FOCUS on PERFORMANCE
by Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas
based on their book for Oxford University Press:
Power Performance for Singers:
Transcending the Barriers
Singers tend to think that perfection is the only thing that counts in performing. Even though they all know that perfection is unattainable, singers refuse to abandon their quest. A very successful baseball player once succinctly summed up the issue like this: “Stop trying for perfection. Just get on first base.”
The key performance skill, therefore, is learning to work to your own recognized strengths and qualities rather than being concerned with things outside your control. Performance is about control. Performance happens in the present. Within that present you can control only what you are capable of doing now. Yet singers often spend a lot of their performance time thinking about other concerns:
Oh, oh, there’s so and so. What will he think of me if I don’t do well?
These shoes are killing me.
Why didn’t I plan something for these three bars?
Change your thinking pattern! Here is an excellent exercise that will help. First, think carefully about your best audition piece. Then draw the following diagram on a sheet of paper.
0 represents the worst your song or aria could be at this moment in your life, and 10 represents the piece when it is as good as it could ever be today. Mark on this diagram a line at a number that represents how good this piece is at this moment in your development--not last week, not next month, NOW!
Let’s say that you marked 7.5, meaning that right now 75% of the performance is excellent and 25% is not. During the performance the only information you need is the information that constitutes the 75%. That is what you can do now. Never mind the 25%. Eventually that number will change, but it is not important now.
Now organize your 75% performance assessment into three parts: physical, technical, and mental. Under each heading list what strengths make up your 75%.
Under the heading “physical” you might write:
∙ My body language is very confident during this piece.
∙ I’ve conquered that old nervous habit of flexing my thumb.
∙ I’m proud of how I present myself.
Under the heading “technical” you might write:
∙ The musical requirements of this piece are totally under my control.
∙ I manage the low notes well enough to make them powerful but not vulgar.
∙ That third high note at the end is always really good.
Under the heading “mental” you might write:
∙ I am focused for this piece and will not easily be distracted.
∙ This is MY performance. I own it, and I will sing well.
∙ The audience is going to love what I do, and I will enjoy myself.
“Knowing that you know” is a great confidence builder. Accepting the positive truths about your skills will make you execute those skills even better. Complete these lists when you are feeling calm, logical, and thoughtful about your singing. They should be unemotional and unbiased. It would not help you to remain positive if you did your lists when you were feeling angry or frustrated about your singing.
Develop the habit of working this way for all your repertoire. Soon this kind of thinking will be automatic. The information gleaned from the exercise will form the basis for your performance thinking.
Keep this thought: if what you can do right now is 75%, then that’s just fine!
©Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas