THE BLOG
10/12/2010 10:26 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Singing Lessons: The Truth About What Motivates Us To Sing, Play and Hear Music

Van Morrison at the NobHill Masonic Center, San Francisco, October 8th.

As we walked in the house that Van built on Friday night, it was like walking into a church in the midst of a ferocious revival. Van was on fire. The band was on fire. The crowd was the kind of crowd that gave its all with gratitude and love. I have heard that that sometimes shows are less inspired, but every time I have seen Morrison in concert, he has never disappointed and this night was the most thrilling.

He wore a dark suit, gray hat and black shades. We couldn't see his eyes. He cracked a few jokes, but Morrison's not gregarious. He accepts you'll come to him or you won't and doesn't seem to care what you choose. Although, you sensed he was pleased to be loved that night.

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What Phil (my fiance) and I heatedly discussed Saturday morning was the difference between what we saw and what we heard. Phil thought it was an amazing show, but that Van Morrison couldn't care less about the audience (we saw Chris Isaac recently -- Isaac reaches out to the audience, he cares about the audience). I contended that though Van Morrison doesn't necessarily reach out with banter or facial expression, you often can barely understand what the man is even saying, still -- his voice cries out in such a way that each person is pulled close to his soul. If you close your eyes, what you hear is sheer contact, though what you see may appear to be an introvert. "Of course, Van cares about the audience," I said, "what else would drive him to be there and to sing like that?" I don't think it's money or adulation. He is there because he cares about and feels connected to the music and the audience.

There are performers that come to us and performers that force us to go to them. Bruce Springsteen. Thelonious Monk. There are different ways of connecting.

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As a performer, I generally go to the audience. As a singing teacher and vocal coach, I take care not to push my students to do the same, because both kinds of performance are valid. What we connect to is subjective. Who we connect to, from their personalities to what they are saying, how they are saying it, the frequencies of their voices, all of it -- what moves us is subjective. It is about intention and perception. Performance is a two way street. What I bring to a show as a listener is as important as what the performer brings. There are three components to a song: the music, the performer and the listener.

This same concept applies to any communal endeavor. If you have to give a presentation, if you are teaching a class, if you need to inspire your kids to memorize their times tables, what makes it work is connection.

In the book Drive, Daniel Pink says "human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another."

What drives us to perform is connection. What drives us to attend the performance is connection. The show was so good, because we were all in contact.

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Sometimes it feels like magic or miracle, but we can approach it technically as artists and individuals and engender connection. The first step is creating a space. (The Masonic felt like Van's house.)

Before I go on stage, I create a space in my mind. I practice sensorial memory, so that wherever I am performing, I can make it my home.

I ask my students, before you go to sleep, lay in bed and use your imagination to create every detail of a space that belongs to you, a beach somewhere, a mountain top, your room. Know the sounds and the smells, build the details. Who is there? Who could be there, so that when you walk on stage, or in front of your classroom, or when giving an important pitch -- you will know where you are, and the room will belong to you.

How you welcome your audience into your space is a matter of individual expression. It does not have to be done with a grin, an incessant shake of your head or wide open arms. If it's your house, we'll feel it. We'll come to you and want to know what it is you are there to say.

Being connected makes us love our work. Being disconnected can make us hate vacation. Connection is what gives us meaning and makes us feel like we're somewhere.

Connection is why we are driven to sing, play and hear.

Van cares, that's why everybody is there.