When I sat down to compose my blog entry for today, I was very tempted to review the amazing online-streamed production of “La Traviata” from the Royal Opera House that I watched last night. However I created this blog at the beginning to be portal for my reflection as a singer and I feel that I have learnt something very powerful and which will change how I view singing in my years to come.
Recently, I took on the task of preparing for an in-school competition called the “Jean Highgate Scholarship For Singing”. I know that personally I react well and can motivate myself to practice when I have a goal, performance opportunity or competition. This is often because they provide me with an opportunity to make SMART targets.
This is probably because these type of events produce immediate feedback, whether from audience members or from a judge’s report. I have always enjoyed striving to do the best that I can, and I relish tackling the challenge of improving the areas of my skill that have been highlighted in a judge’s critique.
I know that personally I love the thrill of competition, there is nothing quite like standing in front of an audience and saying ‘This is me, and I am going to show you a small snippet of myself through my chosen songs.’
When I was younger I sought out and found this thrill through athletic and other sporting competitions, dance and academic exams. I loved experiencing the improvements that I made and setting the highest possible targets for myself, just slightly beyond my reach and seeing an end result to the hard work that I had put in. Having grown up with this method of target setting I know that it works for me and drives my motivation. But what happens when you take this sporting mentality into a musical and artistic setting?
As I said in my earlier post I was elated with being highly commended in the competition especially as my parents said the standard of singing overall was exceptional. But I am going to dare to be very honest with you and say that I was disappointed. I am not saying this because I expected to win; quite the contrary I have been competing and putting myself forward for exams from the age of 3 and I have had plenty of experience of not winning or not coming in the top of the class to know that it is never a given. So I want to explain why this disappointment arose and how I turned it into a huge positive for me and found strength through the experience.
Firstly, I believe it is essential to one’s performance to have utter self-belief in what you are doing. You need to put your listeners at ease and sell yourself to them, which is something that I have learnt from working in sales during my holidays. If you believe in yourself then it is much easier to convince someone else to believe in you too. Therefore I made sure that I was vocally, physically and mentally prepared to walk out onto that stage and perform something that I felt could be considered as a winning performance. In the weeks leading up to the competition I asked various magnificent teachers for coaching, from language experts to chamber music specialists. I have learnt so much from these mentors and it is important to note that after the competition I had also gained huge amounts of knowledge about my chosen pieces that were previously unknown to me and this is a prize in itself for me as an artist. The competition also allowed me to make new contacts and flourish and cement old ones.
After having all this coaching, I found that I had the tools to go on-stage and provide an unrehearsed spontaneity. Personally I think it was one of the best on stage performances I have given. This is because I relaxed and gave my all to the pieces, whilst experimenting with vocal tones, and dynamics on the spot. This was an entirely new feeling for me, as I often think of myself as a chameleon. By that I mean that I am very aware that I try to please people; even strangers and I can often mould myself to suit the situation and this has been occurring in my music. I have been so afraid of doing something wrong that I reduce my opportunities to take risks. However after having a taste of just reacting to my imagination in a moment of music I find myself wanting to explore this more and if it is at the cost of not always being correct then I am ready to develop a thick skin and just go for it.
Having discussed everything about the process I now feel confident enough to hit the nail on the head. So then, how do you mentally cope with understanding that even though you have sung every note accurately, painted the text with good pronunciation and performed to the best of your abilities, that despite all of this you still lost?
I started to understand, I realised that Opera is an art and not a sport. It is not decided on how many goals you score, or how fast you can swim 500m. You are expected to sing every note accurately, paint the text with great pronunciation and perform to the best of your abilities. But at the end of the day, what makes art beautiful is the fact that one can have a personal opinion. You can state that you prefer the art of Kandinsky over Picasso and it is fine, because art IS subjective. But that is not an excuse to fail to strive for accuracy, beauty and magic. Just because I didn’t win, doesn’t mean that I didn’t sing well, but it does give me something to aim for. I have always said I am a better loser than a winner, because I love a challenge and an area to work on and I will never give up.