Time flies while in rehearsals – it’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a month since I sat down and wrote something to share with my friends, students and colleagues! I’ve been busy memorizing lyrics and choreography and dealing with my all too familiar “friend” while singing solo – performance anxiety (or ‘stage fright’ as it’s more commonly known.) But more about that in a bit.

First, here are a few rehearsal photos and an invitation for Portlanders to come see the NW Senior Theatre spring show, The Times of Your Life, May 15th-18th.

I truly do not remember the last time I’ve had so much fun singing and swinging. The music in this show includes many of my all-time favorite songs, and I’m singing with a terrific, talented bunch of people. This is the irony…in one song, I’ll be singing with the ensemble or in a small group number – for example, swinging and singing backup in a trio for My Boyfriend’s Back – and be having a blast. Not a care in the world, having fun, connected to the music. Then, the other three women leave the stage, Mak begins playing the piano introduction, and I’m there singing alone on stage. Boom! I become self-conscious, the performance anxiety kicks in, my larynx gets stuck (laryngeal tension) and my vocal quality goes out the window.

This is a “battle” I’ve been fighting since I first sang a solo in the Raymond Presbyterian Church in elementary school. I kept thinking if I just sang more often, in public, it would eventually go away.

Guess what? I’ve finally figured out it never will.

Singing in front of an audience regularly certainly helps. A lot. But the fear never completely goes away. Something can always happen to throw you off and cause you to lose focus.

Well-meaning friends ask why I get so nervous singing solo. That’s a legitimate question. My first answer now (it would have been different two or five years ago), is why wouldn’t I?

The number one fear of many, many people is public speaking. Add singing to that, take it times 30, and let that sink in. Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon have both admitted to near paralyzing stage fright.  We all have our own vocal histories, possible traumas, experiences of being shamed. And public singing may just be the most vulnerable thing a person can do. Perhaps, also…stripping? (I don’t even want to THINK about singing while stripping!) And the truth is…we live in a judgmental culture. No matter how many brilliant vocal performances have 65,000 likes on a YouTube video, there will always be those 18 haters. There will always be people who don’t like you, or your voice.

I’ve had a couple of long conversations and lessons with my voice teacher and mentor, Linda Brice, throughout the course of these rehearsals.  The understandings and support I’ve received re: acupressure, energy healing, performing in an altered brain wave state (like self-hypnosis), and generational trauma are remarkable. I have no question I’m being fully supported by the Universe and that I am more dedicated to my passion for music and performing than I am belittled by my fears. I could write an entire book about these understandings.

For now, here’s a bullet list I hope will help you if you suffer from anxiety while sharing your authentic, creative self. Especially if it involves your voice.

  • Embrace the fear; invite it in. Don’t try and avoid it or push it away. It’s not going anywhere.  Thank your fear for trying to keep you safe, consider an “f you” kind of attitude, and announce that you will sing anyway.
  • Remember there is no place for perfectionism – that’s all about ego. Just having the passion and courage to show up is enough. The rest will come with time as you learn to share, unselfishly, with your audience. This is HUGE for me. I think I should be able to sing solo in front of other people just as easily as I do at home when no-one’s watching but my husband and our cat. Or a student. I’m a voice teacher, for heaven’s sake!  The block is only in my mind; but that doesn’t make the fear any less real. I have to allow myself to sing badly so I can learn and grow. Wo-man, does my ego hate that! *See below.
  • Keep in mind It’s not your voice that’s failing you; it’s the fear, resulting in an adrenaline and cortisol rush that causes laryngeal tension in your body, your vocal instrument. You need to learn to embrace the fear and sing through it anyway.
  • Really know and understand the music, the song. Allow yourself to connect with it, take yourself out of your self-consciousness and share the songwriter’s important message with your audience.
  • As I tell my voice students, when possible – if performance anxiety is crippling for you – sing songs in your first register, chest voice. We talk there all the time, so it’s easier when fear sets in. I am now working on belting much of my solo, except for one note that is too high. It keeps my voice more stable when I’m scared.
  • Embrace beta blockers. Prescribed pills can really help in this circumstance. At some point, you’ll realize you don’t need them anymore.
  • Imagine you have a performance warrior to help you. Feel the fear, breathe in, and sing anyway – like your warrior is helping you point your voice like an arrow to reach your audience. You can think of the fear coming into your body and working with it, instead of trying to resist it.
  • Develop a daily meditation and energy clearing process to clear your mind and body. And stretch!
  • For at least two full days before your performance, practice clearing tension from your body and keeping yourself in a calmer brain wave state. Stay hydrated. Most of us are in beta state the bulk of our daily lives; when we’re working, running errands, etc. Three to five deep breaths bring me right into alpha state, which is calmer. Theta waves occur when you’re sleeping, dreaming, intensely focused, also right before sleeping or waking up. (I once went into theta state while chopping vegetables for a meal.) There are other states as well; lots of information is available online. We are all able to adjust our brain wave state through our breathing.

*I fell in love with the musical Rent long before I had the exquisite opportunity to see Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked, on tour in Portland from Broadway. Two of my favorite singers, for sure, with very different voice types. Menzel played Maureen in Rent and Elphaba in Wicked. She is likely even better known for being the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen films, and the song Let it Go.

Menzel sang that song at the 2015 New York New Year’s Eve party in Times Square. It was cold outside, snowing, and even Idina was probably nervous. Her performance was great, but it wasn’t perfect. A note or two could say to have been flubbed.

Did that make me love her any less, or make me want to watch less of her performances? Absolutely not.

I need to give that same respect and honor to myself.

So do you.

I’m eager to hear if these tips are helpful. Let me know on the blog!  

Next up I have a homemade taco seasoning recipe and who knows what else. 😊

Love Your Voice & Voice Your Love,