From “Fifty Boats”, artwork by Nan Shepherd (2009); Kimberly Barber (2021)

This week I went on a daring journey with my students in our studio performance class: I told them everything was allowed. Their wildest imagination, their instincts, their personal viewpoint, their humour, their own version of the story. As I’ve been doing for a while now (because we know that this brings out the best performances), I’ve asked the singers to introduce their piece with a personal touch. They have to express why they are singing it, what moves them about it, the message they hope to convey. What I did a bit differently this time was to nudge them further in the direction of being interested in telling the story of the song alone, without worrying about any parameters.

What happened in both cases (two singers performed in the class) was nothing short of astonishing. The class was completely invested in the performances, but the singers were also amazed at how free and good they felt. And that translated into a sense of being absorbed by the storytelling by both listener and performer. On the second try at each song, I invited the singers to go further still. To one I said: “sing it as though you’re one of the great crooners: Sinatra, Darin…feel free to jazz it up and don’t pay attention to what you think is acceptable. Everything is allowed”. To the other I said: “what might you do in this song if you were allowed to move and gesture at liberty? If you could be completely immersed in the storytelling as though you were an actor and there were no limits to your creativity?”.

Again, in both cases, freed from the perceived strictures of the art form, they delivered personal bests that seemed so artistically and vocally complete that there was very little (if nothing at all!) to add. And in both cases, the singers noted that they had felt as though they were discovering their songs for the very first time. And that being allowed to express in this way, they felt limitless and in the flow of the present moment. Well. To this I say: Amen. NO RULES.