Monday, 1 April 2013

On staying strong...

Some singers I know have a certain hardness to them, a certain toughness.  They are extremely focused and ambitious and they don't seem to let anything get in their way.  If something bad happens, it doesn't phase them - they just keep going.  They are bulletproof.  Unstoppable.

I am not one of those singers.

I'm not hard or tough.  In fact, I'm really very soft.

I keep thinking that with time, with more rejections and challenges, I will grow a thicker skin.  But after years of hard falls and disappointment, the fact remains that I can cry at the drop of a hat.  And I often do.

"Oh my God!  That man - just - dropped his hat!"

Maybe it's something unchangeable about me, an intrinsic part of my nature.  Like my terrible sense of direction (despite all the travelling I've done, I still get lost ALL THE TIME).  I don't know.  But I really wish I was tougher than I am.  After all, the singing business is a school of hard knocks.  We have to face rejection and harsh criticism all the time.  Surely toughness is a quality you need in order to survive in the music world.

I was chatting about this recently with a visiting teacher at the studio, and lamenting my lack of toughness.  I mentioned certain successful singers I know who have this bulletproof quality to them, and expounded on how much I wished I had their hardness.  "But," he said quite reasonably, "you don't.  That's not who you are.  You need to embrace who you are and learn to work with it."

Sounds like pretty sensible advice, right?  But I wasn't so sure.  How can my softness be a good thing?  How can I "work with" the fact that I'm so easily reduced to tears by criticism and negative feedback?

How is it positive that I'm so easily wounded?  That instead of walking through life like this...

I'm essentially walking through life like this...?

It's been an emotional couple of weeks.  I've had an important audition, a recording, and a recital, and I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well in all three.  On top of this, my grandmother passed away recently and I'm probably the only person in the family who won't be able to attend the memorial.  And as luck would have it, I haven't been feeling well.  I tend to get pretty weepy when I'm not feeling well.

The first breaking point came when we did audition training with a visiting director.  I saw this audition training as a practice run for my audition the following week, and I was anxious to sing well.

I did not sing well.  And the director didn't pull any punches in his criticism.  He was very harsh.

Maybe he wasn't that harsh.  Maybe I was too sensitive, and I took it too personally.  In any case, I cried.  A lot.

Then there was the audition itself.  I was so anxious to do well in this audition that I think I may have made myself sick.  Stress, tension, and sleepless nights led to a bout of tonsilitis.  Which led to antibiotics.  Which made me sick to my stomach.  When I arrived at the audition I was exhausted and nauseous, and although I gave it all I had, I probably wasn't at my best.

After all that anxiety and preparation, I didn't get the callback.

I was heartbroken.  Of course I had tried not to get my hopes up too much.  But I had really wanted this, I had really thought I had a good chance.  The rejection was a huge disappointment and a major blow to my confidence.

I cried.  I drank beer.  I cried some more.  I talked to friends.  I cried some more.  Basically, I stayed up all night being sad.  It was not fun.

At times like this, when it really gets to me, I can't help but wonder if maybe I don't have what it takes.  If I'm not tough enough to roll with the punches.  Not cut out for this school of hard knocks.

But you know what?  In each of these instances, after I mourned the disappointment, I moved on.  After the audition training, I spent some time sniffling in the washroom.  But then I wiped away my tears, ate my lunch, and ended up having two very good coaching sessions.  After feeling heartbroken about the unsuccessful audition, I had a terrible beer-soaked sleepless night.  But the next morning I got on my computer and started looking for more auditions.

It is possible to be sensitive and resilient.  To keep going when you're hurt.  You can be soft and strong at the same time.

These qualities are not just for toilet roll.
Look, it sucks to be the one who cries all the time.  It's embarrassing.  I would love to be made of steel and never show emotion.  But that's not who I am.  I'm soft.  I'm vulnerable.  I feel things deeply.  Do I care too much?  Perhaps.  But perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing.

Singers are emotional creatures by nature.  We sing all the time about love and hate, hope and despair, misery and joy - the biggest, most powerful human emotions.  We need to feel things deeply so we can channel it into our singing.  We are all emotional people.  The difference lies in how we handle our emotions.

Personally, I wear my heart on my sleeve.  Sometimes it's a helpful quality to have.  It means that I'm sensitive and open, and people can see that I care deeply about things.  Other times it works against me, and I get overwhelmed by my feelings.  But I have learned that the best way to deal with this is not to repress or hide my feelings.  I need to feel them to their full extent, exorcise them if you will - and then move on.

Hopefully, when I exorcise my feelings, they don't look quite this bad.
Over the years I've found some good outlets for my feelings.  Sometimes I need to sing.  Sometimes I need to blow off some steam by going for a run.  Sometimes I need to calm down with some yoga or a hot bath.  Sometimes I need to have a drink and vent to a friend.  And sometimes I need to write in my blog.  These are all things that help me stay sane and work through my emotions in a constructive way.

It's not easy being sensitive, but beating myself up about it will only make matters worse.  It's better to accept that it's the way I work, and learn how to cope with it.  It might be embarrassing when people hear me blubbering in the next toilet stall.  It might seem that I'm "falling apart", or losing control.  But does it really matter how much I react?  Does it really matter, when in the end I'm still able to pick myself up and carry on?

There's more than one way to survive getting hit.  You can protect yourself by being hard and unyielding.  Or you can be a rubber ball.

Rubber is soft.  When it hits a hard surface, it changes shape.  It absorbs the pressure.  But then it bounces back.

Right now, I am learning to be a rubber ball.  To work with my softness, and to let it help me bounce back.  I may be easily hurt.  But that doesn't mean I can't easily recover.

1 comment:

  1. This is Psychology! It's simple enough that an average guy like me gets it, appreciates it, and more importantly benefits from it.

    "I may be easily hurt. But that doesn't mean I can't easily recover." Gold!

    Learning to be a rubber ball!