Amy Leach’s 2nd blog working with Sheena Wellington.
In my last meeting with Sheena I was left with loads of resources and songs to look through, so I had plenty to sing and discuss this time! The first song I sang was Silken Snood, Sheena got me to learn this from a recording of Aileen Carr. I’m glad I managed to pick up some of the ornaments that Aileen uses, but I was warned not to go over the top with ornamentation (which is sometimes really tempting!)
I wanted to discuss emotion in songs with Sheena, I’m never really sure how much emotion to let out in big tragic ballads. There’s nothing wrong with letting a ballad move you, but no one is going to hear much of the song if you’re sobbing! She advised singing a song in private for as long as it takes for it not to get to you. Essentially in a ballad you will be replacing one emotion with another for the sake of telling the story, unless you have killed your own sister or something equally as tragic! Although Sheena also advised me never to express an emotion with my face that made no sense – don’t smile your way through a song with a sad story.
Another song Sheena got me to learn was Maureen Jelks’ version of Mary Mild. I love this version of the ballad; it has a really strong tune. We discussed how important it was to find a tune that is strong enough to carry a ballad. When I sung Mary Mild it was a bit too slow, a bit dirge like! I have a tendency to lack some pace towards the end of ballads so this is definitely something I’ll be working on.
I sung a faster song to Sheena, I have less of these in my repertoire. Although I carried the song off okay, she pointed out that my hands were firmly stuck at my waist. I never am certain what to do with my hands as I’m always fidgeting. A good suggestion I got was just to let them hang and speak a wee bit (although no big dramatic gestures!). I need to remember to loosen up before I sing. Another exercise before singing Sheena recommended was breathing like you’re smelling a flower and gently flickering a candle – I’ll definitely be trying that one out!
I find breathing exercises very helpful in my singing but I’d never thought much about varying where I breathe. Sheena played me several examples of Jeannie Robertson and Lucy Stewart taking breaths mid-phrase – this allowed them to really accentuate a certain part of the plots they were telling. I find this effect quite striking, taking a breath in an unusual place makes you really listen to what they’re going to say.
My plan for next time is to learn a couple more upbeat songs (and one miserable one to quench my thirst for tragic songs!). I’m trying to adopt more cheery songs into my repertoire but I always go back to the sad and miserable ones. I’m not saying that Scottish people are miserable but…..we do have so many great sad songs!