Singing is scary. The emotional exposure it involves requires great personal courage. Just showing up at a singing lesson can test your ability to exercise bravery.
Case in point: one of my students arrived at lesson today and seemed inexplicably disconnected and unsettled. She was singing something she had sung many times before; what, on the surface, should be a low-stakes situation. But she admitted after singing through the song the first time that she was feeling deeply vulnerable, and that somehow the combination of me and my pianist-collaborator in the room made her feel this way. She was at pains to explain that it was not that she found either of us intimidating or mean or scary on our own–in fact, she said, she loved our lessons and usually felt at ease. But something in the environment with two respected mentors in the room felt like the stakes were weighty, that she needed to impress, to prove…in a word: pressure. And this perceived expectation (on our part) of the need to demonstrate her own “greatness” caused her to feel weak and inadequate in our presence. And she started to cry.
My heart becomes so soft in these moments; I know and remember (and still experience) such moments myself. But I don’t know as I ever would have–at her age–openly admitted to such fears. Back in my university days, we had learned well that to share such emotional tenderness was considered weak. It was therefore to be hidden at all costs, lest we be branded as not being tough enough to handle the high wire act that is elite performance. So already her simply admitting to her feelings of vulnerability was brave, the tears-in-front-of-the-teachers notwithstanding.
In this beautiful moment of demonstrable courage, my student cried it out, shook it off, and then proceeded to sing again with such depth, poignancy and strength that it kind of knocked our socks off. Ironically, the very act of admitting weakness was the key to her singing power. Tapping into her scared inner child and applauding her bravery was just the armour she needed to allow her to summon her full potential.