|In the dressing room before my performance on Saturday Night of Mahler’s “Um Mitternacht.” The final moments before I perform are usually spent touching up my lipstick, pondering the soul and emotion of the piece, and praying.
I have a friend named Sarah who is an incredible artist. In fact, if you are in Utah, you may be very familiar with her gorgeous tulip paintings—I’ve seen a few in real life and they are breathtaking. Sarah recently wrote a blog about her artistic process that touched my soul because she was able to articulate things that I have felt about my own process when it comes to singing.
You should definitely hop over to her blog to read her post in its entirety, but here is the last paragraph of her post:
“Painting feeds me and brings me balance. The experience of painting is
an exhilarating process for me. It is a process of doubting,
questioning, crying, joy, triumph, discovery, elation, and finally peace
with it all. For me that process alone is worth it all, but how much
sweeter the reward becomes when I can share it, when someone sees my
work and time stops, even if only for a second, and they say, ‘I like
it; it makes me feel happy.’ Then my joy is full, and I feel blessed to
be able to be the giver of that gift.”
Sometimes I’m not really sure what draws me to performing. I’m not a super outgoing or extroverted person, and I actually really hate being the center of attention. I am guilty of trying to escape after performances so I don’t have to talk to people afterward. It makes me a little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable to hear them compliment me in person. So why do I do it? I guess it’s because of this process that Sarah talks about that forces me to dig deep into myself as I grapple with the music. It’s often terribly hard, but it is always incredibly rewarding. Few things bring me the kind of joy as being able to finally perform a piece of music and know that I gave it my all.
Last year I sang in a concert
that put me through more doubting, questioning of my abilities, and
crying than I had ever experienced in preparation for a performance
before. And yet through all of that, by the time I actually stepped
onto stage to sing, I felt complete peace. The joy I felt when that concert was finished was greater than almost any before, simply because I had been through the wringer in the months, weeks, and days leading up to it.
I always tell my students that we have two responsibilities as singers: 1) to sound good, and 2) to make the audience feel something. This is why we have the arts. We can feel things so deeply that just to say “I feel so happy” or “I feel so sad” isn’t adequate. We must sing, or paint, or dance, or write in order to put those big feelings into song or onto canvas or into movement or into the pages of a novel or the words of a poem. And still others feel things so deeply that they listen to music or look at art or go to the ballet or read a book. It is a necessary relationship between the artist and the consumer of the art for neither could exist without the other. We help each other to feel something.
My friend Annette is a wonderful writer. You may have even read some of her novels. She said once that it was sometimes sad to her when someone told her they loved her latest book so much that they read it in a day. Of course, this is a high compliment to a writer, but Annette felt a little sad because it often takes her a year or more to complete the process of writing and editing, but the reader only needed a single day to finish it. I related. The five-minute performance I had on Saturday night took me a couple months to prepare for, just as most of the performances I have given do. And then, when you look past the time it took to write one novel or to prepare one aria or to paint one canvas, you see all the time–an entire life, usually–that the artist has dedicated to learning and perfecting the craft. The finished art is an incredible gift of time and of the artist’s entire soul.
It’s interesting to me that I wouldn’t receive the same sort of reward if I just sang a piece to myself in a practice room. Even if I sang it perfectly (which I’m sure I never have),
if nobody is there to hear me do it, it just isn’t really worth doing.
Somehow, in the act of sharing my work, I am able to appreciate all
that went into it all the more. To bring joy to others–to make them feel something–somehow fills my own soul with indescribable joy.
I am, as my friend Sarah so eloquently put it, blessed
to be the giver of that gift.