I frequently talk with my students (and frankly, myself) about having the courage to believe in themselves and their talent enough to audition. Interestingly, I have noticed that most of the people I have this conversation with are above average, definitively talented students/singers who, for a multitude of reasons (both known and unknown), feel unequal to the task, unqualified to put their voice out in the world. Fear rules them: fear of rejection, of being found out as a fraud, of failure. My experience is that the more talented you are, the more inhibited you are about sharing your talents. We’re worried we aren’t good enough to even TRY. We tell ourselves that we’ll wait until we’re more prepared, when this or that note sounds better, when we have a wider range, when we find the perfect song, etc… Sadly, these negative internal messages win out more often than not.
And then there are those individuals that are somehow unconcerned about any of these things and put themselves out there without a qualm. And sorry to say, they tend to be less talented than those described in the above paragraph. This is not to imply that they don’t have potential, but just that any shortcomings they may have do not seem to hinder them. I’ve gone to school with these people, taught these people, worked with these people. And they always boggle my mind. Where do they get their seeming fearlessness? They used to make me secretly angry- no Freud necessary here: their bravery in spite of what I saw as tremendous odds, showed me what a coward I truly was. But then I realized what a valuable lesson they had to offer.
My first significant and most memorable encounter with someone like this was a woman in my freshman class in college. She was significantly older than the rest of us- probably in her thirties. She was very striking: tall, regal in bearing, wore fabulous clothes and dark glasses. And she knew everything about opera. She was an intimidating presence in the eyes of a bunch of wet behind the ears teenagers. The first week of school, all the new students had to sing for the rest of the voice department. This was, needless to say, a relatively terrifying prospect. And all of us newbies knew that this woman was going to be fantastic. After all, she looked amazing and talked like she was already an expert. She walked elegantly onto the stage. But when she started to sing, if you could even call it singing, well, there is no way to sugar coat it, it was horrendous. She had a wobble you could drive a truck through, she slid her way up and down to every pitch (what few pitches she actually sang correctly), nothing was in tune, and her mouth and body were doing strange contortions and gyrations that were incredibly distracting, if not a little frightening.
We were all shocked. We couldn’t move, couldn’t look at one another, or the person on stage. How was she even there? Later we found out that she was the wife of some muckety-muck at the university and therefore somehow not subject to the same…standards as the rest of us. But here’s the thing: she didn’t appear embarrassed or aware that her performance was any different than anyone else’s. She finished her song and left the stage looking satisfied. So, was she a great actress and all her bravado feigned? Or did she really not know she was an absolutely terrible singer? Or, did she know and not care? I have no idea. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. She wanted to sing, and she sang. She clearly loved the art form and took the opportunity that life had presented to her and ran with it.
So, what is the lesson? Not to care how we sing and do it anyway? Absolutely not. The lesson is that what really holds us back is not our lack of talent or preparedness. What holds us back is OURSELVES. We are our own worst enemies. We say the most awful, self-defeating things to ourselves, things we would never dream of saying to others. We let our inner demons dictate our choices. Of course we need to practice and learn and grow and strive for excellence. But none of that is worth anything unless at some point we try to do the thing that we love and have worked so hard at perfecting. The ‘right’ time will never come. The right time is when you decide that, “the risk to remain tight in the bud [is] greater than the risk…to blossom.”(Anaïs Nin) Learn from those fearless folks: head held high, they go out there and strut their stuff, come what may. If they can do it, so should we.