Having a healthy self-esteem as a singer can be a constant balancing act. It is very easy for your self-esteem to soar after a great performance and plummet only a few days later after a less-than-ideal one. Obviously, this see-sawing back and forth is injurious to a singer’s ego and overall confidence level. Combined with the need to rely on external ears and the built-in vulnerability inherent in live performances, the results can be detrimental and lead talented singers to give up performing all together.
Is it possible to discover and maintain a healthy self-esteem? Yes, it is, but it takes active awareness, care and attention on your part. Below are some areas for you to explore as ways to improve your self-esteem.
No matter how talented you as a singer are, given the number of fabulous, legendary singers there have been in the past, chances are there was someone better than you. There is probably someone better than you even now. It isn’t necessary to be the absolute best that the world has ever seen or will ever see. Many singers, even those with flaws, have been greatly appreciated and valued for their own unique instruments. But it is your job to do your very best as much as you possibly can and to retain a sense of humility. Classical singers are very lucky to have been graced with a special talent and the opportunity to sing some of the most ravishingly beautiful music the world has ever heard. There are many people who would almost literally kill for those two things. Be humble, grateful and make the most of the opportunity.
Identify your real competition
It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that your colleagues, particularly those of your same fach, are your competition. Let me assure you they are not. Your only competition is you. Likewise, you are the only person who can truly get in your way. If you simply focus on yourself, developing your strengths and identifying and addressing your weaknesses, you will be so busy that you won’t have time to worry about what other people are doing. Work onyou, always striving to become better and better, and be gracious and supportive to your colleagues. Only other singers know the sacrifices and difficulties that you have had to go through. Have empathy. Never, everundermine a colleague, particularly on-stage. We are all on the same side. Opera needs everyone performing at their best to transport the audience and create a wonderful performance experience. We are all fighting the same battle against readily-available, cheap, recorded entertainment. Let’s pull together, show ‘em what singingreally is and why they should get out of their comfortable homes to go see live performances.
Confidence in technique
This is one of the keys to a balanced sense of self-esteem. There is something about a highly-developed, extremely functional vocal technique that gives a feeling of great security and rock-like reliability to the singer. Uncertainty in technique is the absolute enemy of self-confidence and self-esteem! Your voice has to be so well-trained that you know what will come out of your mouth at any point (when supporting, breathing correctly, that is) is at least 90-95% optimal. When your technique has reached this stage, you know without a doubt that you are singing your best and that all you have to do is sing within your technique to give a great performance. Of course, it will be important to keep up your vocal and physical routine, general health and check in on a regular basis with good, knowledgeable ears in a teacher or coach. Many of the great singers felt this sense of certainty and it enabled them to perform in high-pressure situations, seemingly untouched by the circumstances and with unruffled feathers.
Be unswayed by feedback
All singers want to hear that they are wonderful – it’s only natural. We work very hard to develop our talent and learn everything required, only to have to stand in front of an audience and spill out our guts in the form of song for others to judge. Of course, we would like a little credit for our accomplishments! But if you buy into the effusive, positive feedback you get from gushing fans, you also have to believe the less positive feedback from critics, experts, nay-sayers, etc. that comes your way. It is better in general not to pay that much attention to feedback at all, except from those who you can trust implicitly, to keep a balanced head on your shoulders. If you think about it, the feedback you get is really all about the individual giving it. Whereas an informed, experienced listener will appreciate a fine, polished, nuanced performance, a neophyte will not understand a good performance enough to make any valuable assessment and an unhappy, frustrated musician might make a snarky comment out of spite. To maintain your poise and self-esteem, remain gracious to everyone, be happy that at least some people appreciated your performance and ignore the specific comments. You almost always have the best sense of how a performance went, if you are courageous enough to be completely honest with yourself. Trust your gut feelings, stay positive and keep on moving forward. It is rare that one person’s opinion can halt your career, unless you let it.
Believe in your own talent
This is related to being unswayed by feedback as discussed in Part I of this blog, Self-esteem in Singers, but is very significant in its own right. I have noticed that singers with real talent seem to have an inborn sense of that talent, coupled with the drive to develop their voices and share them with the world. Unfortunately, there are a lot of nay-sayers out there and people who seem to think it their mission in life to discourage young singers, including many academic voice faculties. That happened at the university I attended for undergraduate study. The faculty discouraged all of the singers, except those three who already had good, working techniques and whose instruments could truly be heard. This was very difficult for the rest of us, many of whom had just as fine, if not finer instruments, but had technical issues in the way. The ability to hear talent behind technical issues takes a great deal of time and patience to develop and these faculty either seem not to have developed that fully or didn’t realize that learning a healthy vocal technique would clear up vocal problems. Also, they seemed not to grasp the fact that most voices don’t develop enough to be recognized for what they are until well after the undergraduate level. Because of this active discouragement, many talented singers lost heart and gave up, killing nascent careers before they even got started. Only a few of us persevered, were able to find wonderful technical instruction and develop our instruments to our fullest potential.
