photo by Kevin Cease
But dontcha just hate it when that’s all you see when they perform??!! All style and no substance. The point of technique is to not let it show.
all technique and no contentI sometimes see people walking along looking a bit like a plank. They seem very stiff and upright. Many times it’s because they’ve studied Alexander technique and are trying really hard to apply what they’ve learnt. It’s not that they’ve been taught badly, it’s that they don’t trust what they’ve learnt. They give Alexander a bad name.
Then there are those amazing dancers who are absolute perfection in the execution of their moves, the line of their arms, the buffness of their bodies, but they are expressing nothing. Sometimes you can even spot which technique they’ve trained in, e.g. Graham or Cunningham.
Jugglers. Don’t get me started on jugglers (and many other skill-based activities)! So often I see jugglers juggling and wonder why. It’s just a skill that anybody can learn if they put the time in. They’re just showing off technically and not actually expressing anything.
It’s all surface and no depth. All technique and no content. All style and no substance.
content underpinned by technical expertiseIt doesn’t have to be that way though.
I saw a guy once in Covent Garden, London who was absolutely amazing. It was only at the end of his act that I realised that he’d actually been juggling a load of random objects throughout! It was the content of what he did that was captivating, not how he did it.
The same applies to singing.
The other week I wrote about forgetting everything you’ve ever learnt when you come to sing. Training in singing and vocal technique goes on in lessons and rehearsals. That’s where it should stay.
When you come to perform you shouldn’t focus on your training consciously, but allow your technique to support your performance and vocal expression naturally. You are communicating emotionally with your audience, not showing them how clever you are, or what a brilliant range you have or how wonderful your ornamentations are.
the Italians have a word for itI came across a wonderful concept the other day (with huge thanks to Celia Hart): sprezzatura (it comes from an Italian book of how to be a good courtier written in the early 1500s).
It is defined as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” (‘art’ in this context meaning ‘artifice’)
Other ways of saying it are “rehearsed spontaneity, studied carelessness, or well-practiced naturalness.” The opposite of sprezzatura is affectazione – “affection”.
The art of making something look easy and effortless requires a huge amount of training and experience.
If you have sprezzatura without technique, it will almost certainly look amateurish and be a bad performance. But if you have technique without sprezzatura it will be empty. You need both, in balance.