Protecting the Singer Ego

 

One of the most difficult aspects of becoming a professional-level classical singer is the fact that it takes a very long time.  Singers are not prodigies.  They do not come out of college ready to be employed like math, business or engineering majors.  They are completely reliant on the maturation of the vocal cords in due course, as well as finding and incorporating the best technical instruction possible into their voice.  Maturation and technical prowess take time.  Young singers at the college level and even through their mid-20s, with the exception of the highest and lightest voices, are mere shadows of their future, fully-developed selves.  The truth is that many singers have to search for years to find the right teacher with the right information to impart.

Further aspects of training also take a great deal of extra time that other fields do not.  The attainment of excellent musicianship skills, languages skill, music history and theory knowledge and a knowledge of repertoire and opera performance history all require a great of deal of time and study.  There are also performance skills like acting and stage craft that need to be studied and developed.  Becoming a singer is a long-term goal.  While it is crucial to keep the long-term view in mind, make sure to celebrate the short-term victories.  Otherwise, the long slog could become too difficult.

Because the development process can take so long and the singer is always reliant on outside feedback to find out what is really going on with his/her voice, singers are particularly vulnerable to negative influences.  It is very easy for teachers or coaches to make a thoughtless comment that is remembered by the singer for years.  Usually, the teacher or coach has no idea that was the way the comment is taken.  It is just one observation among many, but it is the one the singer latches on to and replays over and over in his/her mind.  Granted, there certainly are unhappy teachers and coaches out there who seem to delight in making malicious comments to their students.  I myself experienced a few of them.  Whether the negative comment was made out of unhappiness or forgetfulness, what any teacher or coach says reflects 100% on what is going on with that individual and 0% on the talent or potential of the singer!  A teacher or coach always has the option of being constructive or destructive when giving feedback.  If the individual does not choose to be constructive, you the singer need to realize that it is not your fault and not really about you at all.  It is a reflection of the state of the commenter’s mind and emotions at the time.  This is a truism that helps protect your singer ego and sets you free from thoughtless or malicious negative comments.

Singers tend to disproportionately remember the negative comments versus the positive comments they receive.  It seems rational to focus more on the negative comments that point out areas of improvement and to ignore the positive comments that state what we have already accomplished.  Try to cultivate a more balanced approach instead.  Listen to all comments, both positive and negative, as if they are being said to someone else.  Put them at a slight distance from you as the singer.  Keep a small notebook with you and write down the comments, putting all of the positive ones together.  Take any negative comments, put the onus for the negativity on the person who made it and reframe it in a more positive way.  Write down the comment in this more positive way in a separate section, pointing out the area/s for improvement.  Now, you have a record of the positive impact your singing has had on others, as well as a palatable version of the different things you can work to improve.  When you are feeling down, go back and read the positive comments you have received, so you can regain a can-do attitude.

No singer escapes unscathed by negative comments from others.  Even the great singers had people doubt their talent, insult their techniques, dismiss their hard work and discourage their professional aspirations.  This has happened to other musicians as well.  Reportedly, Haydn told Beethoven that he was not a very good composer.  Where would the world be if Beethoven had believed him?  There is no dearth indeed of people who are happy to put any musician down.  It is the nature of the business.  “Everyone is a critic.”   However, the great singers did not listen to the naysayers.  They kept believing in themselves and moving forward towards their goals.  Successful singers do not give up!  That is the key.  No matter what is said to you, don’t let it affect your belief in your own innate talent and your ability to reach your goal.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you are constantly receiving negative vocal feedback that is difficult and painful, find a way to protect your ego from possible permanent damage.  I have written before about abusive teachers and coaches.  I have no sympathy for them and don’t believe they should keep teaching and coaching if they are hurting singers in the process.  You can try to communicate calmly and respectfully how the teacher’s (or coach’s) comments make you feel, so the person is aware of the negative impact s/he is having.  If the teacher doesn’t change his or her approach, that indicates either a lack of emotional control and/or a lack of respect for you as the singer.  Neither is acceptable.  In these situations, it is best to find another teacher.  Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there is no one else who can help you progress and that the technical or musical improvement with this person is worth the abuse.  It is not!    Injury to the singer ego can take years or even decades to erase.  There are other teachers and coaches out there for you.  Believe that you deserve to be respected and valued for your talent.  Finding another teacher or coach is the only way you will be able to protect your ego from further damage and start undoing the damage that has been done.

