Reflecting on a Decade

The trending #10yearchallenge inspired me to reflect a bit on how my life (specifically my singing life) has changed in the last ten years and I realize that in some ways as a singer I've actually returned to where I was ten years ago. 

The photo on the left is me playing the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast. It was 2009 and I was a senior in high school. I didn't really know anything about singing (I hadn't studied voice or music formally) and I truly had no concept of how I was doing what I was doing. I sang with joy and freedom, as simply as if I were just breathing. The photo on the right is me performing at The Duplex in NYC in November 2019. While at this point I knew a great deal about singing and had spent countless hours working on technique, I wasn't thinking about all that, and again was singing freely. 

The ten years in between these two photos was quite a different story. The decade of the 2010s was largely defined by struggle, both vocally and artistically. The moments of joy (like you see in these two photos) were far outnumbered by the moments of frustration, self-doubt, failure, and shame. Due to a combination of both external and internal influences, I developed problematic vocal technique that made singing difficult, unpredictable, and thus anxiety inducing. For most of the decade I did not fully believe I should even be singing. I felt like an impostor. I wanted to apologize after every performance I gave.

Despite the struggle, I persevered and ended up studying vocal pedagogy at New York University, and there I met a teacher who helped me to “rewire” the way I sing. This was a very messy, rather painful process, but I’m mostly on the other side of it now and am looking forward to the decade of singing that lies ahead. I have included some excerpts from my grad school vocal journal at the bottom of this post to illustrate some of my experience a bit better. Feel free to read through for glimpses into some of my day to day struggles. I know that many other singers, especially those who have received formal education in conservatories and universities, will be able to relate to some of my thoughts. I imagine the same types of struggles happen to athletes, instrumentalists, and other disciplines. 

I can't say that I'm grateful for all of the adversity, but the lessons I’ve learned from it are invaluable, especially to my teaching. I am fiercely committed to doing everything I can to lift my singers up, helping them to develop technique that is efficient and sustainable, because good technique leads to free artistic expression. I want to ensure that my singers do not experience the struggle that I did. 

Here are two other things I have learned this past decade: 
  1. Believing that you can succeed is more than half the battle. Positivity is powerful. No habit is irreversible.
  2. Change can and will happen with good instruction, patience, practice, and perseverance.  

If you are still reading, I want to say that I hope this has been of some use to you. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to ask any questions, share your story with me, or hear more about mine.

Sending you a warm virtual hug, 

Excerpts from my grad school vocal journal: 
1/31/2017 "I am very certain that my low self-esteem as a singer negatively impacts my singing. I have been actively working towards fixing this problem, but it is very much a work in progress. There is a deep sense of unworthiness (like I don’t belong in a Masters program or shouldn’t be singing solo repertoire) that I have become aware of." 
2/22/17 "This week I am having a fierce battle with the part of myself that doubts in my own ability to become the singer that I hope to. I have always worked very hard at my singing and I feel myself making progress, yet still I cannot consistently produce good sounds. Singing repertoire, not so much with vocalises both in and out of the practice room proves difficult most of the time. I know that learning to sing is a process that takes time (and that some people take longer to get things figured out) but I find myself wondering whether I will ever achieve technical security, because I have tried for eight years without success. I know I must be patient, and that I do feel like I can rely on my instrument more of the time, but nevertheless I doubt. You see, I talk myself in circles…" 
3/27/17 "I feel confused and a little incompetent because I feel like my voice just does what it does and I still don't know how to wrangle it"
4/18/17 "I am trying to take to heart your encouraging words  that 'there is no limit on your voice' as I write this reflection. Let me tell you about how performing in class went yesterday. I'll give you the positives first- I was not scared and I was excited to share this music. I think I did everything I could to be in a positive place mentally. I stayed committed to communicating the whole time. Unfortunately, though, it was a really difficult experience for me and I'm still trying to recover from it this morning. My voice did not cooperate. It felt very very hard to make sound at all, especially at the beginning. I hate having to share this bad news with you, and I want you to know that I really did my best. I constantly work so hard and we have done such good work together, and I am getting very tired of not having success sharing my voice with the world. But today is another day and I have another chance to sing so I'll make the most of it."
5/6/18  "I continue to try to learn to sing because I love music and I have things to say, but singing a whole song usually is not fun because my body feels like it is fighting me the whole time...and I hardly ever feel successful at it. I am wondering this morning why I keep pursuing this when for so long it has been such a struggle."