Monday, July 19, 2010

Rehearsing Insecurity

To most people 10 a.m. is not early, but to an opera singer it most certainly is!
Getting to rehearsal ready to sing any earlier than 10 a.m. is just too much to ask, especially if you’ve rehearsed or performed the night before (those of you out there who are butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and the like are scoffing right about now, I can imagine). Or, if due to a heat wave it’s 80 degrees inside, and you can’t manage to get to sleep until well after midnight. Or, in attempting to meet your own personal deadline, you stay up until 4 a.m. writing a blog and drinking red wine.
Excuses, excuses....
I know I shouldn’t blame my own lack of preparation on external circumstances, but  let’s face it, sometimes the external circumstances are to blame! For example, in the last three weeks of rehearsals leading up to my most recent premiere, my director started doing run-throughs every day. The bulk of what I have to sing in this show is in the first, third and fourth numbers. In other words, by 11 a.m. my work was basically done, and I hadn’t even warmed up yet.
Every attempt I made to get him to rearrange the rehearsal schedule fell upon deaf ears. And really, why should I mess with his modus operandi?  The result was, day after day I was running through my two big numbers with a tired body and voice. I was pushing, I was repeatedly making the same musical mistakes, etc. and there was no stopping to fix them. I had trained this chaos so thoroughly, that it was only by some miracle (called adrenalin and a good night’s sleep) that the dress rehearsal turned out so well.
Those of you in the theater can already forebode what happens next. As the saying goes, if the dress rehearsal goes well, opening night will not be so good. Quatsch! Who believes in that superstitious mumbo jumbo, anyway? Well, I do now. I won’t go into detail, since even my colleagues didn’t notice the difference -- they all thought I was fabulous. But I notice the difference. It’s one thing to go out on stage and enjoy your performance. If you’ve rehearsed well, everything runs on auto-pilot. It’s another experience all together when during your performance, you’re having to think of rudimentary things like breathing, articulating, keeping the throat open and the tongue down --  whatever it takes to get those low notes to resonate (fortunately for me, the high notes don’t give me so much trouble). Maybe on the outside I was “the shit,” on the inside, however, I was scared shitless.
This is a classic case of rehearsed insecurity or trained imperfection. Unless you have prepared your music with precision and rehearsed your scenes with some level of success, only the aforementioned miracle drug, adrenalin, can save you now. And that’s a gamble. It’s like practicing juggling with three balls, then going into the circus tent thinking you can all of a sudden juggle five -- while riding a unicycle on a highwire through hoops of fire. The sad truth is, there is no getting around good preparation. For an innate lazy-ass like me, this is not good news. 
What’s worse is this realization: in how many facets of my life have I been rehearsing insecurity, training imperfection, perfecting mediocrity, honing half-assedness? Simple tasks like flossing every day, drinking enough water, doing the dishes, or even finishing a sandwich seem difficult to achieve. And if the simple things are laborious, how am I supposed to accomplish the tougher things like doing my taxes, planning birthday bashes, or getting a f*cking job? 
Luckily, I have a few days off now to hopefully right the vocal wrongs which were so ingrained during rehearsals in the past weeks. And I guess I’ve learned for next time that I can’t expect other people to plan their rehearsal schedule around me (even though most of the cast would have also preferred more attention to detail instead of three weeks of run-throughs). I’m ultimately responsible for my own insecurity, but it sure is nice to have a few extenuating circumstances with which to share the blame, and a good review to soften the blow:
“The singers make an all-around good impression, especially Christine Graham as Frau Fluth. Her agile and precisely tuned soprano goes hand in hand with her nimble physicality.”  FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU
I fooled them this time! Tune in next time to the Grahamophone and watch me juggle five balls and swallow fire, all while riding bareback on a horse in the lion’s cage! 
Might have to practice that bit first.


  1. Life is not a dress-rehearsal.

    Does that help to inspire?

    And also concentrate on what did go right.


  2. Garrie, the fact that someone reads what I write is inspiring enough!!
    Yes - focus on the positive.

  3. I love the article, and the pic is most intriguing as well! :) CD

  4. I definitely know what you mean about "rehearsed insecurity". I have a lot of bad muscle memories of singing things (mostly above A natural) when I was much weaker and had a less solid technique. So unfortunately now when I go back to that material the terror and panic are kind of hard wired.

    I don't identify with your body clock, though. I sing much better at 11 am than after dinner, which is why I love church singing and why I plan all my concerts in the afternoon. I kept hoping that now that I don't work in an office and don't set the alarm in the morning that that would change, but I still wake up by 9, usually, and have dinner at 7, after which it's downhill all the way.

  5. Nice blog. I'd say send some of whatever is in the water over to Melissa, but then she'd become Dolly Parton.

  6. Ha! Rod, I give all the credit to Das Wunderbra.... But in all sincerity, nothing is better for an acute case of insecurity than a good rack.