One time, I performed a song for a small group of people, and it was a very personal song, so I was nervous to sing it well. As I took the stage, the tears welled, and by the second verse I couldn't hold them back any longer. My voice wobbled and cracked, and I felt like the entire room suddenly had all the air sucked out of it. It was mortifying.
Music is emotion in one of its purest form. But there is an important balance between expressing the emotion of a song effectively, and having so much emotion that it becomes difficult to sing the song to its full potential.
Your emotions are typically heightened in a performance setting when:
- You are performing an original song that is very personal
- You’re nervous about your voice
- You are singing at funerals, weddings, or any important event
- It’s a “high stakes” performance situation
What happens to your body physically when you get emotional? Your breathing gets heavy, your muscles tense up as you try to compensate for the lack of control that you might feel, and then your body begins to turn inward and tighten. All of these actions are associated with emotion, and they’re not conducive to singing properly and fearlessly.
Here’s a great tip: change your thinking. You as the performer, are the window. You are the narrator and storyteller—creating a connection from the song to the audience. The audience hears the story through you, and they are the ones the emotion is meant to touch.
If you become compromised or blurred by your own emotion, the audience will have a harder time seeing the story and feeling the emotion for themselves. Your job is to clearly interpret the story, adding vocal flair, and personal touch...without allowing your own emotions to taint the narration.
Something you can do to help —prepare yourself ahead of time for the emotional severity of the performance. Pinpoint the emotion, the reason for it, and at what part of the song it distracts you. Remove yourself from the narrative, refocus on a technical aspect of the voice: am I going to sing this in head voice? Chest? Mixed? Do I want to crescendo here? Shall I add in a different vocal flair? Get some coaching help if you need it. And if seeing the audience become affected by the song causes a stir in your emotions, pick an inanimate object in the background to focus your gaze. Rehearse in front of real people. And if all else fails: let a tear fall. You’re only human.