Monday, July 16, 2012

Nerves of Steel

It takes a lot for me to get nervous.  It happens so infrequently that I can distinctly remember every time in the past five years that I've felt nervous about anything.  Granted, I wasn't always like that.  Between the ages of 14 and 17, I used to get so nervous that I couldn't sing well at all.  It's been a journey between then and now - a journey that I almost forgot about.  And I think this is an issue that almost every singer deals with.

I've found that it's common for singers to beat themselves up for feeling nervous for an audition or performance.  Honestly, I've done the exact same thing at times.  But what I think we all forget is that it's normal to be nervous.  Many singers have written or spoken about nerves and how they deal with them.  It seems to be part of the craft.  I've read many singer autobiographies where the author admits to dealing with large amounts of stress and nerves related to their job.  There's a really interesting blog post about it by mezzo Jennifer Rivera that proves that even professional singers deal with performance-related anxiety.

I had an epiphany this weekend while I was waiting with my boyfriend at an open casting call.  It was the preliminary step, so he only had to fill out some forms, take a picture, and hand the agency his headshot/resume before we were all set to go.  While we were waiting, I noticed that he was nervous.  My immediate (and rather insensitive) thought was "He doesn't have to do anything.  Why would he be nervous?"  But then I realized that these sort of environments breed nerves and it's perfectly natural to feel that way.  It's basically biology and you almost can't escape it.

So here's my point: we, as singers, get so wrapped up in everything that we forget how crazy singing opera truly is.  We're singing extremely difficult music, usually in a foreign language, for a bunch of people while trying to juggle a thousand things on stage.  I've met people who claim they'd never dream of doing what opera singers do all the time.  We should give ourselves a break!  Of course we're nervous! 

I'm not saying that opera singers are better or anything insane like that.  I'm just saying that the circumstances of opera singing are very different from normal life and if nerves begin to play a role, that isn't a horrible or unnatural thing.  The real challenge is conquering our nerves and doing well in spite of them.  I think we singers are too quick to find faults in ourselves and our performances when we should just take things as they come, do our best, and be happy with the fact that we've done our absolute best.  There's always another shot-- another chance to do it better.  The thing I'm talking about here is perspective.

Of course I'm not promoting laziness or a laissez faire attitude.  That would be ludicrous since opera singing takes a large amount of preparation, hard work, and dedication.  All I'm saying is that we all need to try to see things as they truly are and not let things get us down when they really shouldn't.

So I'm striving to build nerves of steel so that I can face the craziest situations and come out of them doing well.

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