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?

Do you have the confidence to make it through this?

Do you have the confidence to make it through this?

The Joy of Singing

The other evening I was watching Julie and Julia and I was struck by the utter bliss and enjoyment that Julia Child (expertly played by Maryl Streep) had while cooking. Eyes rolled back while catching a whiff of buttered fish, Julia’s face glowed with a smile that can only represent ecstasy. She truly found the joy of cooking. While watching this, I thought to myself, “If only I could be that happy while singing.” Often times I become obsessed with the technical details as the voices, critics, and teachers in my head scream at me: “lift your soft palate! Release your tongue tension! Relax your shoulders! Remember to breathe here! That note didn’t have enough resonance! You fumbled a word there!” This endless stream of thoughts make it difficult to focus on enjoying the music. Sometimes the external critics, adjudicators, judges, teachers, and coaches who pick apart every tiny detail of each song, sound, vowel, consonant, and utterance make you so focused on creating perfection that you forget to simply enjoy creating.

Tonight, for the first time in a long time, I simply enjoyed creating. At Steynberg Gallery, an adorable art gallery and small concert venue, I joined a storyteller, Russell Swanagon,  for a collaborative show of Winter Songs and Stories. As usual, I entered the concert venue worrying about a few notes I was still unsure on, trying to implement new vocal technique changes, the small audience turn-out, and other such things. Then I opened my mouth and just sang. I felt the warmth, compassion, and appreciation radiating from the small by mighty audience. I felt a profound connection with my amazing pianist Sarah Broomell. I found joy.

Maybe I didn’t make much money from this concert. Maybe I messed up a few notes here and there. But everyone left the concert with smiles on their faces and a cheerful demeanor¬† for the start of the holiday season. I know that I did. I realized that this is why I sing, why I want to sing, and how I find joy in my singing……………. now I just have to work on finding that same joy in my auditions! Well, I think I just figured out what my new year’s resolution will be.

Singing at Steynberg Gallery with Sarah Broomell at the piano