges, when we take the time to listen and learn, we are so much richer in our own lives.

There really aren't enough words to express how worthwhile it is for us to take the time to really know someone's story.  Thankfully, there are songs.

Listen carefully.
Consider thoughtfully.
Share freely.

And when someone asks you what the song is about, just tell them "it's about love."
You won't be wrong.

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