There's actually a very good reason why it's easier to sing in the shower than in public, and it has nothing to do with resonant tiling.
I hold two Studio Recitals each year, and my June program took place last Saturday. A fascinating sampling of my studio participates in these events. They generally fall into two main categories: professional singers who want to try out new audition repertoire in public, and less experienced singers who need the performance opportunity.
You'd think that it would be quite a contrast, hearing pros and novices perform on the same program. However, singing in public levels the playing field in surprising ways. It's a tremendously vulnerable thing to do, regardless of your training, experience, and level of preparation. You may have felt really committed and comfortable running through your repertoire in the practice room, in lessons, and in rehearsals with your pianist. However, while the ability to channel your emotions, ideas and musicianship through your vocal technique is in itself quite an accomplishment, when the moment of public performance arrives, it's not only about that.
It's also about dealing with the onslaught of feelings and thoughts that arise when you suddenly confront the reality that you are about to expose this intimate side of yourself to a large, mostly anonymous group of people.
It's often intense and unpredictable. Anxieties you never realized you had can surge to the fore and assault you as though they were coming from your audience rather than your own unconscious: longing for validation, fear of judgment and ridicule, punishment for having the audacity to get up there in the first place, or the loss of feeling misunderstood. You may find yourself in the throes of a fierce internal conflict between really wanting to bare your soul to them and also really wanting to hide it from them.
It takes a lot of maturity and self-acceptance to maintain equanimity with whatever comes up and remain focused on delivering the performance you worked so hard to prepare. If you're good at regulating your emotions, you may even be able to borrow whatever charge builds from this other stuff and allow it to inform and enhance your performance. But this isn't something that automatically gets better with experience. You have to become mindful of what's going on and build skill in integrating it.
My students were all well-prepared and gave lovely, committed performances. Their accompanist and I were of course the only ones who had any perspective on how their performances differed from the way they sang in rehearsals and lessons. But even having that perspective doesn't always clue me in to what might be going on in the background. Sometimes I can see that there's a struggle with nerves or diminished focus, but that's about it.
I'm often taken aback when I learn afterwards what was going on in a student's head while they were singing, and I'm always grateful when they're willing to share it with me.
Sunday Morning, After My New York Recital
Drenched–yet again– in failure
I rise from the ashes in holy strength
White, and red with determination
to untangle the beauty trapped inside me.
I arise to be a "Me" I don't yet hear or see.
I was so moved and surprised when Chandra sent me this poem! In my opinion, she had given a grounded, powerful performance that demonstrated her best technique and musicianship. Measured against her desires for what a performance could be like for her, though, her sense of the distance between what happened and what she knows is possible gave rise to these words.
I appreciate her giving me permission to print them here, because I believe they will have resonance for many singers at many different levels of achievement.
There is so much discussion about performance anxiety and how to deal with nerves in auditions and performances. But rather than considering these phenomena as things to be overcome, I propose that you delve more deeply into the various forms of "interference" that surface when you dare to share yourself with others through your singing. It may seem extremely unwelcome and unpleasant while it's happening, but it's such a rich source of self-discovery.
Keep reaching for that ideal state when performance becomes a perfect moment of uninhibited expansiveness and communion with your audience, but know that achieving it depends upon your willingness to greet these demons with tremendous compassion for yourself, as well as curiosity as to what they have to teach you.