I keep a note on my phone titled "Blog Posts". It's where I jot down the ideas I have for what to write here. For the most part, I tend to come back to them, especially if they're good ideas. Some tend to fade away as I address bits of them in other posts. Some others keep speaking to me until I HAVE to write them down. This is one of the ones that keeps talking to me. Part of me laughs to type this title. "Do the Thing" is kind of an inside joke in my voice studio. My awesome-in-every-way teacher, Dr. Brookes, will often ask me to sing an entire piece on a single vowel, as if it were a vocal exercise. It's a way of reminding my body to sing the legato line of the phrases, without allowing expression or consonants or anything else to get in the way of smooth, seamless vocalism. This last year, it became such a common practice in my lessons that whenever he started to ask me to address something in the piece, I would ask, "You want me to do the Thing, don't you?" He usually did. It worked great.
As you can probably guess, that's not what this post is about. And then again, that's totally what this post is about.
I wrote a post during CASI in which I quoted Amy Poehler from her book Yes Please (if you're curious/interested, that post is called "Inadequacy," and you can find it here). I quote the same passage now:
So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?
Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out.... And then you just do it. You just dig in... You use your body... You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.
Amy Poehler, Yes Please
She writes this in her prologue to the book, about the hardships of writing it. She talks about the voices in her head that told her there was absolutely no way she could write this book. It was too hard. It felt, as she says, like SHE WAS NEVER GONNA MAKE IT. She looked at the thing she had to do, and she saw the enormity and scope of it, and she thought there was no way, just no. way. that she would ever be able to do this.
Singing feels like that to me. I cannot tell you how much musicians talk about music. And think about music. And worry about music. There is no way to measure the volume of time and words and anxiety and insanity that goes into the musical life. I and my friends have had many full-on, in-depth, lengthy conversations about auditions and repertoire selection and vocal development and all the things. All art is like this, but I speak about singing because it is what I know.
I cannot describe to you the amount of worry and effort and anxiety I have invested in my craft (endless amounts). I think that, over the past three years, I've worried more about my voice than I have about anything else. I've worried (often) if I would be able to grasp a new technique change and make it a habit. I've worried about auditions. I've (rarely) worried about lessons. I've worried about my performance. I've worried (more often as the day draws nearer) about graduate school. I've worried and worried and -- you guessed it -- worried some more. I've probably spent more hours worrying than actually singing. I practice often and regularly, but I have spent more time thinking about the singing than doing the singing.
There's a lot to be said for musical study. If your voice is tired and you need to rest it, you should study instead of practicing. Even if your voice is in tip-top shape, you should study your music. I am required, as a custodian and practicer of this beautiful art, to do the best that I can at it, and that involves a lot of study and research.
But -- here's the kicker -- worrying about singing is not actually singing.
It sounds very obvious, and it is. But oh, how quickly we forget. I am not tempted to substitute worry for real, physical practice. The trap lies in thinking that the worry will save me. The issue lies in my false belief that if I worry about it long and hard enough, I will be able to control it when I get to the actual practice.
I'm learning that this isn't true. I'm learning that no amount of worry will help me to sing better -- in fact, it usually causes me to sing worse, because when I worry, I'm not free. I'm tense. I'm controlling. I'm micromanaging.
What makes me better is actual singing: physically getting alone in a room with some kind of keyboard apparatus and my music and really singing. Yes, there are other kinds of preparation involved. Yes, the practice looks different in different seasons -- one phase could involve learning the notes and rhythms, while another is comprised of spot-checking the minutiae before a big performance. But the overarching practice, the practice of singing, is the same, unvarying.
This isn't just true of music-making. It applies to whatever art you choose to practice, to your everyday life, right down to the household chores. The thinking and worrying about the thing is not the doing of the thing. Getting down to the nitty-gritty and actually doing the thing -- that is the real thing. Everything else is nebulous, a vapor. Thinking about the way we will live and work is not actually living and working. It's part of it -- but it's not the actual thing.
I might not have to tell myself this if I didn't try to micromanage while I was doing the thing. That's the deal: we can't worry about the thing and do the thing at the same time. We have to pick one. As Amy says (Can I call her Amy? Like she and I are buddies?), "The first thing we do is take our brain out and stick it in a drawer." You have to put your thinking self on hold for a little bit. I have to tell myself, "Okay, I'm just going to get up there and sing and not think about anything. When I'm done, I'll think about it. But now is not the time."
There's risk involved in that for me. Maybe there is for you, too. If I'm not worrying about it, I can't control it. To stop micromanaging is to step out and believe that it will be okay -- and so will I.
Sometimes that takes more courage than I feel that I have. Sometimes the simple act of even attempting to put my brain on hold sends me reeling in pain. It's like taking myself out of the picture.
In fact, that's exactly what it is.
To make music is to be a storyteller. The story and the art do not belong to me. They existed before me, and they will exist after me. I had a teacher once that said that musicians download the music from Someone Else. It isn't ours. We are the channel, not the source. The Source is God, and He is outside of us, more other than we could ever imagine. And we are given the privilege to tell stories alongside Him.
It isn't about me or how good I sound or how good I look or how anyone perceives me. It's not about how put-together I seem or whether anyone notices my work. It's about telling the story. It's about co-creating with the Creator Who made me. It's about telling the Story He's writing, not the one I get to pick for myself.
It hurts to remove myself from the picture. It hurts that it's not about me. It takes courage to put my brain on hold and simply sing, to simply be -- because when I do that, I'm acknowledging that this song, this story -- this life -- is something outside of me, something that does not depend on me, something that existed before me and will exist after me.
But that's a kind of courage I want to have.
May I have the guts to step out in faith that I will be okay even if I fail.
May I have the compassion to tell the story that isn't about me.
May I have the courage to surrender my right to control, and to allow this art, this life, to be what God has made it to be.
And while I'm at it, may I be what He has designed me to be. Simply be, not control.
We can't control our adventure, anyway. So let's not try. After all, that's what this is: our Road, our Story.
May we have the courage to trust the Source.