replace strife with wonder
When I was in graduate school, a small but stout music conservatory, I had to take one of the most lethal classes: Graduate Seminar. Required for all grad students, it was a hodge-podge of this and that, overseen by the conservatory’s director.
I was in there with every manner of student, but it was terribly lonely. I had no solidarity buddies from the Early Music department, and anytime we stepped out of talking about performance (like learning Schenkerian analysis or whatever) I was lost. I am pretty sure I cried.
Except every once in a while, we had a guest speaker: Benjamin Zander, a motivational speaker who would blow off all of our grumpy, overwhelmed, self-conscious, conservative conservatory tops. He would say things like, “Sit in the front row of your life!” and I would sit there and think, “yes, I will!” and then look around at the class and wonder, “is this amazing to everyone else, too? What the hell is going on right now? Is it safe to participate with joy and show that this is utterly life-changing?”
Zander introduced me to the art of The Reframe. I have fairly described myself as a myopic musician. I was not evolved or self-aware enough at that time to consider the potential of this perspective and his excellent advice. But I have never forgotten.
I recall him telling a parable about some Student who kept Messing Up. Over and over and over again, the same bloody mistake: a rut. You know that student, right? It’s you and me. What is our typical response?
I am so stupid! I suck! What’s wrong with me? I am never going to get it! Duh, I should know better! Etc, etc.
Zander suggested a reframe. Rather than, “Oh shit, I did it again, why not… how fascinating?” (I’m pretty sure that is word for word, even after twenty years!)
This was an indelible moment for me. It has shaped my journey of personal growth and completely altered the path of my voice practice.
Dear One: you are going to make mistakes. You are going to make some clunkers. You are going to look funny. You are going to kick yourself. I’m sorry. I do it, too. But be wise about it. Mistakes are not a character flaw: they are an essential element of our humanity. But let them teach you.
What happens when you reframe your mistakes into valuable lessons?
I know it is much easier to berate yourself, but that will not serve you in any way, whatsoever. So the next time you have to, say, record yourself (which I did the other day: good times!), and you keep seeing or hearing that thing that is bothering you, try to absorb it rather than reject it.
I keep doing that Thing I don’t want to do. How fascinating!
Here is the jewel of understanding: when you bring an unconscious pattern to light, you evolve. You stop making the damn mistake. It is only possible to bring the unconscious to light when we take the time—and have the willingness—to understand our patterns.
Mr. Zander’s appearance those dreary mornings in seminar were potentially more impactful than any musical training I received at school. His ideas gave me an understanding that it is not simply the content of what we offer as musicians, but it is about our wholeness as beings who vessel that content. But we are all simply too blinded by our faults to see the true power and potency of what we do.
So please, try to gain some perspective. With your singing, at least!
The next time you make a bloop (which you will), or are disappointed with your performance (which you will), or pull back in fear (which you will), STOP the critique. Assess the situation. Here is my personal reframe of Mr. Zander’s question:
What is really going on here?
I swear it will help. I probably ask myself this question ten times per day. It is honestly harder to ask when I sing, but that, to me, is the most important time.
Because I recognize that my mistakes are borne of my fears. And when I can shed light on my fears (even teensy ones), they are transformed into feedback. Feedback that can help me change my habits and undo those tendencies that irk me the most and hold me back. Feedback that can help me heal.
Try reframing in your practice. Remove the Strife, and replace it with Wonder. It works. You will feel better and sing better. You will show up with greater authenticity and self-regard. You will become that vessel of something that is much greater than we can possibly conceive.
You just have to get out of the way first.