Sage show-business advice from Art Garfunkel

News Observer
February 01, 2009
By David Menconi

Want to have a good, long career as a professional singer? You could do lots worse than to follow the very practical advice of Art Garfunkel, who plays in Raleigh on Friday. There’s an interview with him in Sunday’s paper. And when I asked how he preserves his signature voice at age 67, he reeled off the spiel below with all the aplomb of a performance poet:

“Stay out of trouble. What you don’t do matters more than what you do do. Everything in the performing arts revolves around the word ‘relax,’ it’s the key cosmic dimension. Hang loose. Don’t get fancy, complicated or forced notions about singing. My voice has always been a friend. At 5, I thought it was a gift from God. It makes me feel God, this enhanced thing to plug into and leave alone.

“Never let a teacher pull you into a point of view about it. Doctors will show you a fancy new camera they’ll put on a snake so they can show you pictures of your vocal cords on a screen – don’t go there!

“Get a great night’s sleep the night before. And there’s doublethink involved because you can’t try to sleep. So relax, hang loose. Warm up the day of the show, walk a lot, take deep breaths, lubricate your chops. Go from baritone to tenor, warm up, sing with heart. Show love, but make sure no one is around so you don’t get called a fool.

“Then comes work time. Nobody likes to go to work, so there’s some dread in your belly, which is the fear of vulnerability. You might pass and you might fail tonight, so that feels like dread. It’s part of the job, standard. But you walk forward, you carry on. It’s enough to be on your way, as James Taylor says. You’re moving toward showtime. You bring the things you need, think about what makes tonight different from all other shows.

“You get to the dressing room on time, 4 or 5 p.m. But watch out for the phone. Do not be casual about the phone bringing surprising, upsetting news. You don’t want to know what they’re calling you about. Watch out for the phone, and people who just must tell you stuff.

“Hang out with your musicians, get some laughs, you love your four guys. You love everything, and they make everything possible. Then you come on and you love the technology that lets you put a little ‘ahhh’ into the mike an inch away and this lovely thing wafts thru the house. That’s because you did soundcheck and your engineer has the volume just right. Little things are big things. Work a little and it comes out big and it’s a thrill.

“That’s my day’s work.”