It couldn't have happened at a worse time
Everything was on track, going well. The performance was in three days, but even with several revisions, we had learned the script, and with each run, we were feeling the characters and the drama of the piece more and more. We knew it was going to be a fantastic concert! The pianists were superb, and the text I had written was the perfect dramatic compliment to the wonderful music of Franz Liszt.
Philip was to play the complex, brilliant, conflicted Franz Liszt, and I was one of the women who greatly influenced his life, Countess Maria D’Agoult. We were excited! For the past few years, I had written dramatic narratives for Philip to go with these piano concerts during the "Music In the Round Festival", but for the first time ever, I was to be performing as well. I had a bit of a head cold, but nothing that could get in the way.
We decided to pre-record one of the sections – two letters written between our protagonists whilst Liszt was away on tour. As I listened to the recording I’d done, however, I was very dissatisfied with the tone of my voice.
“You can hear the cold! There’s no ring! It sounds horrible” I complained.
We did another take and fixed it up, but somehow – even though I should know better, I had allowed self-judgment in, and it had left me feeling insecure. As soon as I recognised this, I thought, “Well, you just have to be better on the day.”
The next day, I woke up with a REALLY BAD cold – and now, it had hit my throat.
“That’s ok.” I told myself, “Just be careful when you’re teaching. Make the students do the work and you’ll have your voice back in no time.”
I was wrong! By the end of the day, I was husky, and the next morning, with one day to go – I had virtually NO voice at all. I cancelled all but the essential lessons, and got Philip in to teach, with me just playing the piano. I rested my voice as much as possible – and I did EVERYTHING right.
All the while though, there was this horrible fear that I wouldn’t be able to perform, and since there were only two actors involved, to lose me would be disastrous! I REALLY dug in and did my best to kick these negative thoughts out of my head.
“I WILL be alright! My voice is strong and clear and healthy and I CAN perform.” Was the mantra, but still fear had a grip.
I woke the next day – performance day – and went to shower. I was WORSE! NOTHING came out when I first tried to speak. I couldn’t even hum. I started to wonder who I could ask to read in the part for me, but there was really nobody I could call on at this late stage.
Then the thought came.
“I have to just USE my voice as if there is nothing wrong.”
So the whole morning, I just spoke normally. I didn’t whisper (the worst thing you can do, by the way), I didn’t push but I did use my voice with good support. Gradually, it started to come, and although it certainly wasn’t my voice, I felt I could do the performance.
Now I know this isn’t ideal. I always tell my students to ‘SHUT UP’ unless you absolutely HAVE to sing/act/speak. But I HAD TO.
They did give us both mic’s – which we wouldn’t normally need, and off we went.
This is when every ounce of technique comes in. Now, usually, there is one part of your voice that will work – lower, higher…but on this occasion, it was all blocked, so I used every ounce of support in my body I had. I was working REALLY hard. I enunciated every word, every consonant, even more than usual, and mentally projected to every corner of the room. But mostly – I threw myself completely into the role. I committed myself entirely to the portrayal of the character –
Use the techniques you were taught
despite my vocal shortcomings Just because I didn’t have much voice, didn’t mean I had to short change my performance. I didn’t feel an ounce of nervousness at all, I was so totally focussed on BEING my character.
True – it wasn’t the performance I wanted to give, but I know it was honest and genuine and the very best I could offer under the circumstances (after all I had started the day with NO voice). And I have received compliments since about how every word, and all the dramatic content came across despite my handicap.
The ironic thing is, as I listened to the pre-recorded section, I couldn’t understand why I had been so critical of myself! It sounded fine!
Performance demands ENORMOUS amounts of energy, commitment and discipline; Philip and I know that from experience. But the MOST IMPORTANT discipline is to learn to control your mind. It is essential to remain focussed on the job in hand, and to kick out any niggling fear or self-judgment that would pull you down. Negative thinking and stress suppresses your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to sickness or injury. But a clear, joyful focus is energising and empowering.
Remember – you do this because you LOVE it! No matter what the pressures are, no matter the demands on you, whether you are preparing for an audition, exam or performance, ultimately, you are living your PASSION! Never forget it!
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