Being a non-traditional student puts me in a lot of situations where I’m surrounded by people who are, quite literally, half my age. While it doesn’t bother me, per se, I’ve definitely matured enough to look at some of them and think “Jesus, was I that bad when I was that age?”
Chances are, I was. Possibly worse. When I was younger I had quite an ego. I wasn’t a jerk, mind you, but I was certain that I was the best at singing. I was so good, I didn’t even need to practice. Ever. Needless to say, this caused some clashes with faculty, and every time I hit a roadblock (or criticism), all it did was frustrate me rather than make me try to improve.
Sometimes, it was indeed the fault of the faculty. I had a voice teacher (who will not be named) that never once had a negative thing to say. He wouldn’t necessarily be constantly overflowing with praise, but saying anything that could be construed as negative just wasn’t in his nature. In some ways, that’s great. He’s a really nice person. As a voice teacher, this is not the best quality. I know this may come as a shock, but not every single thing I do is brilliant. While I can’t say that hearing criticism from him would have necessarily caused a paradigm shift for me, imagine how frustrating it is when you receive harsh criticism from your jury that you never saw coming!
On the other hand, the people that did offer up some tips were usually met with eye-rolls. Most of the advice I got involved people telling me to “practice,” or to “study,” or “stop skipping class.” You know, things that I didn’t want to hear. I enjoyed my undergrad. Probably too much. I definitely didn’t want to listen to advice, or hear anything other than “you sound amazing”.
On some level, isn’t that all of us in music? We are using our voices, an actual part of ourselves that, to an extent, we have no control over. Fair or not, we are judged on this. Who wants to be told that a part of ourselves is substandard? When we go out onto a stage, or into a voice lesson, we want to hear how beautiful our tone is, or how powerful our voice is. We’re definitely not waiting in anticipation for “your jaw is tense and your tongue is in the way. Do it again for the fifteenth time.” At least I’m not. I don’t know about some of you sickos. 😉
In this industry, we hear the word no a lot. Far more than the word yes. How we react to the word no is infinitely more important than how we react to the word yes. When it comes down to it, and this is true for many aspects of my life, when you get told no you have three choices. You can accept the validity of the criticsm which prompted the no and figure out how to improve on it; you can deny that validity and keep doing what you’ve always done; or you can take your ball and go home. Only one of those choices leads to accomplishing your goals. Choose wisely.
Keep singing, friends.