I made a promise to myself nearly a decade ago that when I finally settled in an area post-grad school, I would do something more with music than merely using it as a stress release. It took many more years than I anticipated to finally say “yes, here is where we will (most likely) build our home base!”, but it seems like finally a decision has been made. And so earlier this week, I had my first private voice lesson since I graduated high school in 2000. I was nervous, but it went well. A big first step, since I’ve only sung in front of people on two occasions since undergrad – one song during a night of karaoke when I was working a summer far away from home, and once for the wedding of two dear friends of mine who wouldn’t otherwise have had any music (basically, I was like “I don’t want you to feel obligated to use me, but if you want me to do this for you, I will overcome my massive stagefright and do it because music is so important to me and to you and the thought of you not having any music on this day pains me enough to go outside my comfort zone”).
I’m not really sure where my performance angst came from. It slipped insidiously into me during my year off between undergrad and grad school. The harshness of real life and trying to adjust, or maybe just not having an opportunity to do it anymore? Suddenly losing my beautiful practice room from college and feeling shy about playing my keyboard or flute in the apartment complex we were living at the time? I don’t know. But by the time I moved out to CA for grad school, music had become my secret release. And I know that people could hear me if I went to a classroom and played the piano and sang for twenty minutes, which even that knowledge was enough to make me falter sometimes, but as long as the door was closed, I could pretend I didn’t know that the room wasn’t soundproofed.
Anyway, the lesson was good. I didn’t entirely lose my nervousness, but it wasn’t enough to make me shake horribly or sing in mouse tones. My new vocal coach didn’t throw anything at me and tell me to never sing again. In fact, he told me that my breathing is quite good (my flute playing helps my breathe support) and that I’ve got a good instrument already, so really what he wants to help me do is break me of some bad habits I’ve developed in regards to the shape of my vowels and my phrasing, and we’re going to work on breaking down songs to stress the emotional content of the lyrics more. Which is great, and really what I needed. I need someone to give me homework and get me thinking about more than just escaping into the music. I need to dampen the performance angst down to just nervous jitters.
I don’t know where or when I will actually start performing again, or even what genre it’ll wind up being. I just know I miss playing and singing with other musicians, and that it is a talent I have that is way underutilized. But I made a first step this week. And it feels great.
There was a moment in the lesson that made me reflect a little on my personality. When I couldn’t get certain vowel shapes right immediately, when I could tell I was thinking too hard about everything else so I was losing all of the musicality, I got really frustrated and evidently it showed because I was told “You have to stop beating yourself up!” and I quipped “But beating myself up is one of my favorite pastimes!” The reply to that was “I can tell, and it’s frightening me a little.” I almost laughed, because I am so much kinder to myself than I used to be. It’s just… that’s what I do. Hold myself to extremely high standards and push myself to stay there. The trick to not losing my mind is to forgive myself when I fall short, because I do inevitably fall short. But I aim impossibly high, knowing that I’ll never make it in the timeframe I set out for myself, so that even knowing I’ll fall short, I can look back and still be proud of what I’ve managed to do. Because if I didn’t push myself, I wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything at all. Yes, it’s rather frustrating to never feel like I can just stand at the top of an achieved goal and feel satisfied, and I have to really watch that my energy doesn’t tip into the super nervous hair-standing-on-end kind (or, if it does, make sure I take the time for a break as soon as possible after reaching that point), but it’s how I work.
I have a lot to work on for my next lesson, which we’re doing sporadically, as I have the time and money to fit one in. I’m looking forward to it