Song Interpretation: An Overview

I know we spend a lot of time in our lessons on on the technical study of singing: vocal techniques, breathing techniques, support and physicality, enunciation..…etc etc etc.  It can sometimes feel in lessons, I am sure, that all you’re doing is learning technique, rather than living in this beautiful and odd art form/craft called musical theater that you love.

But remember:

Technique allows us to give a performance that is spontaneous and new every time.

This brings me to the technique of song interpretation.  Song interpretation is not feeling the emotion of the song and hoping your audience comes along for the ride.  Remember, we can’t play emotions.  It’s the audience that gets to feel all the feels when your performance soars beyond the mundane and predictable, and you do that by preparing: doing your homework and focusing on the techniques that support this art.  Preparation gives you freedom in performance!  Some of the questions below will be easier to answer as you gain knowledge (musicianship) and experience (acting or audition classes, shows).  But get into the habit of doing this work for every song.

Songs in musicals move the story to new places.  But we aren’t singing in a musical most of the time (except in our heads, of course!!)- we’re auditioning, singing by ourselves in a strange room to some people behind a table.  Auditions allow an artistic staff to see how we connect to material, relate to a partner, live as a character, and flex our creative muscles all while singing - this is a tall order and if we don’t have a plan for how to pull that off, the situation can be fraught.   We must inhabit our audition songs fully, both musically and dramatically.   If we’re armed with a plan, the audition seems less scary.

The following questions will help you get inside your song and make it your own. You can stick with the original awesome story of the song, or you can create details to make the song come alive in a unique way.  This work is appropriate for either approach.  But either way, the audience (auditioners, etc) will need to see you actually experience an honest moment with an imaginary scene partner, or other.  Sometimes, creating an original story for your song helps you get more specific.  Whatever you do, make sure your choices are strong!

This is not meant to be perfect.  This is meant to be a guide as you grow your repertoire.  Get used to doing it and it will get easier.  You will love the results.