Growing up, I was addicted to comic books. What boy doesn’t want to be a super-hero? I remember reading and re-reading the adventures of the X-Men, Justice League, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Not only did I love reading all the adventures, I spent time daydreaming about what my life would be like if I had super-powers. One facet of those daydreams was to ponder which hero I would be if I had the choice.
Super-heroes come in a few flavors:
- The exceptionally-trained “regular guy” – Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Karate Kid. These were men who had no special powers, just an immense amount of training in some form of combat, and occasionally a helpful gadget from a utility belt.
- The technologically-abled – Iron Man, Cyborg. Their heroics are facilitated through expensive suits or weaponry
- The accidentally gifted – Spiderman, Daredevil, Firestorm, The Flash, Fantastic Four, The Hulk. Normal people who, through some bizarre accident, were given amazing powers.
- The naturally gifted – Superman, Ultra Boy, Mon-el, Supergirl, Cosmic Boy. These characters are typically aliens whose powers are just part of who they are. Superman is a Kryptonian who derives his powers from being exposed to Earth’s yellow sun.
While all these heroes are great, one character captured my imagination beyond all others: Green Lantern. And… before we continue, let’s be fair in saying that while I love that a Green Lantern movie was recently made – it isn’t that good.
Hal Jordan became Green Lantern when he was given a “power ring.” The power ring can do just about anything that Hal dreams up. It can make him fly, protect him from harm, and create any form of weapon imaginable. The strength of the ring is drawn from Hal Jordan’s will power. That’s the best part. While the ring does have a weakness (yellow), the only limit on its abilities is the limit of Hal’s will power.
You are not Superman. You do not automatically have great power simply because you are alive on planet Earth.
You are not Iron Man. You cannot rely on external technology or toys to make things happen.
You are not Batman. No matter how much you train your body, you will never quite make it to being the whole singer you wish to be.
Singers are like Green Lantern.
Why? The answer is why I love singing.
Singers can improve through strength of will. There’s an intangible property to singing that transcends mere physical action. Yes, it is a complex series of muscular actions that creates good singing, but great singing requires much more. Passion. Emotion. Soul. Joy. Human beings are amazing creatures, and somewhere down deep in our wiring is the ability to make both muscular and emotional adjustments through sheer force of will.
Tuning – singing in tune is a choice, and requires listening as well as muscular control. However, I have found that when singers REALLY need to dig down deep, they can improve their tuning through force of will.
Emotion and Expression – it is through the force of will that we tap into our humanity, our emotions, and express them. We must shut out the distractions of our day, of the environment in which we are singing, and of our performance jitters to be consumed by our music. That takes mental focus. Will power.
Stage presence – when we focus on radiating energy in performance, we improve. It is as if we make the decision to glow with energy. We push outward with our will. Performing well on stage is akin to the stereotypical comic book scene in which the hero is hit with a huge boulder and then buried in the rubble. They explode outward with energy, blasting away the rubble and setting the stage for the villain’s final butt-whooping. So, too, do we decide through our will to project energy into the hall while performing. We blast out forcefully, turning “I hope you like it” into “you’re gonna love this!”
Imitation – What is it that enables us to imitate sounds and voices? Think of a celebrity voice you might imitate (Bill Cosby, Jack Nicholson, Homer Simpson, Bill Clinton are all easy targets). Now talk like that celebrity. You likely just did it. You certainly didn’t think “before I begin, the first thing is to move my jaw like so…” We think about our target sound; we hear it in our minds. Then we essentially will ourselves to make that sound. We might not nail it first time out, but we usually get close just because we will it to be so. Imitation is a huge part of learning how to sing well, so the ability to imagine a target sound and will it into being is of great benefit.
Training – It is will power that forces us to train when we don’t feel like it. Strength of will pushes us to do the basics, the exercises that strengthen us for musical battle.
It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant
These are just a few examples of how will power can strengthen our singing, much like Green Lantern’s will strengthens the energy flowing from his power ring. In every musical situation, there’s just a little bit more to be had. All it takes is will power. Some people say “you gotta want it.” Some people say “visualize your best you.” Some people say “if you can believe it, you can achieve it.” These are all many ways to say the same thing, but let’s face it… pretending to be Green Lantern is cool.
Brody McDonald is the director of choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School. Under his leadership, his curricular choirs have consistently earned the highest ratings at state level contest and have been featured at numerous conventions. He is at the forefront of the a cappella movement, serving as a founding member and the vice president of the A Cappella Education Association. His a cappella ensemble, Eleventh Hour, was the first high school group ever to compete on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Brody is also the author of A Cappella Pop: A Complete Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing. Brody has recently joined the faculty at Wright State University as director of a cappella studies. He has partnered with Deke Sharon to launch Camp A Cappella, a summer camp designed to immerse singers in the contemporary a cappella style, which will take place June 23-28, 2015 at Wright State University. For more information, please visit campacappella.com and brodymcdonald.com.