Let’s face it. Life is tough, pretty much all of the time. But these tough times we’re going through with economic challenges worldwide makes it a little more daunting. It feeds anxiety and triggers even more defense mechanisms in our efforts to simply get through each day.
One condition that seriously compromises our efforts to effectively cope and perform is stress. In order to deal with stress as best we can we need to get real and relax. However, you can’t truly relax if you aren’t being yourself.
But our defense mechanisms often rise up in challenging times to protect our vulnerability. That keeps us from dealing with how we really feel and who we really are. So part of the stress we carry with us each day comes from essentially putting up a false front, or more accurately, putting on layers of defenses to help us get through unscathed.
It’s interesting that this same dynamic plays into performance anxiety and various forms of coming off as insincere or phony when singing or acting. We get out of touch with what’s real. We use our voice as something to protect us or hide behind. That, more often than not, limits our ability to perform well.
Some Tension Is Good
The physical tension that’s created in the mechanical process of singing is a good thing. Knowing who you really are, knowing what you bring to the song through your voice, and understanding what is needed to convey the meaning of a song will help you give a more fully realized performance.
Our defensive mechanisms manifest themselves as masking. Think about it, deep down inside you could be really ticked off and fuming, but you’re in a situation where you have to keep your cool. So you maintain as even as temperament as possible. But the tension between these two opposing forces causes stress.
You could be hurting but don’t want to let on so you might act a little more boisterous, tell jokes, and laugh a lot in order to offset how you really feel.
It is vital for your survival to identify how you feel on as deep as level as possible and take a few minutes to honor or recognize it. You can give yourself some quiet time, prayer time, meditation – however you choose to recognize the feelings. It’s even better to have at least one person or a circle of close friends who validate and support those struggles and challenges you face as you “get real” with them.
You need to be able to vent, whether it’s tears or anger or fear. If you bottle it up, those layers of defenses get thicker and turn to walls that keep you from connecting with others and from being true to yourself.
How does this apply to singing?
As we go through life we get farther and farther from what I call that wonder child, that goofy, carefree part of us that loves to make believe, that has faith in spite of the dark, and can bounce back after even the hardest fall and even after a good kicking, screaming cry.
As a performer you need that carefree child make the connection between what is true in you and your voice. You are then free to add in colors and layers of attempts to mask what is going on inside.
Think of singing a gut-wrenching power ballad while making every attempt to put up a strong front. That is exactly how we work as people. Your audience will relate to that and be genuinely moved because they fight hard to hold back tears or anger. They mask their vulnerability until something breaks through and gets to them like a singer being true to their gift. Your audience releases those tears or feelings along with you.
Drop The B.S.
I recently got together with a dear friend of mine who has cancer. Frankly I had put off seeing him because I was scared. Then, I thought how absurdly selfish I was being, and I shoved my way through the front door of the care facility and found his room.
The closer I got to his room the more the walls went up inside to contain the tears and anger about what he’s facing, but they came tumbling down when our eyes met and we embraced.
One comment my friend, Danny, made will stick with me forever. He said: “Why do we have to wait until a time like this to knock off the b.s. and just get real with each other?”
I share this story in the hopes that you are kind to yourself and others, true to yourself and others, and devoted to making the most out of your voice. It is a profoundly precious gift. Give it with gusto.
Relax, get real, and go for it!
You can learn about my friend at www.caringbridge.org/visit/dannypetraitis. Danny has been a vibrant force in the music industry in Nashville for 20 years.