„Can you remember an inspired moment in your life? Can you remember your feeling at that point and can you draw from that experience?“ – James Levine„You have to look so long at the impossible until it becomes an easy matter. A miracle is a matter of training.“ – Albert Einstein
Every singer nows the moment when we step out of the private rehearsal situation and must face the new public situation of an audition. Often there is a painful discrepancy between these two moments. Why is that?
I would like to describe some modes of practice that have emerged in my studio, because it has become increasingly clear that we must use many different disciplines to deal with this situation.
In order to optain positive results in an audition, an effective strategy is necessary. A strategy is a sucessful recipe. This is needed because the situation of presenting ourselves confronts us with our inner, hidden weakness and liabilities, which for a start have nothing to do with singing. If these factors have not been taken in consideration, they can gain an importance at this moment which might compromise the result.
Hence a strategy prepared in advance is effective, i.e., I have to be aware of my inner motivation which attends this audition.
I have to prove to nobody that I am a singer.
I do not need legitimacy from others.
Of course, exactly these factors are present in the subconscious, or rather, at that very moment I feel that they are factors superimposing on my motivation to sing.
How can I face this situation?
We are not talking about musical and technical preparation – which is a prerequisite, since there is no regard for the correct learning of an aria.
But how do I get myself into a state where I can use my rich resources, how do I get the energy level in this situation, at which the audience can see and hear the pleasure and the joy of singing?
More simply asked, what prevents me from gaining and making use of this state?
We all have a certain ’self-image‘ of ourselves which was shaped by our upbringing and environment factors. Strangly enough, throughout our coming of age we have accepted the idea that this ‚image‘ of us matches our identity, and is therefore immutable.
This image the shapes our beliefs permanently.
We are no longer able to realize that this image corresponds to a mask given to us to wear, so that we function according to the rules of this society.
Since there is no other model – or we know none at this moment – we identify with this image, and whenever we feel there is a disagreement, we try to justify it and defend it, because it is our (apparent?) self-representation.
This means that our attention is divided.
If we are able to realize that this self-image is not our real identity, we can turn our attention and energy solely to our actions, and do not need this mental power to defend ourselves or hide embarressment.
High performance as a flow experience
High performance, as it is described by athletes and musicians, is a flow experience and referred to as a moment in which a person is completely preoccupied with the instant and not with himself. I reach this state focusing my full attention on my action taking place at this very moment in which there is no second issue or inner voice that checks and evaluates me.
However, I can find out what voice this is that passes judgement on me and distracts me from my attention to the creative act in this way.
Is it an inner voice, or does it come from the outside? (Teacher,father,mother, etc.) Can I understand that, and can I also learn to show this voice its place?
Fear = Tightness
The situation of an audition confronts us all with an experience that we know from our school days and have therefore internalized as negative: we are judged for our actions.
The action is not important in itself, but the image that people have of us is considered judgmental. So we try to correspond to the image people have of us (or which we think they have!) instead of just doing what we want to do.
This difference in perception establishes a sense of fear in us that is destructive especially for the singer in an audition setup.
The term ‚fear‘ (from the German ‚Angst‘) comes from the Latin ‚angus‘ and means ’narrowness‘. We revert from the creative brain to the defense mechanisms of our reptilian brain, which is always accompanied by a muscle contraction and spells doom for the vocal flow. Fear is an emotional state too – and we want to act in those as well. I must just not allow it to take on greater significance.
Stella Adler said in her acting classes:
„You have to speak with your fear – tell it: I need you to survive in my life. I need to know what fear is, but you’re not my spirit, you’re not my heart. You’re not my creativity, you are not my soul. You’re just fear. Take your rightful place in my life, but do not take the helm. You’re just fear.“
Avoidance of emotions
This is about the classifying of emotions that we may not want to have, but which are there all the same. And if we want to avoid them, they occupy a place they do not deserve, because we focus a lot of energy on their rejection.
The old Zen masters already knew that problem:
„If you put the spirit in your right hand, your right hand will take it, and the body will lack its function…if you do not put it anywhere, it will spread throughout the body and penetrate it completely.“ – Takuan Soho, 16th century, Letter of the Zen master to the master of sword fighting
In advance, I imagine a situation in which I felt strong and successful.
The central question is: what was the very first thing I did or thought in this situation of acting successfully?
Was it something I saw, heard or felt?
With this question in mind I think the whole situation through: what was the next thing that happened?
In this way I will get the destinct impression that there are different motivational strategies, and I can find out which one I can work with most successfully:
- Visual (I construct a mental image)
- Kinesthetic (I establish a feeling)
- Auditory (I lead an internal dialogue)
Usually all three factors are present, but with my questions I will find out which element is predominant, and which direction my – mostly unconscious – strategy has.
Strategies produce results.
„Success can be summarized as applying oneself, faith and flexibility.“ – O’Connor/Seymour, NLP, Successful communication and personal development
For the next audition this means in concrete terms:
I remember a successful public speaking situation.
What is the first thing that comes to my mind?
Do I visualize the concert hall, a stage, what were the lightning conditions like?
Do I remember the smell of the air on stage or in the rehearsal room? (The olfactory sense has direct access to our emotional memories.)
Or can I remember the feeling on my skin made by the fabric of the clothes I wore for the concert?
Could I walk well in my shoes? What was the texture of the floor?
What was my communication with the pianist like, with the orchestra and the audience?
How did I experience my own singing?
How did I experience my own body during the performance and while singing?
Was I in a dialogue with myself, was I supported by the music, or did I stand next to myself as an observer and watch how things happen to me?
Positive experiences may be stored and recalled in the here and now
These elements are stored in a holistic form an can be retrieved again as a positive experience, and thus contribute to a state of possessing rich resources which can be called upon by me, and are not a response to anything from outside.
The more carefully we consider these points, the clearer we see that many strategies are involved in a successful action. Our goal is to move on a high energy level in a state of ease and naturalness and exude a comfortable feeling.
This can be the basis for the creation of a space in which the singer moves, free to convey emotional impulses and thus come in contact with the audience.
The need for clear messages
Contact is ensured if the message is clear, i.e. if there is no discrepancy between the statement of the onstage character and the physical statement of the singer.
These meta-levels can fully coexist unconsciously, but are clearly of consequence.
An often experienced situation is for example that the singer gives the correct signals in his appearance and his verbal comments. He would like to show his commitment, but his body sends the message that he feels uncomfortable and wants to be far away from this place at the same time.
Any established emotion or gesture must be ‚holistic‘ on the stage.
The image of inner amazement which opens the sound must not be isolated in a wrinkling of the forehead (the singer’s gaze), but must include the whole body:
the soft palate rises, the nasal sound space become more aware to the singer, the chin drops, the cheek bones lift, the spin streches, the chest widens, the breath deepens and the heart expands.
If I keep thinking of my technical knowledge as a security anchor, I will always remain in an isolatet physicality, as has been described by the ancient Zen masters.
Another helpful strategy is to confront the private self in advance with a character createt externally, which has a greater impact than the habitual self.
With this newly created self I do the textual-musical work in order to ultimately integrate it then internally.
„The character must step in front of the eye’s ear.“ – Richard Wagner
If I can associate a particular animal in movement and gesture for my aria for example (the basis of any acting training), and can internalize this body awareness during the audition, this will preserve me from the dreaded ’singer’s gestures‘ that appear whenever the physical flow is not in the singer’s consciousness.
A clear message reesults in successful communication, because an exchange of energy between the stage actor and the viewer (or agent) is formed since the stage character noticeably acts as an intermediary.