I am in love with words.
It's not a new passion, of course. I always have been devoted to words, and to the idea that we breathe truth into being with words. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light – yup, that makes perfect sense to me. I usually fall in love with a song lyric-first. The words hold the story and the music carries it in a way that opens the door in the singer and the listener's hearts. My favorite singers are those in whose mouths the words of the lyrics are true. Everything I know of singing is in service to one simple thing: telling the story. Because, if clearly told, it is our story, and I am just the one who happens to be telling it this time. Intonation, phrasing, diction all serve the story. Improvisation, too. In a musical theater piece, the characters talk until their emotion flames up till it's just too big for speech. Then they burst into song. In opera the emotions are all over the top, so the singing never stops ("opera" is Italian for "work"). In jazz, we scat when we want to go beyond what is in the words and music as written, and the best improvisors keep telling the story even beyond words.
What I have been discovering in acting – illuminated by the skills of the wonderful actors I am working with – is that the words themselves have a melody, subtle, but strong. Though I've often told shy, first-time singers that singing is just "long saying", I forgot to tell myself that saying is like singing on (sometimes) shorter notes and (most of the time) in the range of speech.
But honest! I was not prepared for Shakespeare, nor had I imagined that any words short of those of a man I love telling me, "I have always loved you" could be so profoundly thrilling. In Shakespeare's plays, even the villains can speak (not like today, eh?). Perhaps I am coming late to this banquet, but as my friend RIchie used to say, "I may have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night."
Here's a clip from King Lear, chosen because it's Lear, and because of the way Olivier spins/sings the word "terrors" (at about 8:10).