Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Get over yourself, already.

I discovered another bad habit!!! And I thought I only had one.

I thought I'd count breaking this bad habit toward Goal 80--developing 5 good habits. Because it's my goal list, and I get to say.

As some of you know, I am a professional singer in New York City. I sing solo stuff here and there, but most of my work is with ensembles, some of the best anywhere, and it's really a lot of fun. Unless I go off half-cocked, as I too often do, about tuning.

It's a lot easier for a group of violins to tune and blend, because they sound more or less the same. It's harder for a group of singers, because not all the voices sound alike. Those of us who can really blend our voices with everyone else and tune to the nth degree are on the A list. Those of us who can't, even though they might be really good singers, well...let's just say nobody wants to stand next to them in a group (or in worse cases, hire them).

Sometimes I get really hacked off when I think people aren't even trying. The sound just comes barreling out of them, as though they had no idea it takes a whole different technique to sing ensemble than it does solo. And a lot of my friends have absolute pitch, which means that they can pull any note out of thin air any time they want. I don't--I have to find a pitch in relation to all the other pitches I'm hearing at the time. The problem with having perfect pitch, though is that it makes you kind of inflexible (though some can adjust, a lot of them don't, and then it drives you crazy, especially when their "A" isn't a 440 "A", it's a 445 "A" or a 435 "A").

But anyway...you don't have to have perfect pitch to be vain about your tuning ability. Prime example: Moi. I'm pretty good at it, and I think I have a pretty good reputation in that respect. On the other hand, I sometimes think, "What if it's ME?" And it very well could be, I have to admit. (My friend POD has a post over on Thuffering Thuccotash about this flying finger of frowny-face coming back to point at your own self. Her post actually started me thinking about this!)

So this is my bad habit: making terrible faces when the tuning goes awry. Sometimes to the point of putting my hands over my head. I just think it's probably really unprofessional, and so far it hasn't done anybody any good whatsoever, that I know of.

Starting last Sunday morning I really tried to keep a poker face, and for the most part I succeeded. I nearly jumped out of my chair once, when during a tuning discussion one of my friends said "Is that the place you were making a face about?" "WAS I MAKING A FACE??" I cried out. She said not really, she was only looking at me from the side. Apparently even a slight puckering of the lips passes for making a face. Apparently my reputation for making faces is at least as big as my reputation for impeccable tuning.

What I'm hoping is that with controlling my outward reaction I can control my inner reaction a bit and not get so control-freakish. (Except about controlling myself.) And I'm going to start carrying my Korg tuner around again and monitoring myself. Just to make sure it's not me...


Redbush said...

Hi Melissa!
I used to tell the family that I wanted to be a singer when i was a kid, and still do love singing. They told me that to be a professional singer that I needed money. That we didn't have. It must be frustrating when you know someone is not singing on pitch!

Melissa said...

You are so right, Redbush, especially when they're getting paid just as much as you are, and this is NYC and they're supposed to be good.

Sing away! All it takes to sing professionally is a willingness to put yourself out there and be willing to work a day job!!

solarity said...

Making faces. Oh, boy. Once upon a time, long ago in a college I shall not name, I (as a theatre person) was sitting in the audience for dress rehearsal of a voice recital. One of the students sang "La donna e mobile." Every time he (tried to) hit a high note I winced. He came up to me afterwards, and said he was sorry to have caused me pain. (He wasn't being snarky--he was severely under-confident.) I thought to myself, if you damage his self confidence he'll sing even worse, and told him two things that were true, although not entirely relevant: I cannot listen to something I know that well without subvocalising it, and since I'm an alto, trying to subvocalise the high notes hurts.
Ever since then I've tried to control my expression, and also to sit farther back from the stage lights. ; )

Mary Anne in Kentucky

Melissa said...

Oh Mary Anne, how you made me laugh!!! I'm also so touched that you recognized keeping his self-confidence intact was important to his singing. Good for you!

And now you have also encouraged me to persevere!

Crabby McSlacker said...

Oh dear, that's too funny about making faces even when you're trying not to!

I'm sure I must do the same thing --not in a tuning situation, since I don't sing, but in many others since I'm hyper-judgmental.

Thanks for the reminder that our expressions may be more obvious than we think!

R said...

I think I can sing....you may want to choke me if you hear it though.

It's good to change up your internal dialogue from time to time, especially to rid yourself of the negative-ism!


POD said...

Thanks for the link.
I think this is sort of a universal story...the one where we want so much to blame someone else and we're not quite sure if we are to blame. Your photo of the face is precious. Sometimes do you think we are just being ultra-critical and need to knock it off?
I'm going again next week.

I read something this morning that reminded me that supposedly time heals all wounds but it's not time that heals, it's what we do with our time that heals (singing is very healing). I'm going to nail her ass with that small piece of wisdom if she bugs me during our next meeting. I guess we need to make sure that OUR time is used wisely too.

Aleta said...

How interesting! I'm new to your blog and loved reading about the singing and tuning and working within a group, things I just don't consider or never would have, because truth be told ~ you wouldn't be able to contain an expression if you heard me singing! (Just as my husband - I can't carry a tune to save my soul!)

POD said...

Okay, check this out. It came via a friend of mine about if WE are the problemo or not. Although I'm thinking she doesn't mean Buddha as much as she means pain in the ass.

She wrote:
Having been in many groups, first as a client then as a facilitator, I can tell you that there is always at least one "Buddha" in the group - someone who tries your patience, needs to be contained, cannot refrain from giving advice, has greater psychological needs than can be addressed in a support group, etc.

If it is really becoming an issue for you, I want to encourage you to talk to one of the facilitators. That would be healthier for all concerned (you, other group members, facilitators) rather than you either suffering in silence or just never coming back to the group. This kind of feedback is helpful and can give them information that this person is impacting group member(s), and insights about how to address it in the group.

(This part below may apply to the singing aspect you wrote of)

My experience has also been that people in the group are often mirrors for one another; this can be validating and also uncomfortable at times. It may be (as you say in your blog) that she is triggering something in you. That doesn't mean that "you're the problem," only that she may be uncovering something that you might want to explore in some other way that feels safe to you, either in the group or in therapy.

the Bag Lady said...

My mother had perfect pitch. I don't, but I'm much the same as you in that I cannot bear to hear someone singing off-key, especially in an ensemble.
And I have a hard time controlling my expressions....
I can totally relate to this post. :)

Sbanfnyc said...

You make frowny faces to me all the time. Am I off key as a husband?

Anonymous said...

Greetings, Melissa!
Interesting post. I'm wondering if your cringe reaction to the "Out-of-Tuners" might be an involuntary reflex...much like what occurs when physicians tap our knees with those nasty little hammers. Regardless as to how hard we try not to move, our legs uncontrollably flail about upon contact.
I'm also wondering if this might not be a hereditary thing as I, too, have an intolerance for and facially react to (picture someone sucking lemons) off-key singing.
Best wishes, love and luck!