Monthly Archives: October 2011

Strategically deciding not to run through walls

I have been making, un-making, and re-making up my mind about this year’s Met Audition.  There’s a very good possibility I will hate myself on the evening of October 15 (the day the competition is taking place in Arizona) because I already hate myself a little now for what I’m about to say:

I’m not going to sing in the Met Audition this year.

I feel as if I’m letting myself down or letting myself off easy by not going through the stress of competing.  So much of the past two years have been spent operating under intense pressure and dealing with scary deadlines that I almost feel lazy or uncommitted by taking this competition off the calendar.

This has been very difficult for me to accept because I spent the past year expecting myself to participate in whatever district I ended up moving to.  My experience last October in San Diego was pretty good, so why wouldn’t I sing this year? I mean, I should be a better singer now than a year ago, right? … Right?

The application form was filled out, and the envelope was addressed and stamped.  Then I caught a mysterious cold and wasn’t able to sing in my lesson.  My teacher and I had a chance to talk about new repertoire for the semester, but I wasn’t able to run any of my Met 5 by her that week.  Suddenly, there was less than a month before the competition date.  To combat my growing anxiety, I carefully outlined which arias I’d practice each day (both old and newly assigned pieces) and felt it was doable.  Nerve-wracking, but doable.  I mean, being swamped was pretty much the norm for me in San Diego.

So what happened to “doable” and the completed application in the stamped envelope?  Well, you know when you watch football and the quarter back has the ball in his hand, and he’s scanning the field looking for an open receiver, and he’s dancing around about back and forth on his feet because he knows he’s got to get this play moving, and he’s still scanning and dancing, and –Whomp!– someone takes him out with 300+ lbs of huge tackling force?

That’s what last Thursday’s voice lesson felt like. I sang an aria that I felt relatively comfortable with (one that I planned on using for the Met), and –Whomp!– in the span of ten minutes my teacher had given me about six adjustments to think about.  What?!  Wasn’t this song in relatively good shape?!  Haven’t I used this in other competitions before?!

My first 1.5 months of school have been pretty good, and I’m so thankful to be in this program.  The faculty are so knowledgeable and my peers are very talented and nice (what a relief!).  I know I’m making progress, but I definitely wish I could practice more and improve even faster.  According to a few people in the music department, it can take six months or more to get into the groove with a new teacher.  A new teacher means learning a new set of terminology to communicate about the invisible and intangibles of singing, getting comfortable enough so no nervous tension is interfering, and suddenly becoming aware of issues you didn’t know were issues (once again, no wonder it takes forever to learn how to sing because we’re constantly practicing bad things!).  My new teacher and I just need some more time together.

I’m immensely grateful to have a new set of eyes and ears assessing me and giving me knew things to think about.  In fact, I love knowing what to do differently because fixing my technique is so much better than thinking there is something wrong with me whenever I struggle with a particular passage or part of my voice.  Still, I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to take on the challenge of fixing five arias in two weeks… alright, that’s quite a big challenge.  Maybe too big of a challenge.  But I still feel disappointed and a little ashamed that I gave up trying.

Maybe it’s time for me to ease up on the challenges and get a little more strategic in what I decide to go after.  My outlook over the past few years was to push myself to the extreme; learn six new pieces for a competition- sure!  Schedule five weekends of auditions in a row – ok!  Big gambles were necessary at that time because I was trying to get myself out of one life and launched into another.  Huge momentum was necessary.  There was no time for niceties and dainty manners – I needed to be like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale where he breaks stuff and runs through walls.

The only way to maintain that level of intensity without giving in to psychological defeat or physical exhaustion was to take every opportunity as a challenge and every rejection as a dare.  It actually worked for a while, but maybe my new circumstances require a new strategy… Now that I’m in a position to really shore up my technique, maybe I need to calm down and just focus on that instead of distracting myself with looming deadlines.  To keep going with the metaphor, maybe I can build some windows and doors into my walls to make this process less blunt-force and more finely-tuned.  Plus, my classes require enough performing to keep my occupied during the semester: one operetta/musical piece, one pre-19th century aria, one 19th century or later aria, and another aria, plus an ensemble/duet – and then all the pieces my teacher assigns me.  Oh yes, plenty to do!

So I won’t be singing in the Met audition on the 15th.  But who am I kidding – I haven’t totally given up my old ways yet!  Here’s what I have added to the calendar as replacements:

  • Singing in Kevin Ames‘ Canción de Otoño en Primavera for chorus, piano, and strings – October 15 (haha, yes, the same day as the Met!)
  • Italian repertoire Masterclass with Elio Boncompagni – October 18/20
  • California competition – November 19

Leaving some walls in tact but sorely tempted to demolish others,