I often muse on the differences between the successful singers I have known and those who were equally or even more talented, but were hindered in having a career. One of the big differences I can see between the two was the amount of flexibility the singers possessed. Flexibility here does not mean that they perfected their coloratura passages or did more yoga, but instead that they were open to new information coming from various sources and able to adapt to new circumstances.
It is easy to denigrate the importance of flexibility to a successful career, but that would be a mistake. The more flexible and open the singer, the more likely that person is to notice helpful information and use it to his or her advantage. This starts during the beginning stages of training. A young singer who sees learning opportunities everywhere, including at every recital and performance, would notice what works and what doesn’t work for other singers and make adjustments, improving musical and performance techniques over time. S/he would listen to the opinions of the faculty about professional singers, make his or her own assessment and then do more research, being willing to change a previously held belief. S/he would absorb new ideas from every possible source – teachers, colleagues, books, websites, recordings, etc. – to build up the base of musical knowledge that every singer should possess. This is how to grow as an artist.
Compare this type of young singer with one less flexible. This singer would believe s/he already knows what to do and would not see the learning opportunities that exist in every experience. S/he would not believe change was as necessary for professional development and would have more difficulty making adjustments, even when specifically advised by the faculty. S/he would be less open to learning from non-traditional sources and miss out on a great deal of wonderful information. This approach limits one to just being “a voice”.
Flexibility is crititcal in the voice studio at all levels. A flexible singer is willing to try new approaches given by expert teachers without prejudging them. S/he is able to develop and hone observational and listening skills about his/her vocal technique, as well as that of others. It is extremely important that singers develop superb skills in these areas. Not only does s/he learn vocal technique in voice lessons, but is also willing to listen openly and take in all of the other information and advice the teacher is imparting, e.g. professionalism, communication between colleagues, etc. S/he can adapt to various teachers’ styles and not be tied to only one way of learning.
A more rigid singer would learn less from voice lessons, be unwilling to try certain approaches or techniques, lose opportunities to work on important technical concepts and perhaps display disrespect for the teacher in the process. S/he would be uncomfortable with a different learning style and could potentially miss out on studying with a fabulous teacher as a result. These singers are the ones who are often willing to put up with poor instruction, because it comes in a familiar form or style. Seeking comfort over the opportunity to make healthy change is a huge mistake. S/he would see the voice lesson as a place simply to learn technique, instead of a place to learn to be complete musician and artist.
In rehearsal and performance situations, the flexible singer has a huge advantage. S/he can observe and understand much more of what is going on at a vocal and musical level in everyone around, make important assessments and adapt his or her singing as needed. S/he can also adapt to the social norms inherent when different groups of people come together and have an easier time getting along with everyone, thereby being a good colleague and helping further his or her career. A flexible singer has an easier time learning staging and adapting to changes during the rehearsal process. Very importantly, s/he can also adjust adroitly during performances to anything new or different that takes place, a crucial skill for any singer.
In comparison, a more rigid singer would be self-focused during rehearsals and performances, losing the opportunity to learn from others and pulling away from the ensemble. S/he would have a more difficult time adjusting to different personalities, temperaments and needs, making the rehearsal process challenging and potentially closing doors to further opportunities. Multi-tasking would be problematic for a more rigid singer, as would adapting to changes in staging and direction. This drastically limits the level of artistry any singer can reach. Any surprises during performances that require adjustments would be a nightmare for the more rigid singer, which would affect the quality of his or her performance.
A flexible singer is more aware in general. S/he is willing to listen to helpful advice, however it comes, use it wisely and be open to change. So much important information is imparted in a casual way when musicians gather that it is necessary to be attentive. S/he sees learning as an on-going, life-long process and never expects to stop growing in knowledge and understanding. Therefore, even a strongly-held belief might have to change in the face of shifting circumstances.
It is virtually impossible to be flexible in every area of your life at once, but choose to be as flexible as possible as a singer and artist. That requires grounding and stability in other parts of your life. That type of stability allows you the assurance to be much more flexible as a singer. Being flexible does not mean accepting everything that comes your way, good or bad. It means being willing to assess if a new idea would be helpful and try it out to see if it could be vs. rejecting it out of hand as worthless or ignoring it all together. It means fighting from an ego-driven place less and going with the flow instead. It means being willing to change for your own betterment. It is as simple as that.
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