Is your apparent confidence well-founded, or are you misleading all of us — yourself included? The attractive and socially-adept performer can seem prepared, due to the abundant poise and charm that he/she wears like a glove. When blessed with a beautiful voice and sensitive musicality, this smooth but unprepared performer can fool many of the people, much of the time. Audiences can be tricked (for a while!) by a veneer of gestures, expressive smiles and flashy vocalism. The voice may impress with beauty, size, or “the sound” that is thrillingly appropriate for certain repertoire, yet the illusion of authority will eventually collapse.
Even if the performer does not suffer a meltdown or encounter obvious problems, the impressive veneer will ultimately wear thin; one cannot forever hide the lack of imaginative preparation. The honesty and power of the performance will be lost, for if the singer-actor does not practice imaginatively, he/she cannot call on imagination to render a performance that rings true.
In preparing a song, aria or role, one must find the essential truth of both text and music, early in the process. Ideally, the artist begins to internalize texts, even before getting melodies “into the voice.” For this reason, the tasks of translating, identifying dramatic context and poetic intention, and other literary study are much more than busy work demanded by the teacher or coach. They are the collective down payment that the artist makes on future, confident performances.
Those confident performances are not simply efforts to duplicate previous outings. Each performance is a newly created event, so that the performer is essentially a re-creator. Effective preparation of a song, aria or role lies in discovering choices (interpretive and vocal) that lead to an honest and powerful performance. With clear intentions guiding the way, one’s improvisatory energy serves as a lens through which the imagination releases a dynamic, fresh, creative beam.
Often, I remind students that notes are not the music, and words are not the thought. One cannot effectively personalize a performance without a relatively broad and deep knowledge of what the composer and author have created, as represented by those ink marks that comprise the score. If the artist imaginatively brings the printed page to life during preparation, the imagination will ultimately help to unlock consistently strong performances. With thorough and diligent preparation, the performing artist earns the right to be confident.
I enjoy the anecdote that I heard from Lee Trevino, the beloved golf champion with such a gregarious public persona and surprisingly philosophical mind. The interviewer (Roy Firestone, on ESPN back in the late Eighties) remarked that winning the US Open as a young, unknown, Mexican-American athlete must have been a huge confidence-builder. Trevino immediately disagreed, “Oh, no. Let’s say I have a 90-yard wedge shot to the final hole of the tournament, with a simple 2-putt to win. If I haven’t successfully made that shot hundreds of times in practice, all the positive thinking in the world won’t help me to win the tournament. Confidence is gained in the practice rounds.”
In preparation and in practice, one identifies and incorporates choices that allow the most honest and effective performance. Repeatedly carrying out those choices leads to dependability, thus confidence. Relying on talent, intelligence, adrenaline, superhuman effort, or good luck is no substitute for that confidence. Get yourself to the study hall and the practice room…make a deposit into your own confidence account!