Singers need to have and maintain faith in their inborn sense of their own abilities, often in the very face of nay-sayers like those above. This can be difficult, but it is something that even the greatest singers have had to face in their careers. The nay-sayers don’t go away later on – they just change form from teachers into agents, conductors, directors, coaches, etc.! However, if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t have the perseverance to do all of the work necessary to be a successful singer. First, you have to believe in yourself and then others will follow. Have faith and keep moving forward until you develop a fabulous, reliable and healthy vocal technique, language skills, musical understanding, acting ability, knowledge of stagecraft, etc. If you really and truly believe with all of your heart that you can become an opera singer, chances are there is a reason for that belief and that you have talent. After all, there is a need for all types of voices in venues big and small. If you emphasize your strong points and improve your weak ones, you might go far. You never know what could be possible until you believe in yourself and try. Without self-belief, a good sense of self-esteem as a singer is virtually impossible.
I discussed this idea previously in my blog, Training the Singer’s Mind and Training the Singer’s Mind – Part II, but it is so intricately tied up with self-esteem that it needs to be reiterated. Singers can’t constantly have negative thoughts about themselves, their techniques and their voices and still expect to have healthy self-esteem. It’s illogical and impossible. Your habits of thinking are just like vocal habits – you can regress into bad ones and you have to do some systematized work to overcome them. Thoughts are often repetitions of past events or traumas. If you have bought into negative feedback that other people have given you, you will have to combat it will wonderful, positive thoughts and rediscover a strong sense of your self-belief, as discussed above. You absolutely, positively have the ability to control your thoughts! Find positive statements that make you feel good and repeat them throughout the day. If you notice negative thoughts that come up as a response, don’t buy into them. Ignore them and keep repeating the positive thoughts, doing your very best to believe with all of your heart that they are true right now! Motivation and success in any field are fueled by positivity – ask Bill Gates.
Develop a singing support system
I alluded to this in Part I, but it is a topic that deserves to be discussed in detail. Every singer needs a group of people who form a support team to act as the singer’s ears, give constructive, helpful feedback, offer moral support and encouragement when needed (which is, hopefully, not all of the time), cheer on successes, help recover from failures and believe in the singer’s native talent and abilities. This team can consist of fellow singers, teachers (both old and current), family members, friends, coaches, directors, mentors, therapists, life coaches, fans, critics, etc., etc. Membership in the team can be flexible over time and every team member does not need to be able to help you with every aspect. For example, your mother does not have to be your ears and give you feedback on your technique, if that is not her area of expertise, but she can offer moral support, cheer you on and believe in your talent. A voice teacher can act as your ear and give constructive feedback, but isn’t necessarily there to offer moral support and cheer you on. Team members should always be people you can trust.
Building this team takes time, but it is well worth the effort! Developing great relationships with colleagues at school and in rehearsal situations is a start. After all, who knows better what the life of a singer entails? In order to get support, we also have to be willing to give it freely. Be generous with colleagues and you might find them over time joining your team and you joining theirs. Add new members to your team as you meet and cultivate relationships with knowledgeable, positive people. If someone is negative with no real cause or gives you pause in some way, take them off of the team in your mind and into the category of those whose feedback should not sway you. Team members should be supportive most of the time. However, if you start getting less-than-positive feedback from several, trusted team members, take stock and do some soul-searching. That could well indicate an area that needs attention and development. After all, your team is supposed to be there to help you, no matter what. Constructive feedback from trustworthy sources is invaluable for a singer.
By maintaining a sense of humility, recognizing that your only competition is yourself and remaining unswayed by both positive and negative feedback, you are well on your way to maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem. The most important way achieve a good self-esteem is to strive to perfect your technique, so that you can experience the feeling of absolute certainly and reliability described above, which makes singing an unfettered joy.
Having a group of people as a singing support system is not meant to replace your own sense of self-esteem. You still need to work on developing that, independent of anyone’s opinion. However, this group can offer a solid, firm foundation from which to grow and develop as a singer and is extremely helpful to maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com