Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Do I Sing? Part 2: NOT YET!

Saturday musings...

how ironic that a young singer emailed me last night as I was thinking about part 2, only to ask me about the very thing I am blogging about today!

What do coaches and teachers mean when they say/suggest to you "not quite ready", "not yet"? In reference to auditioning/packaging/presenting/etc etc.

Those of you who are frustrated with that, we see you! Those of us who know why, are smiling.  We've all been there.  

I cannot be as specific as I might be one-on-one with this, nor as blunt (!) but I will definitely try to get the point!

First of all - if you have not ASKED why a coach and/or teacher says "not yet", then of COURSE you aren't ready!!!!  You are still in "student" mode, and have not yet moved into singer mode who is in charge of her/his  destiny!  Chances are, you don't ask questions in other aspects of your life either...which means, ultimately, no you aren't ready!

SO ASK!!!  But,  before doing so, make sure you are truly ready to hear the answer.  As singers, and artists, we must have and develop the capacity to see and hear the truth - ABOUT OURSELVES.  If we cannot, not only are we not ready, but we need to move elsewhere.  Being an artist is about discovery of self and discovery of truth.  It is not about delusion, it is not about "poor me".

The "not yet" could be a technical thing.  Perhaps the technical behavior of your voice isn't ready yet for the repertoire your voice should be singing at this point in your development.  Remember, voice is like fine wine - it matures with AGE as far as the physical behavior is concerned.   What are you working on in the technical realm to prepare you fully?

The "not yet" could be a repertoire decision.  Perhaps your voice has made an interesting journey and the choice of repertoire is still something that is up in the air.  Making choices for fach/type without sub-categorizing can take time!  Making choices to detail where you are in your career - just beginning, grad school, artists programs, emerging artist, C/D/B/A houses - all can play into that choice!  

The "not yet" could be a musical and stylistic decision.  Perhaps you need time to discover the musicality and the musicianship skills of your repertoire. Perhaps shaping a phrase has not become an organic response yet, even though your technical legato is developed, for example.  Perhaps the stylistic concerns are not yet informed enough for performance.

The "not yet" could be a dramatic and presentational decision.  Perhaps your technical skills are strong and the choice of repertoire infuses  well with your technical ability.  And perhaps you on stage is like watching paint dry.  Or worse.  Or just beige.  Perhaps you haven't found the multi-dimensional and multi-layered art of performance and presentation yet, thus whatever you "gifts" are and strengths are will be lost in the lack of the communication of those strengths!

And, what is the "not yet" for?  What are you presenting for? For whom? Why? Why not?

You need to ask the questions of yourself, and your coaches/teachers in order to discover where you are and what you DO!

Artistry is also something that needs nurturing.  But it needs nurturing and growth from more than just practicing every day!  It needs to be fed from LIVING!  Living takes TIME and it takes EXPERIENCE!

Just because you can read the words for the characters of Hamlet, or Lady M, or King Lear doesn't mean you are ready to play them!  Why?  What life experience informs those characters to allow them to be given full life on stage?  Do you have that yet? Can you inform a character fully because you have experienced not what the character has, but have experienced LIFE?

So too, as a singer, you must give yourself time to experience/time to live!

If all you do is go to a day job or go to class and come home and practice - I must say, with all due respect, you aren't living yet! You are creating a narrow existence that has nothing to do with artistry or craft.  You are doing nothing to inform what you say you want to do - that is - be a singer and an artist!

Your art is informed by what you do and experience or the lack of it.  Your VOICE is informed not just by its physicality but the life that resides in that psyche that is YOU!

TAKE THE TIME TO LIVE!!!!  You are not "behind" or "on hiatus" and no, ADs, conductors, GMs will not wonder if you've had a "hole" in your career - because they don't care WHEN they want to hear NOW!  Can you sing/can you create NOW?!  Can you excite/can you stir NOW?!

Have you loved? Have you had your heart broken? Have you mended? Have you lusted? Have you followed through with that?!?!?  Do you know what loss is? Do you know what pain is? Do you know what finding true love is? Do you know contentment? Have you laughed/cried hysterically? Have you birthed a child? Have you fathered a child? Have you mentored? Have you been responsible for something or someone besides yourself? Have you had to choose?and the list goes on and on and on...Have you developed your sensuality - in the truest sense of that word - through taste and smell and sight and touch and listening!  We don't have to experience the same things, but we have to EXPERIENCE SOMETHING!!!  

Do you do MORE than listen to your arias and operas or your music theatre shows?  How vast is your musical understanding?

Do you spend time going to museums and art galleries and allowing a great painting of Monet or Van Gogh, or a sculpture of the 15th century touch you?  

Do you travel?  Do you read?  If you can't afford to travel, where do you go in your mind?!  Do you read about places? About lifestyles?  About people?  

Do you go to plays? Concerts? Shows? That have NOTHING to do with what you are pursuing?

Do you have other passions in your world? Cooking? Sailing? Sports? T'ai chi? Wine tasting? Interior design? Animals? Car racing? Football? Film noir?  Photography? what??!?!

What excites you????  What makes you MAD?!?!??!  What sparks you and energizes you?

More often than not, "not yet" simply means - go DO something this season that is NOT singing.   LIVE A LIFE!  Live truth; Live passionately; do not sleepwalk; do not create a rut; dare to make a mistake; dare to make a choice! dare to enjoy and discover and see outside the box...

Living life takes time and experience.  Only when you discover HOW to live your life will your voice be informed fully.  And, the beauty is, it continues to inform it and morph with that life being lived!

If your coaches/teachers are saying "not yet" - perhaps its time to discover for yourself WHO you are and who you want to be - and claim ALL of it.  Quit making excuses!  By developing your life fully, your voice responds; your technique responds; your musicality responds; your authenticity is on stage AND off.  If you have to ask "why not yet" then ask it.  Be open to the response.  The truth is important, and what is more important, is what you DO with it.  If you have to ask at all - then you must discover your "not yet" fully!

It is never too late, and never too early - so the challenge is simply this: are you ready to start claiming your LIFE - because that's what an artist does - LIVES.  


  1. Great post, Susan. So many young artists break their hearts because they didn't succeed as 12-year-old prodigies or win a competition in their teens or twenties, when the truth is, real artistry does come from life experience. It seems to take a long time, especially, for singers, whose voices reflect every moment of their life, and who have the great luck of maturing into their instrument. Wonderful advice!

  2. this was beautiful and I thank you with all my heart for this.

    I asked my "not yet" question and I got this response, "you've outgrown young artist programs but you're not quite good solid enough in your technique and solidified enough in your fach to sing in houses yet." Not such a shabby response. I think it gives me hope.

    I do agree about the having a life thing too. I have certainly tied myself up in knots working around the clock at my job and then working like a mad woman when I get off to pursue the dream career. The only time that leaves me is the weekend. I need to live more.

    Once again, thank you thank you Susan. BEAUTIFUL.