Performing from the Heart or the Head?

“For centuries, scientists, philosophers, physicians, composers, poets and writers have argued about the function of the heart. Is its sole purpose to move blood throughout our bodies, or does it do something more? The ancient Greeks called it aesthesis, which means “to breathe in.” They recognized that the moment of touch, whether it was an actual physical touch or a deep connection between souls, was accompanied by an intake of breath or particular kind of insight. They considered it the moment when the soul essence inside us, and the soul essence from something outside us, met and mingled. It is the root of our word “aesthetic.” ~ Stephen Harrod Buhner

In today’s modern Western world many of us seem to have lost touch with that aesthetic, insightful part of ourselves, our “gut level” or heart feeling when it comes to the world of music and performing. We have become a brain culture; we tend to live inside our heads.

We feel that nothing is of value or exists if we can’t categorize, analyze, evaluate and compute a thing. Technology hasn’t helped. We are literally plugged into our world. How often are you or do you see someone talking on the phone, texting, tweeting, no matter where they are? I’m not making a judgment call, just an observation.

Why am I talking about this subject with so much passion? Because I feel so many singers today learn and sing primarily from their heads, not their hearts. Let me explain. I’m sure you have been to performances where the sets, costumes, lighting, orchestra and even the singing was perfect but something was missing and you left the theater feeling unsatisfied, disappointed and even bored. The heart connection was missing. I crave that and would love to help restore that wonderfully powerful bond between an artist, the character they are portraying, the music, the words, the emotions and feelings and the audience. Then you wouldn’t even notice if the singer missed some high notes or forgot some lines, or the scenery fell over, because you would be swept up in something far greater. It is a place that touches you deep inside, that is organic, intrinsic, instinctual, primal and familiar. You would be experiencing something so forceful and compelling time would stand still.

Yes, that is how momentous a performance can be when done from the heart. It’s not about making your singing perfect, whatever that means! It’s about trusting the work you have done up to this moment and then letting your heart take over. It’s about giving yourself permission to become the story teller; allowing yourself to color with all the colors from your emotional palate. It’s what makes that wonderful synergy between performer and audience. When you open your heart in this way those listening can’t help but open theirs as well. Then the magic begins!

Dare to become that inspired singer that performs from his/her heart to share that connection with that particular piece of music. Quite different from the perfunctory singer who may have a flawless technique, hits all the high notes and excellent diction, but puts us to sleep. You may be out of practice, but your capacity to perceive from the heart comes naturally to you and therefore it never fully disappears. With practice it is possible to learn the shape of your heart field as well as you know your own hands, and use your heart as you do your hands, to touch the world around you. Think of the possibilities when casting your spell as you audition or the power of the blending of a singer’s soul essence through the sound of their voice, with other singers onstage, the orchestra and the soul essence of an audience — it creates entrainment extraordinaire.

Imagine the possibilities…

Carol Kirkpatrick

For as long as she can remember, singing and performing have always been in Carol Kirkpatrick’s blood. From her beginnings in a small farming town in southeastern Arizona, through her early first-place triumph at the prestigious San Francisco Opera Auditions, and subsequent career on international stages, Ms. Kirkpatrick has thrilled audiences and critics alike. “A major voice, one worth the whole evening.” (The New York Times) Since retiring from the stage, she continues to be in demand as a voice teacher, clinician, and adjudicator of competitions including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  Combining her knowledge of performance, business, and interpersonal skills, she has written the second edition of her highly regarded book, Aria Ready: The Business of Singing, a step-by-step career guide for singers and teachers of singing.  Aria Ready has been used by universities, music conservatories and summer and apprentice programs throughout the world as a curriculum for teaching Ms. Kirkpatrick’s process of career development, making her “the” expert in this area.  She lives in Denver, Colorado.