There are other important ways in which you the singer have to make sure to protect your singer ego.  Singers receive feedback, good and bad, from colleagues, friends and family all of the time.  You need to try to limit the negative feedback and hear the positive feedback, in order to protect your ego.  Below are some ways to do that.

Colleagues

Dealing with singing colleagues can be very challenging.  They can be at a very different place vocally and emotionally from you and can have very different goals.  Some singing colleagues can be abusive, either out of jealousy or their own damaged singer egos.  Often, they don’t know how to listen and identify the technical issues that mask the voice to hear the innate quality of the instrument behind the issues.  This can lead to unkind comments about your voice made out of ignorance.  In educational settings, colleagues can be more focused on short-term achievements vs. the critical long-term goals of improving vocal technique, language skills, critical listening skills, etc.  In rehearsal and performance settings, they can be more interested in showing off than working with others as an ensemble.  Colleagues have been known to range from being very kind and supportive to the extreme of being cruel and disruptive, even in performance situations.  Without expecting the worst, you need to be aware that not all colleagues have your best interest at heart and be ready to adapt accordingly.

Identify those colleagues who make negative comments and do your best to limit your interactions with them.  Do this politely and in a friendly manner without making it obvious.  When you run into them, be nice, smile, say hello and then make it clear that you have somewhere important to go and can’t stay to chat.  Keep all interactions brief.  Be ready to make some honest positive comment about a recent performance of theirs without expecting any reciprocation on their part.  If you are included in a group get-together with these negative colleagues, do your best to keep your distance politely and try not to draw attention to the fact that you don’t want to speak with them much.  Talk to other people as much as possible, keep the subject away from music and singing if you do speak with them and ask questions about them.  Most people absolutely adore talking about themselves and will have a more favorable opinion of you simply because you listened.  This can be an important way to transform a difficult colleague into a more positive and supportive one.

Friends

Negative feedback from friends can be extremely painful, so you also have to be able to protect your singer ego from them, as well.  Friends, even if they are singers, often don’t understand that all voices have different developmental timelines and will be at different places at different times compared to other singers.  Because of this, they can draw unfair conclusions about the quality of your voice, your career potential, etc.  Friends who aren’t singers will not have a clue and might have difficulty understanding your specific challenges as a singer.

You also need to identify those friends who are negative and limit your topics of conversation in your interactions with them.  You neither need nor deserve to be subjected to their negative opinions on a regular basis.  If they are merely acquaintance-friends, it might be hard to tell them that their negativity hurts your feelings and singer ego.  In that case, turn the conversation to other topics that are more positive.  Keep away from singing as a topic, especially your singing.  If they bring it up, change the subject.  Hopefully, these acquaintance-friends will take the subtle cue and continue to develop your friendship in other ways.

Most real friends will have your best interests at heart and be supportive and positive about your singing.  If not, you will probably need to address negativity about your singing more directly.  Simply tell your friends that their comments hurt you a great deal and that you really need their support and understanding versus what feels like judgment and negativity.  Real friends will hear this and make changes accordingly.

Family

While in an ideal world all of your family members would be supportive of your singing talent, this is not always the case.  Like with friends and colleagues, some family members may not understand your developmental process, challenges as a singer, etc.  Opening a dialogue is the best way to share your feelings with them about any negative comments they might have made.  They should make some changes in their behavior by showing more positivity and support.  With a little luck, you might even be able to spark an interest in classical singing that will encourage them to learn more and expand their knowledge of your field of expertise!  You need your family on your side.  If there are family members who are unwilling to understand for one reason or another, make a pact not to discuss it as a topic.  Maybe they will come around in the end.  In the meantime, however, you need to make sure to protect your singer ego.

Conclusion

By identifying the positive supportive teachers, coaches, colleagues, friends and family members and limiting the possibility of unwanted, negative comments from others, you will be making important steps toward protecting your singer ego.  This does not mean that you do not need feedback that will help you improve on every level, because that is critical for a singer’s development.  However, feedback should be made in a constructive way that helps build your confidence and self-esteem as a singer and doesn’t destroy it.

 

For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com

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