Less Really Is More

Less Really Is More

Jenna Simeonov

Yesterday I was listening to a journalist speak about her work. A journalist is meant to tell a story, and although it's impossible for any writer to be entirely unbiased, too much emotional involvement doesn't really help to get the job done. She learned quickly, she said, that she's much better at telling these true stories if she steps back from her own personal feelings on the topic. I imagine that get's really difficult when you work on stories like this one, or this one; of course, the heaviest stories are often the most important to tell.

I bring this up because I saw a familiar parallel between a journalist's struggles to stay emotionally uninvolved, and that of an opera singer performing a role. In all the voice lessons I've audited, one of the major themes is the challenge to do less. In the context of singing, doing less simply frees up more bodily tension, allowing a relaxed sound to come out; an easy, tension-free sound is what singers strive for, not only because it's more comfortable, but because a relaxed voice can pack the most punch for the audience.

In the context of drama, doing less allows the audience to feel more. That old chestnut that does something like, "if you cry, the audience doesn't have to," is really accurate. I think the urge that singers feel to "give it their all," or some similar ism, comes from their desire to share with the audience all the things that made them love the role/aria/scene in the first place. The irony is that the performances by Callas and Pavarotti and Te Kanawa that gripped us so tightly, were mostly based in the world of "doing less." Their voice and body, free of superimposed tension and overthought ideas, is entirely enough. Why wouldn't that apply to everyone?

I saw the parallel between the journalist and the singer, and I'm sure there are endless similar examples. But there you have it, some shower thoughts for this sunny Saturday.


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