That was on the bus ride back from the Kiwanis Music Festival. My grades 7 and 8 choir were incensed that the adjudicator would automatically assume that although they sang the song well the meaning would be above them. They all knew that no matter what, we never sang something we didn't understand. We would sing through a song, say the words as poetry and then I would ask them what they thought it meant. Here there can be no wrong answers. How the words and music make you feel is a very personal thing.
The great thing about discussing that with others is that sometimes other opinions open up possibilities you might not have seen yourself. Good songs have words that work as poetry. There is an article that has listed 100 songs that the writer considers poetry. A few are in our repertoire such as "Over the Rainbow", "Wonderful World" and "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. We could have some major discussion about what constitutes REAL poetry but being broad minded, as I know our readers are, we will say that each of these songs has a story to tell and uses words well to do so.
Now, I have to admit that as a university student I studied Cohen's poetry in my Canadian Literature course and saw or heard nothing redeeming about it. Our professor was a person who expounded his philosophy and never asked us what we thought. Maybe if I had been challenged to think about the poetry, I would have felt something.
Now of course that we get to sing some of Cohen's words, I love it. I understand it in my own way because I must to sing or lead singers. Cohen is a poet of the people but early on I would have sworn he wrote gobble-dee-goop.
The song must become personal for you to be able to express feelings to your audience. The music notes and the words must meld with dynamics to create feelings. You, the singer, whether solo or group, must feel to share that with your audience. You don't have to tell anyone how you feel. They should just know there is emotion there by your intensity, facial expression and sound. Whether it tickles your funny bone or brings tears to the surface, it is the sharing of your understanding you bring to the music that makes or breaks the presentation.
I feel a song coming on - "Feelings, nothing more than ---"