Performing Truthfully

Concert season is here for many of you. Technical elements of performance are important, but equally important is interpretation and communication.

MENC member Fred Ritter believes singers should “tell the truth…create a disturbance…and make a difference!”

Truthful singing connected to the text of a piece of music will help students grow as people. Singing truthfully will help students develop the qualities of honesty, sincerity, compassion, trustworthiness, and a willingness to ask questions.

As you work with your students:

Understand the overall meaning and message of the text.

• Focus on the “central truth” of the music first, rather than pounding out notes and
• Study the text.
• Speak the text together as a group.
• Have students offer their own interpretations of the text.
• Have students discuss how the text might apply to them or to others.

When the students understand the message in the music, they will put forth a better effort, and singing will be more satisfying.

Watch the students, and have them watch each other.
Are they convincing? Do you believe them when they sing a long song, a farce, a
drinking song, a patriotic song, a sacred song?

Sing truthfully and convincingly. 
If students are singing with full understanding, skills such as excellent diction, tall vowels, proper phrasing, facial expression, proper breathing, and a careful interpretation of dynamics and tempo will naturally occur. Of course, it helps to practice these skills technically, but the application of such skills comes to life when the student is connected to and invested in the music and text. A crescendo is more than just getting louder – it is a strengthening of a moment to enhance the message of the song.

How do you know when the students have connected with the music?
You will hear it in the appreciative applause at a performance, and in discussions or talk the next day in the school or out in the community. If people are talking about the performance, you will have given the audience something to think about.

Ritter sums it up: “I would rather hear one note sung sincerely with feeling than a thousand sung indifferently.”

Fred Ritter teaches vocal music to grades 9–12 at Columbus High School in Columbus, Nebraska. The original article (“Tell the Truth! Create a Disturbance! Make a Difference!”) first appeared in the April 2000 issue ofNebraska Music Educator, and was reprinted by permission in the MENC book Spotlight on Teaching Chorus.

–Sue Rarus, November 17, 2010   © National Association for Music Education