Dealing With The “Fear Factor”

Several  of you have asked me to write a blog on  the “Fear Factor”.  It is often a problem  that so many singers face from time to time  – students & professionals alike. 

Here is a good place to start:    “WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States )  It is an important maxim for us all.  But it is especially important for singers.  It is too easy to let the fears take root.

No other group of performers and musicians deal with an instrument they cannot see, put into a case or forget about when  done using it.   Our instrument is our own body – not a man-made object that is  between us and the audience.       

 There are several things that can cause singers to experience fear of some type  – be it in rehearsal, in audition or in performance.  

So let’s talk about some of the obvious ones  –  what may cause theme –  and what can be done to control or eliminate them.  

“Fear of not being vocally, musically, interpretively secure in performance.”

 This common fear is governed  by the quality of your preparation.   

Technical Preparation:         We have all heard :   “When performing one must put their technique on the back burner”.    But to do that we must already have a solid technique to put on that back burner.  One of two things is often the cause of this common  fear:   lack of steady technical preparation  or 2) using technique as an end itself.

If you intelligently  and consistently prepare the work technically it will be there for you.   Muscle memory will hand it back to you when you are performing.   

 On the other hand, when a singer considers technical skill as an end in itself they forget about letting technique  serve a higher goal – to bring to life   the composer’s and librettist’s emotional intention.  This is true for auditions and performances.

Musical Preparation:    Callas used a term for this aspect of her craft  – The Wedding Cake approach.   It quite literally means to layer each facet in  preparing a piece:      rhythm, notation, phrasing, dynamic markings, text (pronunciation & comprehension )  Only then did she put the bride and groom on top of the cake (music  & text). Time consuming work to be sure, but it ensures  a sense of security and pleasure  in  performing.

Text Preparation: Apart from correct  pronunciation, one must have a total and complete understanding of the text in any language we sing.  .   A  vague sense of the meaning  is just not good enough.        Callas called it “reading between the lines”, or “getting behind the meaning of the words”.

Having a Point of View: It is common knowledge that the brain cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time.Therefore, if the brain focuses on the the musical and interpretive aspects of his performance – a result of careful preparation – there is no room left for fear.

2) A fear of not being in physically  top shape for a performance. 

Normal performing nerves cause us to have some unpleasant physical symptoms, :  dry throat, fast heart beat, phlegm, shortness of breath, etc.   Learning to live with these goes a long way in reducing the power they have to spoil an audition or performance.   A healthy lifestyle is the key to being in top physical shape.  Do not be afraid to cancel  if you are not physically well.  The experience could leave an emotional  scar.  

The next fears are usually handled by the mind set of the performer.

3) A fear of failure professionally:  

This fear  is a waste of energy that could be used in both your preparation and your  auditioning or performing.   Developing a Positive Point  of View as to what our goal is as  artists goes a long way in alleviating this fear.  We often just try too hard for success.  Instead of “trying”  it is better to “allow” what you have prepared to function without fear.  

4) A fear of critics & criticism:

5) A fear of one’s competition:

Fears No. 4 & 5 are  usually  dealt with if you set your own bar.   Beverly Sills claimed she set her own level and reaching it  came ahead of  outside criticism.   Everyone listening to you has an opinion – some are intelligent but most are subjective.   Follow the advice of several successful performers – “If you don’t let criticism affect you it will go away”.   You have one singer to compete with – and that is yourself.  Each singer brings an individuality to the stage and to the repertoire.   Developing your individuality is far more important than comparing yourself to colleagues or peers.

6) A fear of not winning the competition or getting the role:

Think about this:     If you go out to audition with a  sense of fear the listener immediately picks up on it.     But, if you present yourself  with a sense of confidence   the audience will  immediately accept you that way.   An added benefit is  the singer themselves feels ready to go out there and “do it”.  

7) A fear of not becoming successful quickly enough:

There is no telling when success will come.    Instant success does not happen often and when it does it sometimes does not last. Trying for the “brass ring” all the time will not allow you to “take a chance”.  All great artists get out of their own way.  It takes time and patience and faith.

I hope these thought are helpful.  Being nervous is normal but fear happens when it is out of control.