Saturday, February 14, 2009

Powerful Performace Interpretation techniques for Singers, Actors and Public Speakers

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Artistic Interpretation - The Icing on the cake!

Weather you are singing a song, making a public speech or acting a monologue, how you interpret your performance is critical to your success. Further, it is ultimately the only thing that will separate you and your performance from that of your peers. For instance, if we were to chose a recording of Handels Messiah, we would usually make our choice based on the conductor. This is because each conductor “interprets” the same piece of music differently. The decisions about tempo, volume, phrasing, balance, etc are all the prerogative of the director.

Here is a personal example. One of my favorite instrumental orchestral recordings is The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe. The piece is a musical interpretation of the visual components of one of the worlds greatest wonders. I am a fan of the former great conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy. A few years back, I had an old, worn out vinyl recording and was looking for a CD or at least a cassette recording to purchase. Not finding one, I settled for a recording by a different director. Big Mistake! The piece was interpreted so different, and badly, that it was hard to recognize that it was the same piece of music.

Ultimately, interpretation is the most important aspect of any vocal performance. It is where the performer, after mastering their fundamental skills, can create their own performance version of any song, speech, poem, or monologue. The process of interpretation is supposed to be an experience whereby the performer and the listener have the freedom to draw their own conclusions about the success or failure of any creative process. The positive aspect of this freedom of artistic expression is that the performer is free to interpret a song or character that may have been performed many times in a similar fashion and interpret it in a fresh and innovative way.

The risk of this freedom is discovered when ten critics attend the same concert, play, or speech and form ten very different conclusions regarding how successful the performance was. Some may like it, and some may not. The reasons for their conclusions may be realistic or fallacious. Unfortunately, many critics may have the power to affect your career, even if their opinion is completely wrong.

One important goal to possess as a performer is to always create such a strong performance that even your worst critics have to concede to your success. This occurs because your interpretation was so effective that even the critics understood it on some level. One, though, must be very suspect of the opinions of critics.

Here are a few important reasons:
  1. There may be only a few present to judge any performance, and as any political pollster would tell you, the more opinions you can get on any subject, the more valid the conclusions are.
  2. Professional critics may be politically or financially connected, and their professional opinion may be highly suspect as to the truthfulness of their conclusions. This conclusion is easily confirmed by the yearly results we see in the Academy Awards. Considering the recent films that are chosen each year for the highest awards, it is obvious to those in the real world, the ticket-buying public, that many members of the Academy are highly politically correct and too connected to Hollywood to have an unbiased opinion. The sharp television viewer ratings downturn for the Academy Awards in the last few years reveals that the public has become their critic and has judged them harshly.
  3. Performers rely on their often uneducated family and friends to be their critics. I can’t count the number of singers I have had to reprogram after they were told by a friend or family member that they were tone deaf when, in fact, they were not.
  4. Critics are often not even performers themselves. These are the worst kind of critics. The truth is, if they are so knowledgeable about the correct way to perform, they would be up on that stage showing everyone how it is done instead of flapping their jaw about your performance successes or failures
  5. The best critic of what you are accomplishing is you. Ultimately, every performer must be secure enough in how they are currently performing and in their performance goals. A sailing ship must have a sail and rudder to move forward with confidence, and you must have yours. When you have the self- confidence in your own abilities, or lack thereof, you will be able to graciously receive all opinions about your work without taking them as a personal attack. You will be able to sift through all the opinions of the critics, forsake the false ones, and embrace the truthful ones, using them as a solid foundation on which to build your future performance goals with confidence.
The Importance of planning how you will communicate your Lyric, Speech or Dialogue is very important. Try this exercise with every work you will perform.

Read out loud your entire song lyric, speech, or acting part exactly how you would perform it in character.

When you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the main theme of the story, lyric, or speech?
2. To whom am I singing or speaking?

3. What is the visual location of my performance?
4. What mood is portrayed in the words?

5. If music, what mood is conveyed in the harmony?

6. Why was this lyric, speech, or script written?

7. What result am I trying to accomplish in my audience?
8. What do I want the audience to remember about my performance?
9. What movements, mannerisms, etc. do I need to rehearse to convey my message?

10. How should I dress to perform?

11. If I am a character other than myself, who am I, and how will I effectively imitate that person?

12. Create your own questions!

Write out the answers to these questions about every character, speech, or song you perform. I am sure you will be able to think of more relevant questions. The clearer you are about what you are trying to accomplish in any performance, the more effective you will be.

I hope you have enjoyed this important discussion. Pass it along to a friend!