I had a full day to myself yesterday to record a Christmas song. Here are two versions of Silent Night:
Making these recordings was a chance to experiment with a few performance concepts that I’ve been interested in. The first is the idea of singing with a smile. After making a handful of recordings and reviewing them all, the ones I liked best turned out to be those in which I had decided to physically smile while singing. I was surprised at how clearly I could “hear” my smile wherever it occurred.
Some voice teachers say that smiling improves vocal production, but others say that smiling with the mouth creates detrimental tension and a singer should really only smile with the eyes. In these recordings I’m unabashedly smiling with everything I’ve got, and this leads into the second concept I want to mention: vocal acting. In roughly seven years of taking voice lessons, I’ve spent a lot of time on the physical technique of singing but much less on the technique of acting, assuming a persona and conveying it through vocal nuance. In these Silent Night recordings, I’m imagining myself as someone who is ecstatically devout and I’m trying to convey that sense of devotion as overtly as I can. I think that’s what the song calls for.
I never expected that Silent Night would become such a significant part of my musical life, but it has. Back in 2014, when I was trying to build my knowledge of jazz harmony, I followed the pianist David Berkman’s advice to practice reharmonizing simple tunes like Silent Night. I made a dozen reharmonizations of this very tune and arranged my favorites into the first piece of what would become a full Christmas album. While I remain fascinated as ever by the complexities of harmony, and I’m now exploring some of those complexities in my guitar arrangements, I’m paying more attention to some “simple” things that I feel I skipped over in my musical journey. What have I skipped? Well, if I could go back and add one positive element to my teenage years, it would be that along with picking up classical guitar, I would learn to strum and sing folk songs (by myself, yes, but also in groups). Well, I’m thrilled to be doing that now.
What is possible with a voice and the plainest, simplest guitar accompaniment? In 2019, I’m hoping to sing more, strum more, and make more recordings like these to find out.