This is a post that has been percolating in my brain for some time, and I am finally ready to get my thoughts together and write about this very complicated subject.
The other day, when I had my audition for the Deutsche Oper, a colleague and friend of mine whose singing I greatly admire was also auditioning, so I stood backstage and listened to his audition. As I listened to him sing, I was impressed by so many things about what he was doing, and thought his audition was pretty spectacular. As he exited the stage, I, in my american exuberance was jumping up and down and giving him the thumbs up, thinking he was going to be thrilled. Instead, to my shock, all he said was, "Wow - that totally sucked," and he proceeded to detail all the reasons why it was not a good audition. I happen to know this person is extremely self critical, so I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised, but I was thinking - how can I have thought it was sooooo good and he have thought it was sooooo bad??? "Are you insane?" I asked him. "Did you not hear how perfectly you sang that high note and then decrescendoed it into a perfect pianissimo???" He was despondent, "Yeah, but what about x, y, and z," he had a list of his flaws, which to my ears were so miniscule even a voice teacher wouldn't notice them. I just shook my head.
Fast forward to Monday night's performance of Barbiere. It was my second and last performance, which is not a good combination since second performances are always difficult after the excitement of the opening, and last performances often carry with them the pressure of "this is your LAST one - make it GOOD!" As I was singing the performance, I found myself being really self critical and kicking myself for every little flaw, unlike in the opening where I really was having a fun time and enjoying myself. At the end of the first act I was so busy muttering to myself and yanking my costume off as I exited the stage, that I forgot we all take a company bow, and by the time the stage manager got my attention, everyone was already bowing. She sent me on anyway, but by the time I got there half the cast had left, but the few that remained took a bow with me so I wouldn't be by myself. It was really embarrassing and weird. I spent the intermission trying to collect myself, and the second half did go a lot better, but there were still a few moments I didn't like. By the time the performance was over, and a friend of mine who was in the audience came backstage, I was despondent. As soon as he came in my dressing room, all I could say was "That sucked." and his response was: "Are you insane?" When I started detailing all the things that I thought "sucked" about the performance, he kept answering, "Nope - couldn't hear that. No, it didn't sound like that from out there. No, I didn't notice that at all." I was practically shaking him, yelling, "TELL ME THE TRUTH!!!" and he almost had to slap me (think Cher in Moonstruck GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF) and scream "I AM!!!" and he's someone whose opinion I trust. So who do I believe? My own ears and brain, or him (or my other colleague, who said that he did hear one of the things I was complaining about, but the rest he had no idea what I was talking about)?
The next day I sat down and assessed what I thought of the performance. I could come up with one thing I thought was bad, two things that were not good, but probably completely not noticeable if I was being honest, and one thing that wasn't as good as it could of been, but probably nobody would call bad. That is four moments, each lasting less than 3 seconds, in a three hour show. I won't detail what those moments were here, because I've learned that blogging your flaws is really a bad idea, but they were vocal things which I am capable of doing much better than I did. On the one hand, beating yourself up over 12 seconds of material within three hours of singing seems incredibly ludicrous. However, I really believe that continuous striving for "perfection" is important and necessary in this particular job. If you work for x number of years to make sure your voice remains beautiful and even from top to bottom, and then one note really ISN'T, you need to keep working on that. Because why not expect yourself to thrill the audience every time with every note when you know you are capable of it?
Your thoughts are powerful, and they can make or break you. I have been learning to control my brain and my body in new ways, and all my "problem spots" have definitely improved as a result. I've even gotten better about not hating myself too much when I sing notes that I deem imperfect, and allowing myself to accept that every single singer has things that they worry about, and that give them problems. I will probably never be completely satisfied with my own singing, and that's just the way my singer brain works. But I also know that what I have to offer is something worth offering, and that knowledge keeps me getting up there time after time, and allows me to keep striving and growing and changing. And it keeps life interesting, to say the least.