At the srecent Manhattan School of Music Graduation Ceremonies the main speaker was the Tony Award winning Baritone and MSM graduate, Shuler Hensley. His remarkable speech focused on these two words – Passion & Discipline. They resonated so well with me that I want to addres them in this Blog.
It is imperative to have both – Passion and Discipline – and both in good measure.
Having a Passion for singing is the first requisite that a young singer must have as he or she starts on the long journey to becoming a well-trained singer, musician, performer. As any professionally successful singer knows, the road to reaching this goal is anything but smooth and straight forward. There will be, without question, in every young singer’s career path many ups and downs that are very often difficult to handle emotionally. I doubt if any singer has not considered at one time or another giving up on the pursuit of a professional career. It is at these crisis points that the passion for what you want to do must be solid and deep.
Passion cannot be learned. It has to be a part of one’s intellectual and emotional makeup. When a young singer asks me if they should continue their efforts in becoming a first rate singer I pose one question to them: When you wake up in the middle of the night, ask yourself, “could I imagine my life without singing and performing?” If that person needs to stop and consider the answer it may not be such a good idea to continue the expense, the effort, the time it takes to pursue the brass ring.
As a teacher I encounter singers every day who face the challenges of developing their vocal, musical, linguistic skills. Experience has taught me that it is the student who has a built-in Passion for what they want to do that will surmount the inevitable obstacles. There is a definite sense of self and belief in their chosen path.
Is Passion enough to justify the long, expensive, often-frustrating road? There really is no answer to that question as each student is an individual in every way. Reality must enter the picture, of course. The talent must be there. And by talent we must consider the voice quality, the musicality, the intelligence, the physical health of the aspiring young singer. When these attributes are in place to a good degree it will be the strong desire to pursue excellence that will be important. Therefore Passion really has a lot to do with a person’s ability to judge their own potential and their strong, unwavering commitment to develop their unique gifts. Usually one is aware at a young age if their voice quality or their musicality is strong enough to attract the attention of others – be it a choral director, a church organist, or hearing from others that their voice is very good and worthwhile training. It comes from a reaction by others in many cases or the joy one feels when they sing a solo in church. These signs that there is talent there become obvious quite early on.
This is where discipline comes into the picture. It is simply not enough to have a desire – a passion – a blind faith on one’s potential. It is a realiztion that, no matter how wonderful the voice may be, it will take a unique set of skills to bring these talents to fruition. There will be no short cuts taken. There must be an innate sense of self and belief in one’s abilities. Patience will be one of the virtues they will be needing to develop. And that, unlike a sense of passion, can be developed and must be developed from the very beginning of one’s studies.
There are no short cuts and there is no straight path. Combining heavy doses of Discipline to the deeply felt Passion is a good combination in starting the journey.