It seems that the issue of self-esteem in singing has taken over my blog in a huge way these past few weeks. And it’s not a bad thing; I’ve come to believe over the years that poor self-esteem is the first and biggest obstacle for the developing singer to overcome. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are, or what kind of music you sing, or what vocal problems you have. The best voice coaching in the world will fall on deaf ears if the student cannot distinguish between her voice and her self, and understand that a criticism of the voice is not to be taken personally.
The voice is only a vehicle for the expression of the self; it’s not the self…itself. (If that makes sense.)
Right now, I’m going through my own self-esteem issue, which is the “I’m too old” story. I say that I’m too old to be the successful singer/songwriter I want to be. I say everyone else is younger, cuter and sexier, with a larger network of Sugar Daddies and Mamas than I’ll ever have, because the size of said network of Sugar Parents directly corresponds to how young, cute and sexy you are.
I know it’s not true. It’s only the story I tell to disempower myself and take the back door out of my life out of fear. And this is how I was certain of that: Yesterday I found this wonderful advice column by Cary Tennis on salon.com. Frustrated in Western New York writes in because she LOVES singing jazz and can do it well, but feels she’s too old to really make it. She recognizes that she’s sabotaging herself with her disbelief, but what to do about it?
I love what Cary says in response: “Musicians are crazy.” Because we care so much, we love so much, and our right brains will often go in extreme directions. And the way to quiet those inner voices that say you’re too old, too this or that, is to just keep singing. Because when you’re singing, those voices shut up. You seriously cannot sing and think at the same time.
And that’s the whole crux of it; you either sing, or think about singing. And if your thoughts about singing are disempowering to you, you can bet real money you won’t be singing another note!
My new inspiration for voice coaching, M. Stephen Smith of Julliard, says much the same thing:
“Evaluation is the opposite of movement. The left side of the brain analyzes and evaluates, making us stop and look back rather than move forward…There is a place for analysis and evaluation in learning to sing, but not WHILE we are singing!” (from The Naked Voice, A Wholistic Approach to Singing, pp.23-24)
So shut up and sing! …Or rather, I mean…[ahem!]
When you’re in the moment of singing, nothing else has to be there. And when you’re getting coached in singing, remember that your voice is not you. You are no less of a human being if you have vocal problems or limited experience. And you are no MORE of a human being if you have neither of these things! Being human is the greatest thing in the Universe, and it is a constant–nothing is taken away from it or added to it. So let’s just sing, and keep taking in more from our teachers, directors and coaches, because–seriously, what have we got to lose?