Anyone who has ever driven in Los Angeles knows that the number one thing you need to succeed in getting from point A to point B is confidence. With the 405 in shambles, cars cutting you off at every moment, and sudden stops and starts, if you don’t have the confidence to change lanes exactly when a spot opens up, you’ll never get where you are going. It takes confidence to simply leave the house each morning knowing that traffic might be bad, that it might be stressful, or that the vast expanse of freeway traffic is more dangerous that we’d like to admit. However, you leave the house each day knowing that where you need to go is important and is far more productive and beneficial than staying at home all day whining about how the traffic keeps you from living your life. (Yes, I’ve spent far too much time on the freeways these past few days.) Something my vocal coach, Rakefet Hak, said today sparked this idea of confidence and how it can either make or break us. We were rehearsing “Chi il bel sogno” from La Rondine and there is this beautiful reoccurring refrain consisting of pianissimo floating high G’s and A’s and even a C (for you non-music types, it’s high and quiet). On top of that technical difficulty, the orchestra/piano is barely playing anything at that point so you are vocally exposed and any mistake you make will definitely be noticed. Consequently, I tend to approach this melody tentatively with great caution and fear– often times with an inner monologue screaming at me “Don’t screw this up! Quiet… NOOOOO Quieter! That was too loud. Trying softening your breath. Well, that sucks but at least it’s quieter. Maybe you should sort of lightly tap the note then grow into it for support…… STOP! THAT WAS ALL WRONG!”
Something like that.
I love how sweet and gentle my mind is.
But, today Rakefet called me on it. She heard me scooping into the high notes like I was tip-toeing and trying not to be heard. And then it dawned on me: approaching these high notes is like driving in LA traffic or kicking up into a handstand… You’ll never get there if you are cautious about it. You’ll never get there if you are trying to protect yourself from what you fear might go wrong. If you don’t have faith, trust, and a little bit of pixi dust, either things will go terribly wrong or nothing will happen at all which can be even worse. You have to jump right into the high note with full belief that it will be exactly the way you want it to be. You have to change lanes with conviction, asserting your claim to that space. You have to kick up into a handstand like your life depended on it. You have to let go and just do without that nagging inner monologue holding you back.
So, the next time that inner monologue yelled “Don’t screw this up!” I calmly answered “Of course not” and then banished that voice to the far off recesses of my brain. And, you know what? It worked. I started the high note with courage, hit it right at the center of the pitch, and Rakefet said that was the best thing she ever heard out of me. Apparently I’m far more successful if I don’t set myself up for failure with the expectation that failure might happen. Who knew?