Have you had the experience of walking into a rehearsal with a new group of people and immediately listening closely to determine who is the best singer?
Do you find yourself classifying other singers in your head, so you know where you fit in?
Does your opinion of someone change after you hear them sing the solo/aria/whatever?
Do they go up or down in your estimation?
Just imagine, you show up at a singing masterclass….you sit down and the person next to you says,
"Hello. My name is Isabella Puccini and I am a shark. I am a soprano and I can sing everything higher and better and with better diction than you. It is great to meet you. You can sit next to me because I might get hungry.”
"Oh it’s great to meet you. You obviously can tell that I am a Manatee. I am a mezzo and I haven’t studied at the amazing schools you have but I can definitely play the grandma to your ingenue.”
Or maybe you arrive at a rehearsal and the baritone smiles and says:
"Yum. You look delicious. Thank you for being a part of this production. I know exactly how you fit in. You are much older than I, right? Clearly, I am the lion and you are a zebra. I can out run you in any contest. Stick close to me because I frequently get hungry when I sing.”
Or maybe you arrive at an audition and you are waiting for your turn. There are three or four singers waiting as well. One of the singers addresses everyone:
"I am just a bit of a monkey. I am loud and curious. How is everyone today? I would love to know where you are on the food chain so that I can proclaim it to everyone! What are you singing?”
You don’t really want to respond. It just makes you feel so small but you also don’t want to be rude, so you say:
"I am a bit of a sloth. I started singing later than all the rest of you. I am still trying to figure out my place in the singing world.”
The singer next to you says:
"I am a cheetah. I have been performing with this company for the last several years and really this is just a courtesy audition. They have already given me the lead.”
Wouldn't it be nice if we had a chart so everyone knew their place in the singer's food chain? You could even put it on name tags/resumes/etc. Okay, so maybe that is a little bit silly, but then...
Why do I spend SO much time trying to place myself above or below other singers?
Why do I sing better when I am in a room full of people I have classified below me on the singer food chain and I get so nervous when I am around singers that are above?
I’m convinced that although all humans may have a problem with the comparison problem, singers excel at it. The real problem with this whole singer food chain is that I am not sure it helps me as much as I think it does.
When I know that I am lower on the food chain, I don’t sing better, and I certainly am not kinder to anyone (including myself). When I am higher on the food chain, I am not sure that I am being kinder to anyone either and I am pretty sure I am not making better music!
Did you know that you have been given a unique, wonderful voice that is only yours?
Do you know that although your journey may not look exactly like the next persons, it has made you into a beautiful singer?
I have started to retrain how I think about myself in relation to other singers. It doesn’t have to matter if I am better or worse than they are. The different kinds of voices, used in different ways are all important. Equally important. I’m so glad we are not all the same. We need each voice. The world desperately needs us all making music! We are both humans and want to feel valued!
Value is a funny thing, isn’t it? How often I leave rehearsal thinking what little value I have. I am so aware of the other people that are “more important.” I’d rather live differently be freer and accepting, of myself and others. To change this mindset takes some work. It takes some work in how I view others but especially how I view myself.
We need a new analogy.
What if we are all (no matter the skill level, age, experience, etc.) gathering a musical feast for the rest of this very hungry world. We are searching for beautiful moments of music to offer to those that really need it? If we are all working together to serve in feeding the world this music, it doesn’t matter if my performance is in Carnegie Hall or my backyard.
And it certainly doesn’t make one singer more valuable than another.
When I joined TVF and started out getting to know the other members of the community, I lived very much in the place of the food chain. I was ashamed and embarrassed that I wasn’t better, and I didn’t want to be around other singers that were better than me because I made assumptions about how they would treat me. There was one singer that was more skilled than I was and lived in my area. I actively avoided being in class with her. Without even knowing her, I was making judgments about how we would interact. Almost a year after beginning in the program, we had a live workshop and I had a very interesting experience with this singer. She was so kind, and it really surprised me. We were partners together in an exercise where I was helping her to feel supported. I stood next to her while she sang with my hand on her back and actively supported her while she sang. It was amazing. In my supporting her, I lost all the fear and insecurity I felt. I was so focused on giving her love and compassion, there was no room for anything else.
This is my story and not hers, but I have continued to give her support and she says she can still imagine my hand on her back and sense my support. What if I always did that for other singers? Sometimes, I am most afraid of giving support to others who intimidate me. But it makes me bigger and not smaller when I choose kindness.
What if you and I would agree to support each other? Actively offering kindness and support rather than competition and passive-aggressive put-downs. I want to live this way but so often my insecurities get the better of me and I can’t see past my fears and failures to support the other person. Will you help me? Let’s change the way that we interact as singers.
Dear fellow musical hunter/gatherers…..let’s do this together!
I will support you.
Will you support me?
Karen Archbold is a longtime TVF student and team member. She is based in the Chicago area and spends her time being a mom to three beautiful girls, making music, teaching her fabulous students and drinking expensive Australian tea!