A conversation between Carol Kirkpatrick and Susannah Biller at Carol’s voice studio in Denver CO, after Ms. Biller’s debut as Marie in The Daughter of the Regiment for Arizona Opera in April of 2015, discussing topics such as mentorship and having your personal "Board of Directors," learning music, preparation, how to choose a good agent, and general life as a traveling opera singer.
A conversation between Carol Kirkpatrick and Alexandra “Lexi” LoBianco after her Premier as Magda in The Consul by Menotti at Opera Santa Barbara in April of 2014, discussing the mentality of being a professional singer, trusting yourself and vocal technique, role models, and how to take risks while keeping yourself on the edge of the emotional expression.
Allison felt she finally had a solid technique. Her audition arias were ready. She had spent a lot of time, energy and money working with some really great repertoire coaches and dramatic coaches on these arias. Her languages and diction were great and she had her foot on the first rung of the professional career ladder. She had performed with many local companies, some with piano and some with orchestra, done private parties, recitals, etc. She had performance experience. At last Allison felt she was ready to launch herself onto the next level of professionalism. All she needed was a demo CD, and an updated photo and resume packet; she knew how to get this done.
However, during the past several years of performing she noticed that she was constantly aware of applying her vocal technique during any and all performing. It kept her from committing to performing at her full potential. She knew she had the instinct for the stage, but couldn't seem to let go of her thinking brain enough to allow it to function. Her voice teacher kept telling her that she needed to allow her technique to be on automatic pilot and concentrate on telling the story through the sound of her voice and her commitment to the character she was embodying. She just couldn't quite believe that the technique she had worked so long and hard for was going to be there without her controlling it. What could she do to move more in that direction?
There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.Herman Hesse Demain
How do you move past obsessing about perfecting technique in all the different aspects of performance and just become the artist?
First, of course, you must be completely prepared vocally, musically and dramatically. Only when that is all in place, is it possible to trust in the moment, and allow something beyond yourself to move through you as you observe this magic happening.
Often we make the mistake of controlling our thinking brain, believing we can manipulate the outcome. How often do you catch yourself thinking instead of performing? How can you possibly be totally invested in the character, the story and taking the audience on your journey if you are busy thinking about vocal technique? You can think and then do something, but you can't do them together and expect artistry to result. When we think while we do, we lose touch with our intuition—that deepest part of ourselves which, I believe, affords us our creativity.
So dare to trust yourself. Ignore the critic, the "Brat", and the director that live inside you and distract you from staying present. Avoid the "act" of thinking. When you hear your inner voice prompt a high note, or remind what so-and-so told you about that closed [e] vowel, or caution you to sing sixteenth notes and not eights here, let it go. It is the past distracting you from what you are doing right now.
Avoid reflecting on how a performance is going to go. To find your way toward becoming an artist you need to tune into and pay more attention to each moment as it shows up and let the thoughts of the past and future go. You don't really know what will happen in the next moment when you perform, but you must trust in your preparation that you are ready for whatever comes. Becoming an artist is about being more of you and knowing something about who that is. It's coming to the realization that you are on a path. You are the traveler. If artistry is your goal, you cannot rely on imitation or reproduction. You must accept yourself where you are because there is no escaping you. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "No matter where you go, there you are." I love that saying. No one else can make you an artist. It is up to you. It is your dream to wake up from and be mindful of.
Only that day dawns to which we are awake.Henry David Thoreau
Mindfulness has to do, above all, with attention and awareness, which are universal human qualities to be nurtured. It has everything to do with waking up and experiencing what is happening in this moment. It's about stopping the automatic pilot behavior of the inner critic, or Brat, your unconscious, and accessing full consciousness and all its possibilities. It's about offering the world your authentic self, rather than doing an imitation of someone else. It's about changing mindlessness into mindfulness. Have you ever taken the time to observe yourself performing from the inside instead of the outside? It's a trip! One well worth taking.
Here's what I want you to try:
First, sit up straight in a chair with your hands in your lap and your eyes closed. Experience yourself sitting in the chair. Feel your weight in the chair, the clothing against the skin, notice the breathing. Now let the listening go out so you hear absolutely everything in the room you are in and beyond without naming anything. Just sit and listen. As the thoughts come in your head, let them float out like clouds in the sky and return to listening and rest here. Stay in this state for several minutes then open your eyes and return to wherever you are physically.
This state is being in the present moment.
Now, sit up straight in the chair with your eyes closed and in your imagination, perform your aria, or even an entire role, in the same manner as you did when you just practiced listening. Become fully vested emotionally, physically and psychologically in your character as the story unfolds. As thoughts come into your head let them come and let them go like clouds drifting through your mind and return to performing in your imagination. Allow yourself to feel the full impact of performing from the core of your being. It flows from your center and fills your personal space with energy.
When you are done enjoying this performance, open your eyes and notice that you were not judgmental, anxious, or worried. Your performance was perfect and complete. You felt the freedom to be present and truly offer yourself to the experience of performing. You didn't try to become anything, you just were. You were in touch with your deepest nature, unimpeded by the thinking mind. This is empowering both to you and your audience.
By being with yourself.by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather that to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies. This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind. Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.Nisargadatta Maharaj
What is the best way get to this awareness on a regular basis? How many hours have you spent perfecting your technique? Now it's time to spend the same amount of time on immersing yourself in the character and story as I have suggested in the last paragraph. Practice your performance without limiting where it goes or how it unfolds. Listen, feel and observe what is happening all around you. It may change from time to time. You may gain some new insight into your character or the situation each time you perform the role in your imagination. You will come to understand your interaction and relationship with the other characters on a more personal level. This is being present and prepared for whatever comes next.
Here is a wonderful saying: "Don't just do something, sit there." Love it. It's not really about just sitting there either. It means stop the thinking mind and be present, that is all. You become the observer not the doer. Stop the doing and shift into the being mode. Think of yourself as an eternal witness, as timeless. Just watch this moment without trying to change it even a little. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear? What would happen if you did this while you were singing and performing? Try it!
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. ... And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.Marianne Williamson
By stopping and becoming the observer you make the doing more vivid, richer, and more textured. It helps keep all the things you worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It keeps you present. Give yourself permission to allow your singing and performing to be exactly as it is right this moment. Totally immerse yourself in the character and story. Don't try to adjust or change anything. Let go into the full acceptance of what you are doing right this minute. Keep asking yourself "Where am I right now? Am I awake and performing in the moment?" Observe yourself. Just sing. Allow yourself to be exactly as you are.
This is it. This moment is all you get, one by one. So let go of the past and stop fixating on the future. Encounter each moment as it is. Start now.
Don't bother to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.William Faulkner
Ciao, until next time. Carol