Know thyself

Lamperti says ” ‘Know thyself’ applies to the singer more than to other professions, because to sing well, body, soul and mind are tuned together to do it” (Vocal Wisdom in the section “Know thyself”).  The “self” is a complicated subject, but I tend to agree with Lamperti that having an ongoing excavation of yourself is a necessity as a singer. Science is showing us that our notion of our self is perhaps too fixed – so many cases of traumatic accidents causing personality shifts or behavioral changes are documented elsewhere. Yet we know that the “I” exists and is worthy of exploration.

One of my teachers recently commented that every thought and experience you’ve ever had comes out in the sound of your voice – just ponder the implications of that for a moment. If everything that’s a part of us and our life experience thus far comes out in the sound of the voice, then of course we should explore what exactly those thoughts and experiences are, with judging them as good or bad. This takes practice too, and a devotion to understanding how we each work. I’m reading another translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of the great yoga philosophy texts) right now. Sutra 1.22 is translated as “As persons are leisurely, middling, or intense in their practice, so excellence is achieved accordingly.” The translator Nicholas Sutton then goes on to comment, “success in yoga practice is dependent on the amount of dedication one is willing to give it.” Gee, sounds like that might apply to music too! And life! I can’t help but draw these connections from my yoga studies with my life as a singer….like so many, I have been scared of “excellence” or fulfilling my potential in the past. Now I have a greater ability to look at my habits/thoughts/experiences and see them as not good or bad, but rather to just “know myself” better. I can be free to dedicate myself to practicing (in yoga, singing, and yes, life itself) with less judgment or expectation.

So these two ideas of devotion to practice and “know thyself” are really linked in my experience. A butterfly flies around seeking nectar because that’s what it’s designed to do. Some flowers are dripping with the good stuff and some are duds. Like the pollinator who flies devotedly from flower to weed to tree seeking pollen, I can practice seeking myself, through the practice, and come to relish the experience for itself – no conditions or clauses in the contract.

Staying motivated in slow periods

One of the biggest struggles an aspiring or active performer faces is staying motivated in “fallow” periods. It happens to everyone – one minute, your schedule is totally booked for three months, and then you wake up one day to blank pages. Sometimes these rest periods are by choice (to give yourself a vacation or to prepare for an upcoming audition or gig), and sometimes they occur simply because you don’t have anything to prepare for on the horizon.

Following a busy period or a particularly climactic performance, it’s easy to feel that familiar sense of let down or even depression. Try to actively relax for a few days – watch movies or TV you’ve been wanting to get to, finally finish a book that’s been on your bedside table for weeks, take an exercise class, or indulge in the coloring book trend. Meanwhile, take the time to brainstorm what goals you’d like to work on next, or what maybe got shoved to the side while you were so busy. Re-prioritize your goals so that you have a refreshed outlook as you move into a time of slowness.

These times are ideal for getting done the things that you wouldn’t have time to do when you’re in a production: updating your PR materials (website, blog, CV, headshots, recordings, etc.), studying a language, learning a full role that you’d like to sing in the near future, creating a recital program, taking acting classes, popping in for some voice lessons or coaching sessions, etc. Focusing on these VERY productive tasks will engage you in the future of your career, rather than making you feel stuck in a rut or slow period. And you’ll find that out of nowhere, little performance opportunities may emerge and you’ll feel empowered to say “no” to them so you can focus on what you’re doing for you, or say “yes” because they’ll work in tandem with your existing goals.

Staying motivated by constantly assessing and reassessing your goals and what you’re doing on a daily basis to achieve them sounds difficult, but like anything else, it’s a habit. When you’re about to wrap up a busy period of performing, go ahead and see what the next few months hold – imagine an ideal vacation or way of relaxing and what you’d do if you had hours of time on your hands. The ebb and flow of the performing life is one of its greatest challenges but can also be its greatest gift. These times are a chance to hit pause, reassess, and refocus on what you need to get done to make your singing career work for you. This is all that stuff below the surface that goes into making your next performance dazzle!Success-is-like-an-iceberg