Today I went to do a one on one rehearsal with Harvey, the guy who leads our jazz group. I like to do this every so often to sharpen up what we are singing as a group, but to also work on other pieces that I want to do as a solo, in the event I sing with him at Ryles again.
I think I have mentioned previously that I am not necessarily the visionary type. My comfort zone is in taking someone else’s vision and implementing that. This is true in work, or when I was into sewing and I would make great clothes based on a pattern, but wasn’t able to create my own pattern. It is also true in my singing. I hear a version of a song, and I can reproduce that pretty well. Whether it is Ella Fitzgerald’s version of The Nearness of You or Nora Jones’, I can pretty accurately sing that back to you.
What I am not as comfortable doing, and what Harvey was challenging me to do today, was to improvise, find new phrasing, melodies and generally sing around the song.
I suspect this is a skill that like most, the more you practice it the better you get at it, but even though it was just Harvey and myself in his living room, with no one else listening, it made me anxious, nervous, and tapped into a few feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. But since I want to grow and challenge myself in areas that don’t involve work, but are more extracurricular, I tried to just be in the moment, let the inhibitions go and listen to that still small voice of my musical instincts.
I had a similar problem when I was playing the viola. I remember my teacher trying to get me to tap into the emotion of what I was playing. One day I played something differently than I had been previously, and he was ecstatic. “That was fabulous! There was emotion and feeling! What did you do differently?” he asked me. I had no idea. But in my defense, I was probably 13 or 14 years old. My experience with life was a bit limited, and the extent of my emotional bond to music extended to being in love with George Michael, who as we all know is gay. So you might say I was not exactly in tune with a lot.
40 years, two marriages and a boatload of other life experience later I at least have a deep and colorful to tap into to help inform what I am trying to sing. It is still HARD to improvise with melody, especially one that is well known. I hear the standard version in my head and that is the way I want to sing it.
But it is a good challenge, a healthy one, and as long as I experience a bit of success doing it, where I hear Harvey say “YES! There you go, that was great phrasing!” then I will keep trying. I just need to channel my inner Ella and I will be just fine.