On Friday I had a coaching that I'd been looking forward to for a long time. It was with a respected professional in the opera world whose honest opinion about my singing I was both afraid and excited to hear. He's heard me sing on several occasions and I always wanted to know what he thought, so when he invited me for a coaching, I was excited to take him up on it.
First of all, I took an aria that is very new for me, the rationale being that if he found it a ludicrous choice for my voice, I would put it away immediately and pull out another that was more polished. I knew the choice was controversial, and it was just because of that that I picked it to work on.
I made some mistakes, I was embarrassed, there were a couple stressed syllables that I didn't stress-- but that is why we have coachings, I suppose. To figure out what needs to be fixed. However, all in all, I felt he was very hard on me, brutally honest about the part of my voice that needs real work.
But then, he told me how to fix it. And I fixed it, and it worked. And he then proceeded to goad me each and every time I reverted back to the old way, forcing me to notice and correct. At first I hadn't been able to hear the difference myself, but by the end, I started to understand what I needed to listen and feel to get it right. His tough love approach worked.
But I left feeling very weird.
I felt like I should have been perfect.
I felt like I shouldn't have given him anything to fix or correct.
I felt like he thought I was less than wonderful, even though at the end he assured me I sounded great, but needed to work on these things.
For a day or two I was in a funny place about my singing, having those familiar old negative thoughts, like "Will I ever be able to get this right?"
Then I started to think that maybe the best compliment he could give me was the effort he made to help me correct the things that he heard were wrong or could be much better. If I could correct it while I was standing there, how bad could it have been? The best thing he could do with me was not to gloss over the things he heard, but to tell me and force me to listen and notice what I was doing wrong. Surely, it would have been easier and more fun for him to simply play through the rep with me, telling me I sound great, while I smiled and giggled and felt great about myself.
While I do think that teachers and coaches owe it to singers to find respectful ways to communicate tough truths, and that incivility is never okay, I think I sometimes choose to see things the wrong way. The other thing is that we instinctively know whether what is being said is true, or whether it is coming from a mean place. But assuming that we know that we're being told the truth, rather than spending the rest of the day thinking "I suck," I should have focused on how lucky I was that he thought I was worth telling the truth about my weaknesses, and how quickly we had been able to fix the issues.
Now I guess I better go practice.