So I am slowly becoming a Jessye Norman fanatic…and this is the first time I am admitting it. Youtube knows me too well, because as soon as I get on the site, it pulls up Jessye Norman videos. Is this a problem? Never have I ever been a huge fan of opera singers, which is kinda crazy because I study and perform opera. Is this a normal occurrence for musicians? To not be the biggest of fans of their own craft, except when they do it? Is this healthy? Also, am I just coming to be a fan of a famous singer because I am beginning to have a better understand on how they do what they do? And its not such a big mystery that I become frustrated with myself?
This past monday was my vocal jury, and I have never been so nervous to perform. Never ever have I gotten that sick before and after. The ironic part is that my teacher called me that night to let me know that was the best she’s ever heard me sing in public. Why is this? How is it that I am becoming obsessed with singers like Norman and Janet Baker, and in my spare time I am constantly thinking of ways to sing better or going over my words…and then when I perform my body rejects me? Well, I guess my body doesn’t “reject” me completely, because Im producing a beautiful sound and look normal. But while I was singing on monday, I felt every heart beat, heard every sound, felt my toes, knees, wrists, saw the shoes on Dr Smolders feet, smelled Christina Hanns perfume…is this open awareness?! Oh my goodness!! It just hit me as I am writing, that is that what happened monday? Am I turning into a musician?!?!!?
I am very excited to see where and what my instrument will be at by the end of my journey here at Miami. I do believe that taking the plunge and coming back to school to do what I am passionate about, was the best choice I ever could of made. It is however terrifying…
Performances that “speak” to me, are performances where I get lost in the music and forget that lets use the example: “Jessye Norman is singing Dido’s Lament”, and when I hear her sing that aria, it is as if the music is alive in my body and mind. There is no disconnect from my mind and body, the music and text is a part of my being. That has only happened to me a few times. Other performances that “speak” to me are ones with emotional connections to the music. For example, every time I hear something from Stephen Soundheim’s, Children of Eden, I get lost in my memories of performing that show. Now is it that the performance or the music? That’s where I think that this question can get tricky. What I mean is that, everything has an emotional connection in some way. Wether it be something that you have never heard, but the singer looks like your mom and so there is an emotional connection to the performance and therefore that performance can “speak” more to you, then if the person, aesthetics had no connection to your memory. Am I making sense?
Pretty sure I did a few of these in the beginning of the semester, but never called it a “timed writing”. So here I am doing another one just in case I am missing one, and I’ll do a few more to make sure Im caught up. Anyways, at this moment I am listening to the small chorus part I will be performing next week in the Cincinnati Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker, and I am so excited!!! Granted it is only two pages of sing AH! but its my first real paid singing job. So I feel that that is something to be excited for. Funny how I’ve heard the nutcracker my entire life and never realized that there was singing in it. As I am listening to it, I am filled with emotions and so much excitement that I cannot put it into words, but this feeling right now is why I am doing this. This moment of knowing that I will be part of such a huge, gorgeous sound is worth all the stress of school and auditions. ( I just restarted it, if I play it 3 times it will be almost 20 minutes)
I wonder what it will be like to perform with such a huge ensemble. Yes, I have sung with a choir and symphony before, but I have never been part of an ensemble that had dancers, professional costuming, make up, lights, etc. The only big productions I have ever been a part of was when I was a silent extra in the Cincinnati opera, and when I sang in the Columbus Symphony choir. The one holiday season I was in the CSC (Columbus), I remember being so excited to perform. At that time in my life, I was interning at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s autism clinic in Westerville, OH. I was taking my last class at Ohio State, as a transfer student ( my degree is from Ohio University), and working at Bed Bath and Beyond. Sometimes that feels like another life-time ago. Remembering that I have a degree in Psychology and applied it to a professional job at one point, sometimes feels foreign….That holiday season with the choir was a pivotal turning point for me and effect the next crucial decisions I would make that would bring me here to Miami.
For the last recital I performed Va! Laisse couler mes larmes, from Massenet’s Werther. Initially after my performance I felt confident and for the first time in this class after performing, I DIDNT FEEL LIKE DYING. So that is an improvement! As Ryan and I practiced briefly before the recital, I felt my nerves kicking in and my throat get “flemmy”, but he kept reassuring me that it would be fine…and I listened. And sure enough it was good! Sadly, it wasn’t perfect and there is A LOT that I have to work on in that song, let alone in my performance “script”. What I mean by “script” is my arrival on stage, how I conduct myself, bow, deport, etc..
After reading the comments, I found a consistancy with all of the students that I am seemingly more comfortable on stage. But conflicting advice on my body….some said that I am disconcected in my lower body, others said that I have too much tension in my upper body,and therefore seem disconnected. There was a few comments about my french pronounciation, which I am surprised of, due to the poor quality of it. For some reason, french, is soooooo difficult for me to sing in! Let me restate that, sing in. Not speak, I can speak French fine but as soon as I have to sing it, its as if I make up some weird english-french language!! I have realized something about myself though when it comes to singing in french, I have to pay attention to what I sound like. For a lot of my music, I do not listen to myself, but pay attention to the sound placement in my resonance, and my breath support in my hips. But to sing in french, I have to micro manage each vowel and keep my tongue still. This is what I did at the recital, and I wore lipstick to remind myself not to get any on my teeth, by doing the weird things that I do with my mouth and tongue!
