The week before an impending concert is always rife with stress, anxiety, fear, doubt, worry, the whole gamut. This stress usually manifests itself in restless nights, exhaustion, a feeling of being overwhelmed with my life, and, worst of all for a singer, vocal health issues. I can’t remember a major concert performance that wasn’t preceded by allergy problems or the threat of losing my voice. With my upcoming aria concert this Saturday, I’m finding myself going through the same “symptoms”; but, perhaps for the first time ever, I am trying to look into their cause. Why is it that I can practice on a daily basis with complete vocal health and freedom, but a few days before a concert even my speaking voice becomes labored? Why is it that my normal 10-12 hour workdays are usually fine, but the week before a concert I feel like I’m a zombie walking through my day? Why does my relatively calm inner monologue change to a negative, panic-stricken, worrier? Why do I have no fear or anxiety while teaching or taking voice lessons or yoga classes (which is, in essence, a form of performing) but when it comes to an “official” performance I have to go through these painful steps of preparation?
The answer I’ve realized is that I feel I have to prove something when I sing. My performance life has been a tumultuous one to say the least. Always the underdog, the last to be cast, the “fill-in” girl, the cover, the understudy, I was the one they’d lean on in the time of need, assured that I’d be prepared, but I was seldom their first choice. I entered USC as an undeclared major, not having passed the audition to get in as an official voice major. Taking the initiative, I begged my way into “music major only” courses so that I could audition again and not be a full year behind. I auditioned again for the major after the first semester and, after having gone to the trouble to take all of the freshman courses, how could they not let me in? Unfortunately, this set me up for 4 years of having to prove my worth as a singer. I was being judged every time I sang as the instructors constantly asked themselves if they made the right decision letting me in to this high profile school. The pressure was crippling to one who is already so hard on herself. While I made some vocal progress in my undergrad and grad school training, it really wasn’t until I removed myself from the demanding, scrambling nature of formal education that I began to move forward as an artist.
Conversely, my teaching career started easily, quickly, and naturally. We were required to take a vocal pedagogy class as part of our undergrad degree at USC. A “throw away” class for most of the singers, I took great pride in taking a fellow chorister under my wing for free weekly voice lessons. I poured everything into sharing my training, readings, and knowledge with her. We still keep in touch to this day. Her glowing review still blesses the voice lesson page on my website. When I moved on to grad school, teaching followed me. A high school student asked me for lessons, then a few of her friends wanted lessons as well, then a few more. Towards the end I had difficulty fitting them in with my course load. A few even did skype lessons for awhile once I returned to CA. While both performing and teaching involved music and the same focused, deliberate thinking, with teaching I had nothing to prove. I never felt like I had to show the student all I knew, because that’s not what the lessons are about. Lessons are for sharing, experimenting, being open to new possibilities. If the student isn’t comfortable with my style or what we are doing, then I did my best and I tried to offer what I could. My approach to teaching is so holistic, that it surprises me how different my mental and physical approach is to performing. Yes, it’s a “cut-throat” career where you are constantly “being judged” and one “bad performance” could cost you your livelihood…. I’ve heard the speech a million times and unfortunately it seems to have sunk in. But, does worrying about all of these things really help? Sure, if you’re not working hard, if you’re not preparing, if you’re not always giving it your all, then yes, you need to remember this. But, if you are always doing the best you can do at any given moment, throw those other thoughts and pressures out the window. What if we approached our performances with the goal simply to share? Not to prove; just to share. If someone doesn’t like it, oh well. Maybe they came to the wrong show. Maybe they had a bad experience with this type of music in the past. Maybe their judgements have nothing at all to do with you and more to do with the bad day they had yesterday. Even more, what if we approached auditions with the goal to share? How different would your mental focus be if you simply wanted to entertain the judges? (Hmmm…. Let’s call them high- ranking audience members instead.) If we start with a wanting to share, then we leave breathing room for mishaps, an openness for new ideas, and an ease that comes with being where you are and giving what you have.
So, come Saturday, I pledge to work towards sharing rather than proving. It doesn’t matter who is in the audience: it doesn’t matter if there is no audience at all. I don’t need to prove to myself or anyone else that I am worthy to call myself an opera singer……… because I already am.
How can you share rather than prove in your life?
Come share with me at:
Blooming: Dramatic Arias from a Budding Opera Singer
Saturday September 28th 7pm
United Methodist Church
San Luis Obispo
$20 suggested donation (pay what you can or just come share)