I practiced. I sang the songs over and over. At home with my piano, outside while walking in the rain, alone in the car traveling to teach piano lessons. But my first real leap of progress came when I booked a vocal coaching session with Hilary.
“The first thing I would suggest is more bounce”, she said as we sat at her piano with my charts.
“Oh, yes?” I said politely, remembering all the wild and unbelievable stories that my singer friends have told me about crazy voice lessons with crazy voice teachers where they tell students things like “all you have to do is imagine a rainbow, that’s the sound we want”, or they perform the Heimleich maneuver on your diaphragm to help you breathe, set books on your chest while you lie on your back, carry you across the room, say things like “inflate your inner tube”, “think vertically”, etc., etc.
This concerned me. How was I going to get better as a singer if I didn’t understand the instructions on how to do so? I’m not much of a “think of a waterfall” kind of gal. I’m your basic cold fish when it comes to achievement. Explain what I’m doing wrong – clearly, with no extra words – and tell me how to make it better – succinctly and logically- and I’ll go home and practice that until it’s awesome.
“Yeah, like this – WE’re all HUN-gry here/ STARving and SAd/ LOOking for COMfort/ there’s NONE to be had”, Hilary sang the first lines of “Every Single One”. Yes! Yes, of course. Bounce. Bouncy phrases, emphasis on syllables to make it sound more like how you would just say it to somebody. That was what was missing from my initial vocal takes. I was so concerned about singing in tune and delivering a good technical performance that I ended up with a completely lifeless result. And that wasn’t readily apparent (to me) until I heard the harmony vocals, shimmering with life and bounce and emotion. Then I realized, I have to do better. Otherwise it’s going to sound like somebody poured very expensive chocolate over a dry soda cracker and hopes no one will notice the cracker.
I felt a rush of gratitude towards Hilary. She was going to help me, really help me figure this out in a way I could understand. The mark of a great teacher, by the way. If you find a teacher like this, hold on to them. Chances are incredibly high you will learn something.
Things went quickly after that. I dropped deeply into that happy place where everything is clear and easy and time slows down completely. We went through all the songs and mapped out all the phrasing and dynamics. Then Hilary had me explain the story and the feeling behind each song, and had me visualize a setting. Where does this song take place? What do I see around me? I realized I hadn’t considered any of this. But as I started to think about it, the songs became more real to me. The story of each song came to life. The characters gradually came into sharp focus.
Now close your eyes, think about all of that, apply the phrasing and dynamics, and sing.
Much, much, much better. It was obvious, right away. Armed with this new information plus the warm-ups Hilary had shown me, I marched out of her apartment at midnight, afire with enthusiasm and looking forward to the weeks of practice ahead.