It is my impression that everyone has improved over the course of the semester. I found that doing these recitals really helped me, because I was thrown into “performance” mode, not just “class” mode.
Open focus…I am still trying to wrap my head around this concept. Yes, I understand it on the surface, but I’m not sure if I grasp it on a deeper level. This chapter “The Full Complete Attention”, is a very insightful read. Interestingly enough I was again reminded that I am a left-brain driven person. I would say that I function on narrow-objection focus, and this is 100% true for my performing abilities. I have narrow focus, and therefore stress out to the max about petty, small issues, and forget the big picture. Instead of letting my brain do what it can do, and just function, I have to micro-manage every thought, action and connection. The four main focuses with in “Open Focus”: Objection, Narrow, Diffuse and Immersed, were focuses that I have used. I have experienced every combination in this chapter, but the one that I use in performing is again: “Narrow-Objection”. So my question is this, after reading the chapter. “Is Open Focus, the ability to conquer all four attention styles? Is there a time and place for each one? And is it possible to never truly attain open-focus but to master the skill of transitioning one’s attention to another focus, without it delaying their intention?”
In the world of performance, why is it that having narrow focus is bad? What if its good for some people? I find that when I am “relaxed” I feel unfocused and that my energy is spastic, and then on the flip side if I am too “tense”, then my energy bounces off of the walls and I make people around me uneasy. So is it possible to have a combination of narrow and diffused? Also, if someone has immersed focus during a performance, can’t that hinder the audiences’ experience?
This past week I had an audition for a very important summer job, with the Cincinnati Opera, and during my audition I would argue that I had a narrow-immersed focused expereince. I was so narrow focused on every technical thing I did, and immersed in my self-hatred that I was doing terrible, that I left the audition room without a clue on how the judges viewed my performance. Let alone how I critiqued my own performance! Besides hating on myself and calling myself a failure, I had no other insight on how I did. I wish I could rewind the clock and audition with at least a narrow-objective focus, and not be so caught up into myself emotionally. Ugh. Sometimes being a human filled with estrogen is exhausting.
Two weeks ago Prof Thurmer had us do an experiment with “wide focus”. This experiment consisted of having a few of us perform as if it was a recital, then we went through a meditation process, and then we performed again. My first performance wasn’t very good, my sound was a bit tense and I felt like my body was not aligned. After the performance I realized that I was about to be forced to leave my “comfort zone” and This meditation process was designed to expand one’s focus, in preparation for performing. We were directed to “observe the distance between your eyes”, and all the way down to your toes. As I sat in the comfortable, dark room, with my feet propped up on a chair, I felt my awareness fade. The man’s voice began to sound like a drone and my eyelids began to feel like they weighed 100lbs.
Before going into the process, I was afraid of the outcome…that I would feel more tired and be unfocused…and I was. Interestingly enough, after my second performance ( which was awful) some people said that my voice sounded better. This has to be due to the inability for myself to “fine tune” my voice, or “manufacture” a sound. I was so tired when I got up to sing the second time, that I was nervous that I was going to trip up the stairs! Anyways, during the second performance the pianist made a slight error and I became completely unfocused and lost it, I stopped singing. I couldn’t keep going. I was so unfocused, that it was scary. I felt naked. Exposed. It was awful.
Now, two weeks later and reflecting I realized something very interesting…the first performance I was completely guarded and did not give a good performance, and the second time my guard was down and I did worse! Somehow I need to find a way to combined the two performances…what I mean by that is the energy I had for the two performances. I need to be focused like the first time, but need to be relaxed and let my voice go…
Mental Characteristics of Peak Performers… When I first read this title I immediately thought about a tough, hard bodied cirque du solie performer. Tough on the stage and in the gym. Obviously, this is not what we are talking about in this book and this blog, but the work ethic is the same. So what was the first topic in this chapter? Mental Toughness…
Mental Toughness…something that I am constantly working on. I have a tendency to either deflect negativity or absorb it. Lately, I have been getting better on taking a step back, observing the criticism,and then seeing how I should take it. This change in me is from my recent finding of trust in myself…I work extremely hard, and its okay that I am not perfect. I have to have the courage to trust my instrument and the courage to accept it. Again, this boils back to self-confidence and taking responsibility for my actions, and being positive.
Positive. This seems to be the vain of my existence at the moment. I must be positive or else this semester will eat me alive! I am already feeling like a panicked psycho. Today I said the most bizarre sentence and the people I was talking to looked up at me in amazement. They couldn’t even comprehend what I was saying, let alone I couldn’t comprehend what I was even thinking! In the book she talks about Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization. Pervasiveness is what I need to work on more, I am trying to learn how to compartmentalize my issues. Ah! What a great thought that was!!! Compartmentalize. That’s what I need to start with, in regards to my performance anxiety, etc.I am a self-focus individual and I need to be a sound-focus individual.