(Like, say, an aria in an audition?)
Beginnings are hard. It is way easier to continue something you’re already doing than to start doing something. Finishing is a little harder than continuing, you know, completing something elegantly and at the right time, but not nearly as hard as starting.
Of course, I’m thinking about all this in relation to singing. Every week I go into my voice lesson, and the first little notes I sing of the first little exercise I do are always wrong, wrong, wrong. I inevitably have to sing the figure again, sometimes twice, before my teacher lets me take that half-step move up to the next one. I find this extremely frustrating. How can I possibly be a successful singer if I always have to ask for a do-over on my first phrase?
So, of course, when the next week rolls around, I resolve to get it right on the first one this time. My teacher plays the chord on the piano. I stand nice and tall. Think about my resonance spot just below my nose. Lift my soft palate. Imagine the air traveling over my vocal folds, and seamlessly gliding along the roof of my mouth and out through the space between my two front teeth. I then take a deep breath, keeping my ribs out and high and filling my lungs from the bottom-up, open my mouth and sing.*
And then my teacher corrects it and asks me to do it again.
She also brushes off my frustration. This is a process! You’re still so new at this. You’ve come such a long way.
She’s right, but I can’t shrug the nagging thought that If I walk into an audition and bomb the first phrase, then they’ll write me off from the outset. And of course, that thought begets anxiety, and anxiety begets horrible, humiliating singing, and we’re back to anxiety.
I do the same thing with writing, but at least when it comes to that, I can go back and fix my garbage beginning before anyone else ever sees it. If only live singing worked that way!
Wait, can live singing work that way?
What if the beginning isn’t the beginning? When I sit down to write something, I usually just start by banging it out all stream-of-consciousness and then go back and tidy it up. In the practice room or in my voice lessons, I have to sing an exercise two or three times before I feel like I’m in the groove.
In performance, I usually spend ten or fifteen minutes “warming up” before going on stage to sing. So, the first phrase I sing in front of an audience isn’t really the first phrase I sing. I have the time to get that crap beginning out of me before anyone else has to hear it.
Beginnings are hard. Make sure there are no witnesses.
*What’s that you say? I’m doin’ it wrong? That’s nice. Please note that that is not the point of all this.