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Recently, I had the privilege of attending a taping of the TV show, “CMT Crossroads.” For those of you that don’t know, Crossroads is a TV series that brings together two artists- typically one country and one non-country- for a single concert. They play one set, consisting of a combination of each artist’s songs. Past episodes have included pairings such as John Mayer and Keith Urban, Steven Tyler and Carry Underwood, and Def Leopard. The concert I attended brought together two of my all-time heroes: legend Emmylou Harris and legend-in-the-making Mumford and Sons. As if that weren’t enough, Jerry Douglas, arguably the world’s best dobro player, joined them on stage.

The show lasted for an hour… or perhaps it was two? I’m not sure exactly, but it felt like twenty minutes. Any time Marcus Mumford or Emmylou opened their mouths to sing, it was as if time moved a little slower. But why? What is so special about these voices? I see students every week that have higher, clearer, and more powerful voices than either one of these artists. So why are theirs’ so memorable?

Do yourself a favor and go listen to Mumford and Douglas’s version of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” and you will see what is so special about Marcus’s voice. Growing up, I was something of a Simon and Garfunkel fan, but I never really heard the lyrics to this song until I listened to Mumford’s rendition of it. “The Boxer” tells the story a man, presumably an immigrant in 1800s New York City, who is down on his luck and is forced to become a fighter to make ends meet, and Marcus’ voice is honest, and broken. Listen to the way Mumford’s voice breaks in the third verse when he sings the line, “And he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him down and cut him till he cried out.” His tone reflects the anguish of the hero’s hardship, and sounds as if he is confessing his heartache to a close friend.

Therein lies the reason Mumford’s voice is so compelling: he makes us believe him. He evokes empathy from me in the same way that only a close friend could. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in the discipline of building a great voice. I’ve dedicated the last fourteen years of my life to it, but it is crucial for every singer to understand that an impressive voice is not enough to gain a fan base. You must not only impress people with your talent, but you must use your voice to make your audience feel whatever it is that you want them to feel, as well. Having a great set of pipes is like having the ability to jump high on a basketball court. It is an invaluable tool…as long as it helps you put the ball through the hoop. Likewise, having a powerful voice is only as important as one’s ability to use that power to move people. How often have your heard someone with an incredible voice, and yet, been completely unenthused with their performance? It’s not just about your ability or desire to sing well. It’s about your ability to move, to inspire, and to change people’s lives with your voice. Learn to do those things, and there will always be someone willing to listen.

To book a lesson with Jeff Mathena, contact Daniel at [email protected], or 615-866-1099.

Jeff Mathena

Author Jeff Mathena

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