It’s true to say that practice makes, well maybe not perfect but certainly better, and definitely gives the confidence to perform. Last week I completed Trinity’s intermediate singing certificate – six songs from a syllabus which featured a variety of composers from Dowland and Handel to Vaughan Williams and Weill. Unlike graded exams, the certificate is focussed on putting on a performance alongside displaying technical ability – albeit to an empty room, bar my examiner and accompanist.
I’ve sung and performed for years but I’ve never really explored improving my voice through lessons to any great extent. So about a year ago, I set sail on a mission to find my ‘real’ voice – the style of music I’m most suited to, the extent and range of my voice. Ridding myself of old bad habits and training myself with new ones, alongside learning words and music by heart has been a big challenge. And so has overcoming performance nerves and self-doubt – something which I’ve definitely suffered more with as I’ve got older.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned as I’ve studied and practiced more is the amount of hard work that anyone who succeeds at physical or creative performance has put into their craft. Planning, preparing, learning, rehearsing, watching what you eat and drink, how much sleep you get… I’m always reminded of Sir Dave Brailsford’s mantra ‘focus on the process and not the outcome’ to achieve success.
But of course, creative performance isn’t just about the technique and the process. It’s about finding yourself the ‘zone’ – the place where you don’t worry about remembering the words or think about your body working its technical magic to create the best possible sound. You transcend your physical time and place – and most importantly, take your audience with you to this point of transcendence. There have been a couple of times lately where I’ve been privileged enough to witness, and find inspiration from, this kind of heightened performance. Back in February, the clarinettist Lloyd Coleman along with other members of the British Paraorchestra performed at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall with the CBSO. Not only was Lloyd showcasing some of his compositional work for the orchestra, he also performed his work, Circuiting for solo clarinet. It was a performance that moved me for its honesty, simplicity and bravery. Then the night before my exam, I saw Rizwan-Muazzam perform their devotional Qawwali music. Led by the nephews of the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the group performed as if elevated to a place beyond our earthly hallows by committing wholeheartedly to the music – exposing the audience to a sincere experience without any sense of contrivance.
Feeling as if I’d done as much work as I could possibly do, I walked on to my stage last week and performed to my make-believe full house with these little inspirational performance nuggets tucked into my back pocket. I found myself in my own little zone, not thinking about the mechanics of what I was doing and enjoying every minute. The result is awaited…
Debbie, Notes from Last Night