Tomorrow night is our first performance. We will be performing for the public, and singing the aria we each worked on this week. This program includes 4 lessons a week, with both a teacher (focusing on vocal technique) and a coach (focusing on diction and interpretation), concentrating on a particular language, which rotates each week. I've been working on my Italian aria this week, while others are delving into French, German, or English repertoire. Then also, throughout this week, we have attended sessions with Alma Thomas, a performance psychologist who has worked with some of the best singers and athletes in the world. She taught sessions on developing performance behaviors, understanding anxiety, and using imagery. In the midst of all this, I have still been reading my book Invitation to Solitude and Silence, by Ruth Haley Barton, and attempting to incorporate that practice as well. Needless to say, I have a lot swirling around in my head right now, and rather than ignore it, I will attempt to sort it all out. If you make it through the end with me, there are some pretty pictures to look at as a reward. :)
Basically, I'm still afraid. Thankfully, I think I am getting somewhere, but before I lay out what that is, I will recall my current fears. Most are centered on this performance tomorrow night, and I'm afraid I won't be able to incorporate all the feedback and ideas I've ingested this week. For this particular aria, I want to keep my consonants appropriately doubled, my [u] vowels dark enough, my [i] vowels truly [i] enough. I want to I take my time to breathe when necessary, to I cut off the [ɔ] and [a] vowels before I succumb to a diphthong, to not rush the triplets or sixteenths, to get the grace notes on the right beats, to hold on to the G#’s and A's long enough, to remember my ornamentation, to remember where I'm at in the music, to portray the character of Rosina and her body language, and finally, to be a joyful, singing unicorn on my last high B. Yes, I will be a unicorn. That is my attempt at incorporating the imagery training. But anyway, whew! How the heck am I supposed to remember and actually execute all that? There are so many challenges to overcome that I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it all. Maybe eventually, but certainly not by tomorrow! I haven’t had enough time to practice and get used to all of these new things. I don’t feel equipped.
I suppose this is when I need to remember that I don’t have to be equipped, just willing. Remember, self?? I just need to be willing to let God work through me. To be really honest, I think my biggest fear is that God just won’t show up (or maybe truly, that I will show up with all my doubts. Please see Susie's wonderful comment below). I’m afraid that I will be completely alone on that stage with only my fragile, tired voice. However, what may be true is that behind that fear is actually desire. Ultimately, I desire God’s presence to flow through me so badly. I want others to know that it’s not just me – that it couldn’t be just me. That is where I must remember that I will never actually be alone because God is omnipresent, and will never leave me or forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I'm beginning to see that the trust I must have in the act of “performing” is very much a mirror for the intimacy God desires with us in silence and solitude. Being alone on stage with nothing but the limits of my humanity, and just trusting God to do something is scary. So is solitude. What if God doesn’t show up? (Which can't be true!) What if I don’t feel anything? Or what if I feel like I'm supposed to do something totally out of my comfort zone? Thankfully, He is ever patient, and still gives us many reminders to trust Him, and many instances where we can lean on Him. They just go unnoticed.
One of the key points in any of Alma’s processes is self-awareness. In her session on anxiety, she details the symptoms of both mental and physical anxiety. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a very anxious person, and in fact usually take most things pretty calmly. However, the idea of performing is the one thing that can really stir me up. As for mental symptoms, I’ve certainly experienced worry, feeling overwhelmed, not feeling in control, a lack of self confidence, and feelings of inadequacy. Then, I was surprised to learn that many of the physical symptoms I usually experience before walking on stage are actually symptoms of physical anxiety: faster breathing, feeling cold, cotton mouth, and frequent urination. It’s true! I always have to pee before going on stage, and it’s pretty darn annoying. Anyway, her main point was that anxiety is “an enemy within, not something which is outside you.” When we recognize these symptoms as completely natural, we can choose to be okay with them, and then change our perspective to consider managing them a challenge instead. Only when the anxiety goes unchecked can it spiral out of control and get the better of us. Basically, it is totally ok to feel anxious, and to some extent we should let it enhance our performance, but it is not okay to be unable to manage and control it. But ah! Something else I have to be able to control and manage by myself?!
Well, no worries folks, that’s where Jesus comes in. It hit me that these anxious symptoms don't even need to be an enemy at all, but can instead be tangible reminders, drawing us back to Him. In performing, we need a balanced level of anxiety–not too much to be debilitating (where Satan can enter in), but enough so that we’re not either totally zoned out, or over-confident in our self-sufficiency. God knows that, and can let us experience just enough to say, “ah, yes, I know what this is,” and give it right back to God. Ruth Haley Barton experienced similar worries as she was about to enter into a period of solitude and recalls, “As I allowed myself to become aware of my concerns, and feel the anxiety, I sensed God gently inviting me to consider this question: ‘Will you trust me to care for these things?’ She continues:
"Listening to our fears, rather than ignoring them can give us a great deal of insight into the conscious and unconscious resistance we have toward solitude and silence...The willingness to name our fear as we enter into solitude opens the way for God to reassure us with his presence. It enables us – eventually – to peel back the fear revealing something even truer: our desire for God....Desire is what stirs underneath our fear – desire to be met by God, desire to be touched by God, in ways we can feel and know, desire to be given over to God in utter abandonment and trust."
I think this is where I’m at. I’m starting to uncover my fear. Simply by naming them one by one, by recognizing my anxieties, and ultimately realizing that what I fear most is that I won't trust God, I realize that my desire for Him is at the root. Whatever “high” I seek in a great performance is not just because I love to sing. Even the most esteemed praise or level of success will never fulfill me. I seek a higher fulfillment because God put a greater desire in me. Ultimately, that sense of accomplishment and joyful butterflies I get from performing is just another reflection of my desire for God. Barton reminds me, “Before you were even aware of your desire for God, God desired you. He created you with a desire for Him that groans and yearns in the very fiber of your being. We love because God first loved us.”
Alma Thomas suggests using imagery and positive self-talk to calm ourselves before performing, by repeating something as simple as “I can do this.” Barton suggests a simple prayer entering into solitude to continually draw our focus to God such as “Here I am,” or “Come, Lord Jesus.” What if I could take in with every breath, “Holy Spirit, shine,” or, “Lord, I trust you” right before walking on stage, or even in the middle of an aria? Could I reach the point where I truly trusted that He would come through? Even just imagining His strength in me is so completely freeing, so completely reassuring, and simply exciting. That’s the kind of anxiety I want: an anxiousness rooted in my expectation of how God would use me, and how He would be glorified through me. If I can learn to trust Him in such a small thing as singing a song, how much more would He entrust to me? What sort of transformative work could He do in my times of silence with Him? I can’t wait to find out.
In other news, I took the opportunity to capture some of the beauties surrounding my usual reflective spot in the photos below. Tonight, we had a thunderstorm and the power went out for a little while, but eventually, I went to dinner at a little cantina nearby called The Stray Dog with several other students, and enjoyed some giggling hot tub time with some of the girls this afterward. Tomorrow starts with a hike, followed by a class on dresses and makeup, and a masterclass with Alma Thomas. Then, we get ready to go, and have our first performance! I’ll let you know how it goes soon!