I want to share an episode from “The Adventures of Operaman” from last month that I hope will be helpful.
It happened at a coaching. I had overbooked my week with teaching and other personal commitments, so I gave myself zero time to practice (or to grocery shop or to do laundry or to breathe).
The day of my appointment, I allowed myself about twenty-seven minutes to drive from North Hollywood to Los Feliz on a Friday evening at 5pm…in the rain.
For those of you who do not live in LA, I can sum up what happens to Angeleno motorists when the mysterious moisture pellets begin falling from the sky at rush hour: abject panic, mob rule, and gridlock.
I was a good twenty-five minutes late. “Hello Self-Sabotage, my name is Dan.”
It didn’t get much better. Here is a sampling of some of the thoughts that pounded through my brain during the coaching: “You are never going to make it through this aria,” “This is clearly way too hard for you,” and “You need to stick with musical theatre where you actually know what you are doing.”
Then there was what I heard from Bill, my coach, who is an operatic encyclopedia. I seriously don’t know how you could have a better coach. He knows most of the repertoire by memory, and in any language in which any opera was written, he’s fluent.
So, in concert with my own mind-cacophony, I was hearing (all in the spirit of tough love, I must add), “Legato!” “Did you practice? What exactly DID you practice?” and “Which end of the elephant did that sound come out of?”
Finally, when the ordeal was over, Bill gave me a hug and said, “Don’t be discouraged,” and sent me on my way.
When I sat down in my car, I thought a couple of things:
1. “Wow, this opera stuff requires actual work, time, and practice.”
2. “Why am I doing this? Why am I working on the opera again?”
That question I answered pretty quickly…Why?…Because I love the music as well as the experience of singing with my whole voice. Opera is the only place that affords that. It’s also giving me some great tools to pass on to all of you. And it’s also an opportunity for me to face some of my own self-doubt demons head-on.
The first thought…about actually practicing with quality focus and intention…took me into my voice lesson with my singing teacher, Renee Sousa. PS if you want to work your classical singing technique, email me, and I will get you her info. She’s wonderful.
When I shared with Renee the tale of the hot mess I had become in my last coaching, it opened the conversation up to deeper things…namely why I get daunted when it comes to practicing and I give up before I begin.
None of us want to practice.
Not when its framed in the form of a DISCIPLINE, or something we HAVE TO do.
Renee told me about when she would commit to exercise and her health. She said that if she didn’t want to go to the gym, she’d just tell herself, “Well, I’ll just put on my sweats.” Then after that, she said, “Well, maybe I’ll go chill in the sauna or the whirlpool at the gym.” Then as soon as she got in the door, she was off and running on her workout.
So Renee suggested to me that when I go to practice, I just tell myself, “I’m going to vocalize just for five minutes.” Then see what happens after that…I can tell you from experience that once the engine gets revved, I’m ready to sing and have a good time, taking my time and working in a focused, helpful way.
It also sets up a space in your head where you know it’s most beneficial to go in small chunks, rather than feeling daunted by the task of the entire aria, song, monologue, novel, checkbook, tax return, or whatever.
I also had a great conversation with her regarding the practice of technique. When I work with Renee, she helps me so quickly. Everything gets lined up, and effortless singing ensues. Then I wonder how to find and recreate this in my own practice.
Renee compared it to burying a treasure chest in the desert. You go back to find it, and it may take you a few hours to locate where you buried it. The next visit, maybe less time, and so on. Until you have visited the site enough that you know exactly where the gold is buried every time. That is building technique, and it requires many visits.
But I have to say, the idea of saying, “I’m just going to sing a couple of scales, that’s all,”…It’s effective.
Notice where it’s helpful in other areas of life. Today when I was working out, I said, “I’m just going to do this one set. I can do that.” Until I had completed them all after an hour.
Final point is…I’m learning a ton from confronting all of this. I’m growing by doing something new and unfamiliar, and I’m gaining so much experience from the field to share with you all…not to mention compassion for your plight when you are in the middle of working out your own technique.
We are fellow travelers. I get to circle back and walk the road with you that I have covered. And in the meantime, I keep seeking out those teachers who can show me the way on roads I haven’t yet traveled.
2013…let’s remember why we sing, why we perform, and why we decided it would be a good idea to dive into this crazy business. Or maybe it’s a good time to ask yourself these why’s for the first time.
I will give you a clue from my own experience, though…Whether or not we get paid, whether or not we make it on Broadway, whether or not we win awards…WE GET TO SING. We have lungs and a voice. We get to open our hearts and share the love of God with people through music. And that, itself, is its own reward.
Happy 2013 to you all. Let’s make this year about sharing the gifts we have been so generously given.