Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cash vs. Caruso

"Hi Jennifer. Wanted to let you know that I got the Johnny Cash show. I'm looking forward to it. On another note, I've been agonizing over that opera audition. My technique has been all over the place, and I have again gotten extremely confused and obsessed with it. So before I completely lose my mind, I'm going to try to start enjoying singing again. To hell with ‘opera technique’. It's making me crazy. I literally don't know what I'm doing with one song. I keep thinking my classical teacher has some secret from the golden era that's going to make me stand out way beyond everyone else in the world. But when I sing as you teach, I feel much better and way more in control. And it's probably the same thing my classical teacher’s talking about anyway. How many voices can you have?! Sorry about the rambling. This has been extremely frustrating. After forty years of singing, I'm still not ready..."

With my client’s permission, and thanks, I'd also like to share my response:

Let's look at the situation. You've been given a part in a show – for which you'll be paid, and well – playing one of the most famous and beloved singers of all time. The style and technique come naturally and effortlessly to you. You positively love the music. It's a joy to sing. The show will be a great experience. You'll get to travel.

On the other hand, you're agonizing over an audition you have to pay for. The very thought of creating the sounds makes you anxious. You feel disconnected from both your body and the mind that is supposed to know and tell it what to do.

I know this seems like a terrible predicament, and a vocal one at that. But make no mistake. The real issue here is the disparity in attitude you bring to each. Opera isn't giving you problems. Commercial music isn't easy for everyone. Certainly there are distinctions between the two, which we've talked about in the past. But I can assure you that for you, the space between them is filled primarily with fear and insecurity rather than technical issues.

And on the wall of that space is written, to paraphrase your email: someone else has 'the thing' I need to succeed.

If you really wanted to 'stand out', you'd take your role and run. Instead, you take for granted a style of music that comes so easily to you, in which you’ve been and continue to be successful, and ache, obsess, and agonize over another. Why not just apply the same vocal, intellectual, and emotional tools you use in the former to the latter, and see what happens?

Before you protest that you've tried this, and that classical singing is just plain old harder, let me remind you that a) I've witnessed your 'attempts' in our sessions and b) I work every day with equally tortured 'Carusos' longing to sing Mr. Cash's music as gloriously as you do. Reverse the genres, and the emails I receive from them are the same.

As is the belief that binds you all together… that nothing worth having comes easy, or from within yourselves.

The timeless 'secret' you think your teacher has is not some elusive technique. It’s unconditional self-confidence, something that neither she nor anyone else can give to you.

Imagine for a moment that you gave yourself this gift, and that the classical repertoire came to you as effortlessly – and joyfully – as the commercial. Ask yourself, "is there anything about the idea of universal freedom that intimidates me? What would my musical – and personal – life be like without a struggle? What would it feel like to sit still, confident, and fulfilled where I am now, rather than constantly agonizing over what I've yet to achieve, what I've yet to 'get'? What is the reward I'm receiving from the frustration that comes from this impossibly hard work?"

Answer those questions, and you will be ready. For anything.

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Anonymous Lars Woodul said...

This situation is so familiar, indeed to me archetypal now, having revealed itself to me after so many tortured years as being part of a journey that appears to have nothing to do with singing, but as you said, discovering "unconditional self-confidence." It's the journey of every authentic artist, and is laden with those egoic demands to ascend to greatest heights. Of course, those "heights" are sold to us; we buy in when we are first smitten in the romance of this art and become self-aware of the potential of power and beauty in our own bodies. And as a bonus we also get that idea that someone else holds the key to our success.

Truly, its not the work that's impossibly hard, but those external standards, expectations, and definitions that we must match. That's all the ego needs to kick that left hemisphere of the brain into high gear, analyzing, judging, and evaluating the results, and telling us we're not yet good enough. And how ironic that, just when we really let that go that the longed-for technical secret magically appears.

Jennifer, thanks very much for this honest, important, and beautifully written essay. Bravo!

March 4, 2010 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

Well said, Lars. Thanks for sharing & best wishes!

March 9, 2010 at 12:44 PM  

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