In my absence from chronicling my thoughts from a music director/coach perspective, I have seen some brilliant performances that have given me pause; performances that made me stop and think, “How is something so remarkable not more commonly achieved? Other performances seem completely ego-driven in comparison to these.”
In the past, I’ve tried to convey with candor and constructive honesty how I believe the study and practice of one’s vocal techniques and musical choices can enhance their overall appreciation and performance. All the while, there was one point that I’d avoided and am eager to focus on now. Whereas performance choices driven by personal ambition put up walls between the performer and their audience, performance choices driven by humility welcome an audience’s appreciation.
It would be easy to walk this topic down a philosophical or psychological path, but I assure you, that’s not my intention. It’s also difficult to address this without irony, because how can one actively pursue humility without selfishness? You can’t just say to yourself, “I’m going to do this because it’s a humble thing to do” …at least not in our everyday actions. Performance of all kinds, all sizes, in all situations, takes preparation. Might I offer the following tips that may encourage your humility to override your ego.
Simplify first: In everything we perform, there is an explanation. “Why am I doing this show?” “What am I feeling during this song?” “What do I want from these words?” The simpler your answer, the more access to your audience. “I want to tell my story.” “I am so deeply in love.” “I want he/she to love me.” Vocal embellishments and complicated arrangements tend to exist to support these explanations, but more often than not when the explanation is vague and/or complicated. Simple choices come from simple messages, and those are the ones that touch us most deeply.
Seek out mentors: Mentors aren’t just people who have been there before who have advice to give. They are also the people that you can speak to without fear of judgment when you’re wrong…and we all need to be wrong from time to time. Welcome and listen to different perspectives.
Consider your audience without you: This may seem complicated or over-analytical, but it’s actually quite simple. If the audience were to have absolutely no idea who you are, would they still want to pay attention to what they’re experiencing?
Maybe that song isn’t the best choice for that audition, regardless of how much you like it. Maybe that key isn’t the most appropriate for your cabaret, even if it does give you that extra high-note. Just because you feel the emotion of this particular song or moment doesn’t mean that the audience understands. There is no science to this, no guaranteed roadmap. However, the performers that I’ve seen who welcomed me into their performances (auditions, cabarets, Broadway shows, concerts) were all willing in some way to give some of their own perspective to make room for mine. It’s the truest gift we have to give as performers.