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Tips for Singers:
"Swan Song"   
(It is enough just to love to sing)

by Mark
he world is minus one very special person.

Like every one of us, he was a local musician who worked by day and played by night. Unlike so many of us, he was all right with that. Not that he didnít dream of recording and touring, he was simply unwilling to compromise himself for fame. He wrote poems and songs for his eyes and ears only. I know it would be his wish to remain nameless. Think of him as the unknown solider. I write of him because he will forever symbolize music in its purest form; art for artís sake. I often felt humbled and embarrassed when he would inquire about my latest schemes to conquer the music world. I also write about him because I was asked to sing his swan song.

Singing has led me into the most wonderful and difficult circumstances. I accepted the request to sing at his memorial service without hesitation but was instantly flushed with mixed emotions. It was an honor, but I knew he was not a fan of my vocal style. He would have preferred Tom Waits. As a champion of natural talent, he would, at times, challenge me on the merits of voice lessons. Ironically, he could have used his own voice as an example of understated power, but he never let me hear it. Iíd known him for years before chancing upon a demo of his. His singing matched his persona, big and relaxed. To add to the psychological dilemma of representing such a private yet opinionated fellow musician, I knew my father would be at the funeral. My father, the man who is solely responsible for my drive to succeed in music by virtue of his disapproval. My father, the man who repeatedly informs me that I have no vocal talent even though he has not heard me sing in twenty-five years. I know life shapes us by presenting challenges, but do they all have to come on the same day?

The physical concerns of singing at a funeral, or any highly emotional setting, are many. There is no place to warm up, so you do it before hand. The silence before you sing is heavy and magnifying; so remind yourself to breathe. Itís best to sing strong, because the smallest shake in your voice can trigger a chain reaction, choking your throat, paralyzing your tongue and flooding your eyes. Above all, the best defense against vocal catastrophes is to be very well prepared. The song was one of his, which meant I had to become quickly intimate with something I had never heard. Unable to sleep the night before. I felt a panic starting on my drive to the church. My throat felt terrible.

Over and over, each eulogy focused on his love of music and poetry, rather than individual songs or poems. Most at the church had never heard any of his songs; it was his passion to write that touched everyone. Then it hit me like a bell falling from the tower; we musicians tend to forget that it is our love of the craft which moves people, not our abilities. We tend to obsess over the smallest details when the largest factor is heart. I began to focus on the message of the song I was about to sing rather than the condition of my throat. I knew that, regardless of my performance, my respect for his music would come shining through -- and it did. By not focusing on my voice, I was able to do something I thought impossible; to look my father in the eye and sing without apology.

This experience will stay with me forever. By sticking to his principals, this person will always be with me in spirit as a symbol of artistic self-respect. Without saying a word, he has reminded me, and hopefully all reading this, of the simple truths. It is our pursuits which define us more than our accomplishments. It is enough just to love to sing -- even if no one ever hears your voice. Live, love and create. W.H.L., rest in peace.

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter)

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