Ok. So after yesterday’s particularly angsty post which detailed the three weeks I just spent crying and moaning and self-flagellating in an attempt to come up with some aria recordings I can use for application materials for YAP auditions and competitions, here’s where I stand:
I have recorded two arias that I am mostly proud of. They are a good representation of the kind of singing that I can do consistently and confidently. Would you like to hear them? Ok here they are:
Einsam in Trüben Tagen
And I have one recording that is pretty horrifying and will never see the light of day. I’m inclined to think that the particular aria is the problem with its high tessitura, exposed vocal lines, long phrases, and difficult coloratura passages, except that I have a recording from a coaching last month in which I sang the piece beautifully. I guess the low-pressure setting of a working session with a coach made it easier to just relax and let my instrument do its thing.
The reassuring thing is that the response to yesterday’s despairing essay showed me that all singers seem to have had similar experiences, even the really successful ones who have had robust opera careers.
So here’s what I’m telling myself: I’m a good singer. And I’m getting better. And I love to sing. I love to sing so much that I can hardly turn myself off when a song comes on the radio, or if I’m tidying up the house, or if I’m just sitting at the piano banging out a tune.
It’s scary to think that no matter how hard I work, no matter how flawless my singing becomes, I still may never have the kind of opera career I daydream about. But, as Mama Rose says in act I of Gypsy, “I at least gotta try!”
We’re all familiar with the term “writers’ block.” An author spends days or weeks staring at a blank page, or putting pen to paper only to read back over her words and scratch them out, or throw them in the garbage where they belong.
Well, I’ve come down with a severe case of singers’ block. For about three weeks now, as I’ve been preparing for the looming audition season, I’ve been unhappy with nearly every sound that comes out of my mouth, sometimes becoming overwhelmed with frustration to the point of tears. My singing has felt forced, pushed, and labored as I attempt to make my voice do what it is supposed to do—what I know it can do. Occasional moments of beauty get cut infuriatingly short as anxiety returns to my mind, and tightness returns to my throat.
How does a young singer overcome this sort of obstruction? I’ve tried returning to simple exercises to reground myself in technical fundamentals. I spent hours practicing until I’m hoarse. I took a day or two off from practicing to clear my head and rest my voice. I spent time studying the masters—listening to my idols, like Birgit Nilsson and Joan Sutherland. I tried singing through simple arias and songs that I know I can sing easily and gracefully. I tried silently imagining my way through difficult vocal passages. And then, when I come back to the audition repertoire I’m preparing, it all goes back to forced, pushed, labored.
Shriek. Scream. Bleat.
But I know what the real problem is. The problem is that I’m so caught up in the desire to be a successful singer. I’m obsessed with being accepted into this program or cast in that role. And I’m so terrified of the alternative: spending the rest of my life among “muggles,” making a living doing a job that I hate, and drowning in envy for the people who get to travel the world performing opera.
These thoughts are so all-consuming that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to just focus on taking a breath and turning that breath into music. I want to be able to just shut off the valve that controls that part of my brain while I’m singing, but the switch is stuck in the “on” position.
And I just don’t know how to unstick it.