Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Making a decision to succeed

Many of you may have forgotten all about me, it's been so long since I've posted.  I can't really explain why I haven't blogged!  I just stopped feeling like I had anything worthwhile to share that I hadn't shared before.  But lately, things come to mind, I have ideas, I notice things, and I wish I had a place to express them.  So.  I'm back.  Soprano is stepping out.  Yet again.

One of the reasons I didn't feel like writing was because I was doing a lot, very busy, singing, working on my voice, earning a living, things were happening with family, etc.  Since I last posted, I've gotten to sing some of my dream rep with orchestras, with great ensembles, in weird situations and in great situations, had to sing difficult pieces while terribly ill, was engaged to sing things I thought at the time were vocally slightly wrong for me, one that I am now convinced was totally wrong (lesson learned), and even a few that felt just perfect, I signed with a manager, I freaked out, I meditated.  Basically, in the past year, I think I've learned a ton.  I am no longer just speculating about singing stuff that is scary. I'm starting to do it.

The over-reaching lesson I've learned this year was one thing: I decide whether this is going to be good or not.  This performance, this experience.

The orchestra is tuning up and you are sitting there trying to disguise the fact that your folder is shaking.  And you can look out at the audience and think "What am I doing here? This is ridiculous. I got the music for this a month ago, and since then I've had 8 other performances, all of crazy music that I didn't have enough time to learn and I'm exhausted and scared and I am going to run away now." Or you can think, "I'm scared, but there's no turning back now, I practiced this and now I am going to sing it well, because what would be the point of sucking, after all?"

When I can pause in my terror just long enough to allow a hint of logic to enter my brain, I realize that allowing fear to take over is only going to absolutely ensure the occurrence of the thing I am afraid of: FAILURE.  Being bad.  Not sounding good.  Being flat.  Coming in wrong.  Being behind the beat.

Now, we all know we can decide anything we want, but the body has real physical reactions to nervousness.  They are: dryness, reduced breath control…no need to list them here, we're all WELL acquainted.  But I find that I do better with handling these symptoms of nerves when I am completely aware of them and absolutely prepared.  If I practice and prepare the piece with these symptoms in mind, I can prepare myself for how my body will react in those situations rather than being surprised by it when I'm on stage.  I feel like I wasted a lot of time practicing to sing something in the perfect set of circumstances rather than the worst ones, because I had a strong sense of how things SHOULD be.  Things that can only go right in the best of acoustics with the best pianist with the most well-lubricated throat with beta blockers and the most sleep probably aren't things you should be singing in public.  But that is a really hard lesson to learn, especially when you're a soprano, and you're just relieved you got the call in the first place.

I always get a kick out of singers who come out of an audition room gasping and making lip-smacking noises and exclaiming "I'm so dry! It's SO DRY in there! Ugh!!! Yuck!" I've never known whether this declaration was meant to psych out the other singers or to make an excuse for the singing that we all just heard from the other side of the door. But either way…I always think…Yeah, you were nervous, why are you surprised that you felt dry?

The truth is that you can never prepare for everything.  Weird stuff happens, companies don't have the money to pay for enough rehearsal time, early in our careers we are frequently filling in for others on short notice and haven't had time to live with the music long enough, we have day jobs and can't focus full time on our singing work, once in awhile the orchestra gets things wrong too that can throw you,  and perfection is impossible.  However I've found that  I do better if I make a decision to take control, a real choice in my brain that this is happening and it is going to be good, things work so much better. Then I unclench, release, my nerves relax much more quickly, and the feeling changes to something more akin to excitement than fear.

Now, if I can just unclench long enough to not freak out about the Mozart aria I'll unleashing for the first time next week...