A shock to the system.
This entry is heavy, somewhat negative, and extremely personal, so I’m not sure it will ever make it to the blog. However, I need to get these thoughts onto paper, even digital paper as it were.
Working backwards for now. .
Two rolls and a banana, and a cup of beautiful coffee and frothed milk. Great breakfast for sightseeing. Not nearly enough for auditioning.
After the audition, not long after almost passing out on the bus back to the train station, I realized that I had been almost holding my breath all morning, and had not eaten nearly enough to fuel what I had asked my body to do. Practicing is hard work, it’s true. But singing an audition has to be like performing. So it is a “firing on all cylinders”, nothing-held-back activity. Every nerve is going, every muscle is working, sweat is POURING off your body, your thoughts are racing, but they have to be focused while they’re racing, you’re not just performing the notes, you’re also acting, but part of you is still monitoring, making sure you’re in the right part of the zone technically, dramatically, and that your breath is in the right place for the dramatic arch of the next phrase. There’s more, MUCH more that’s going on, and peripherally you MUST be aware of it all, but not let any of it take over too much of your attention. Yet all the while, you also have to leave part of you “in the moment”, so the confluence of your singing and acting still looks and feels spontaneous.
A side note here: Each selection you sing is about 3-5 minutes long. So all this thinking happens fast. Really, really fast. If you allow yourself to become too absorbed in any one part of it, the entire audition can get away from you in less than a second. Sometimes, if you keep your cool, you can get it back. If you panic, you’re going down. Splendidly. In flames. They will write about it in their diaries.
So… as almost anyone would know, to do all this mental work alone in a compressed time frame, then add to that the strenuous physical work of singing, you’re going to burn an insane amount of calories within 15-20 minutes, right? For some reason, my digestive system does not agree, and starts trying to shut down about 17-18 hours before every audition. Eating becomes work, and food no longer even smells good, if I notice it at all. So I tried to do all this on two rolls and a banana. Eaten before 8 am.
For my opening piece, I selected a rather long difficult aria from Weber’s opera Der Freischütz. It's challenging, but I sing it really well, and it shows off several different styles of singing in one selection, and ends with a really intense, fast paced section that leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, and me panting to catch my breath. But as I was starting the last slow section “jetzt is wohl ihr Fenster offen..” I suddenly felt myself starting to “brown out”. Whoa, this was not good at all. Breathe... just breathe and sing… it tried to happen again.. breathe, step back and put your right hand on the piano, keep singing, and I kept breathing, and THANKFULLY it stopped happening. By the time I got to “Doch, mich umgarnen finstre Mächte..” (the big fast finale with lots of Gs and A-flats) I had forgotten about it, until the audition was over. Then there were conversations, other selections, and more conversations. I was peripherally aware that I had almost fainted in my audition, and more than a little concerned, but people kept talking to me. So I had to remain calm and sociable, all the while maintaining an air of friendly casualness, coupled with my best adaptation of the incredibly precise style of conversation here. (Rule in German culture: there are NO casual conversations. A German equivalent to the word "casual" is not even in their language, they had to import it from English, and it's debatable even now if the concept is really understood in German culture.)
Even after the audition, especially if one of the chorus members “accompanies” you to the door and engages you in conversation, believe me, the audition is not over yet!!!! Stay on your toes, and PAY ATTENTION to everything! Stay loose, polite, and casual, but really. Stay. On. Your. Damn. Toes. Every word you say will be remembered, and possibly shared with everyone else. Anyway, it was a pleasant conversation, and I'm reasonably certain I didn't commit any social blunders. I hope they offer me something, the tenors all seem like nice colleagues. And I like the Chordirektor. Well, I’ve liked all of them actually.
At the train station in Lübeck I had something to eat, and within 30 minutes I was feeling better.
An hour later in Hamburg, I ate some more, and REALLY felt myself coming back. Ok. This was encouraging. I’m not sick, just a little crazy (what singer isn't???), I’ll just have to remember to eat better from now on, especially before auditions.
But why do I stop wanting to eat? Ahhh dear reader, therein lies a tale…
Do I even deserve this??
The worthiness question… I didn’t want to write this post, til I found out from a reliable coach that every singer confronts it, often on a daily basis. Only the young and impetuous can approach this activity with no question in their minds. Eventually, you get knocked down enough that even the most confident among us begin to doubt ourselves. I always did.
I came to singing from a particularly stinging and devastating, if unceremonious and unremarkable, end to my efforts at becoming a concert pianist. It was a goal I had been working toward since I was about 7 years old, only to find out I was nowhere close to the target, and at 23, was already far, FAR too old to ever have a sliver of a chance. It was a series of quiet conversations, polite, respectful, well-meaning people who knew the field far, far better than I did. I did my best to be gracious, and never once broke down. I fact, I got so good at being gracious about it, that when I found myself alone where I could enjoy the release of a good cry, it was impossible to do so.
And that was how my world ended. “Not with a bang, but a whimper”, to quote Eliot. To say I was devastated is beyond ridiculous. I was numb for the better part of a year. Emotionally, I’ve just never been the same. Almost every performer has something in their lives like this, something dramatic, traumatic, that causes severe doubt.
I won’t say that I haven’t “gotten over it” because I certainly have. But an impact that profound leaves remnants, some dead, some living, that circulate through your life long after the event itself has passed. Some generate compassion, discretion, and judgment. Others creep under the surface. They spawn terrifyingly resilient doubts and fears that sneak wickedly behind the curtains and the baseboards, scuttling away when you try to look at them with the light on, then crawl out of the corners at night, when all your defenses are down, when your deepest thoughts and memories are taking shape. And occasionally, they explode into your consciousness right in the middle of an audition-or even a performance. That’s always fun, because "the show must go on", no matter what's happening in your head. Any singers or actors reading this blog know exactly what I’m talking about. Try staring into the passive faces of an audition committee, or 1500 audience members when you're alone on the stage for your big solo, and your mind decides to go *there*.
. . . .
We tell ourselves that auditions are about “shopping”. And if you’re “mustard” and this director is only looking for “ketchup”, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you won’t get picked. We tell ourselves this and hundreds of other thought games and stories before every audition. Every last one. And we still worry. We still doubt ourselves. We go crazy with worry. You can see it in the corridors before the auditions, each singer pacing like a caged animal. Trying to pretend he's calm and collected, more to convince himself than anyone else. Because ultimately, our job is dependent on someone “liking” what we do. And that is completely OUT of our control. In fact, it’s not really any of our business. But we still depend on it for our livelihood.
And you thought it was all fun, didn’t you?
BWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAH!!!!!!!!!![howls of hysterical, cynical laughter] It IS fun, and when it’s all working right, there is nothing in this world that compares to it. But there’s a lot more to it than that… I tried to share just a little of that today.
I've always believed that to understand anything really, you have to go not just to its highest heights of beauty, but also to the edge of the dark pit and peer into it, see what's there, and still be able to stand up and call the whole thing good. Otherwise, you haven't really understood it at all, and probably, you won't have anything interesting to say. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and I hope it wasn’t too heavy!
I have some exciting pictures and stuff from Austria next ☺! Much Lighter Fare. It’s Austria, after all!