Monday, June 27, 2011

The Singer's Catharsis

Afternoon, Ladies! I am catching up on all the weekend blogging as I have been out of town all weekend. I sang a concert as part of Connecticut Early Music Festival and instead of making the two hour trek home after our Friday and Saturday rehearsals, I had the opportunity to experience my very first homestay. Professional musicians who travel for gigs, instead of being provided a hotel room, are provided a room in a home, courtesy of a volunteer associated with the organization who hires the performers. They can be a bit of a gamble if you do not know the family you are staying with, but I definitely won the lottery this time! I stayed with a wonderful lady in her beautiful Mystic, CT home and she could not have been a more gracious host. Rehearsals were intense (challenging music and only two days to get everything ready!), but the concert was AMAZING. The music was so beautiful (especially the Schütz Motets, but I'm a biased Schütz lover). I was so honored to be a part of such a wonderful, virtuosic performance. So many wonderful, talented and lovely musicians!

Being that it was the first time for me to do this and for me to meet many of these performers, I was thew new gal. I had been decidedly anxious as I am performing for the first time for strangers, fearful of their judgment. Until now, it didn't matter to me how many people who I respected told me I was a decent singer, I found my inner critic to be very intrusive. Sometimes, she would say to me; "Wow, man. You actually sound really great! You should relax and sing for x, y and z. You are gonna be okay after all!" and I would be completely high and feel great for a day (or more if I was lucky).

Other times, she would be very cruel and negative: "OMG, you suck! Why can't you improve your vocal technique? OMG, that tenor over there is whispering to that guy next to him and shaking his head!!! I'll bet he's saying, 'that girl sucks, how the hell did she get this gig?' They're going to fire me...OMG, I'm going to be so embarrassed when that happens!..." Etc...etc...

Saturday afternoon, after about 6 hours of rehearsal, we returned to the piece of music that made me extremely nervous. I had a solo that was very exposed and tricky for me to sing and I lost my nerve. The inner negative voice would not stop. My arms and hands trembled, my eyes filled with tears. I got through what I needed to go through and when I came out of my negative haze, the only person who seemed to care about it was me.  I suddenly had a disturbing revelation.

I was my own worst enemy and I was sabotaging my own success.

When rehearsal was over, I got into my car and burst into tears. I had been getting in my own way all these years. All these years. It was the reason I gave up singing after graduate school, it was the reason I am fearful at auditions and the reason I don't do well at them. Why did I think I was not worthy of the work I was hired for? Why did I think I was somehow beneath success? I cried for opportunities lost. I cried for energy wasted. I cried for my singer self, who had been a victim of my bully self. I cried for letting the inner critic call the shots.

It wasn't as if I hadn't been aware of this in some way. I had talked about it with a few people and over the past year, my performance at auditions had been getting progressively less successful. Over the past few months, I hadn't been able to figure out how to improve. I talked to a flutist friend about it and she said she went through a similar situation. She recommended a book to me, called Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, a jazz pianist. I bought it last week, but hadn't cracked it open. Before I left for CT, something told me to grab it and take it with me. So, Saturday night after I had lost my cool, I cracked it open. It was like good ole Kenny was IN MY HEAD. All of the things I had been doing to myself, he had done to himself. I think one of the most important things he said right in the beginning is: Be Kind To Yourself.

So, I feel like I have turned a corner as a musician and as a person. The lesson here is not just for musicians, but for everyone. It's not easy to be confident if you have been berating yourself a whole life through, but confidence is what will help you succeed. Beating yourself up in any way is wasteful. Period. All of that time you spent telling yourself you sucked, you could have been practicing. You could have been making yourself better, strengthening yourself. It's about giving yourself a chance to succeed.
Anthro: Salty Seas Dress (2010), Limited Cardi, an AMAZING BOOK
I hope that this post will help at least one frustrated artist out there. It's about making a commitment to your own voice. If you're not willing to make that commitment, then how do you expect anyone else to? Music is a gift and making the most of the gift you've been given is essential. I hope I am able to succeed in overcoming my inner critic. I don't expect it to be a perfect journey and I don't expect it to happen overnight. But I will trust the wise Lao Tzu who said: Even the journey of 1000 miles must begin with a single step.


  1. GreatbleuheronJune 27, 2011 9:55 PM

    This is a very moving and helpful post. Thank you so much. I think many of us struggle with an issue of this sort, whether we're musicians or artists or something else altogether. It's nice to be reminded that one can work on improving the way we assess our selves and our performance, and also that there are many other people who deal with their own version of this problem. We're not alone.