One of the questions I often get after shows is how I manage to sing in so many languages. Even for those who do regularly sing this can seem like a herculean task, but really it isn’t. Singing while playing doesn’t come naturally to me and I’ve never had the type of training that most singer/songwriter types do so I had to learn things as I go. The benefit to this is that it is really no more difficult for me to learn lyrics in English than it is in any other language–they are all equally difficult for me to do.
This applies to Conlangauges (Constructed Languages) too–doesn’t matter if it’s Ewok, Shyriiwook, Klingon, or any other. It’s simply about the choreography of the mouth (my next post will talk about Music as Choreography) which is really no different than the choreography of any other part of the body. You move or you manipulate your body in various ways to make a sound. Sometimes that sound comes from your body (e.g. your voice), and sometimes that sounds comes from some external device that your body is interacting with (e.g. musical instrument) — either way, it’s the movement of the body which creates the sound (unless we’re talking about Alvin lucier’s Brainwave Music). Getting hung up on the end result can seriously compromise the understanding that it is all just a series of physical movements.
Obviously, there are issues of mispronunciation as I’ve stated elsewhere, but this is no different than mispronouncing [instrumental] musical style. In the end it is still an issue of getting outside of our idiosyncratic musical boxes–in other words, we should get ourselves to learn from something outside of our comfort zones so that we can grow as musicians.
The biggest trick is memorization–unless you’re very careful about the pronunciation you risk having far too many similar sounding phonemes which can easily get garbled in your mind. Having clear distinctions between sounds and words in different languages is crucial for memorization and in the end can also help you to start picking out words and phrases when you hear it outside of your singing activities. obviously fluency in the language comes with studying the actual language, but fluency in reproducing it comes simply with studying the pronunciation and diction of it. It’s a lesson that classically trained singers learn regularly since they are often trained in singing Italian, German, French, and English.
- See the rest of the posts in this series as well as the dancing while playing the cello series at this link.