We had some beautiful, sweet, fun and funny performances at our studio gathering last weekend. Jazz standards, Irish tunes and a few pop ones as well. I give two of our quarterly concerts a theme in order to help folks narrow down choices, and it’s a fun way to discover new songs/genres, for me and for them.
My last blog was on confidence, and why we instinctively are scared to perform. I’ve referred people to it so many times the last couple of weeks. Several new clients in the studio in the last month are dealing with nerves in our private sessions. And, then coming off this recent gig with my singers, here are a few other things I notice about performing and nerves.
I host my studio concerts in different venues throughout the year. Sometimes we’re in the big auditorium in the old school building where I teach/train. Or, we rent one of the hip venues in town with a bar, sound system/engineer and get a band (our favorites venues are Petras and The Evening Muse). Recently, I’ve been renting a smaller space, Lessons & Sessions, a guitar studio run by my duo partner Keith Serpa. It’s a wonderful venue for small intimate gatherings. He has a perfect sound system for us, although you almost don’t need one for the space. Keith built a little stage in the corner of the 400+ square foot studio, the lighting is dimmable and homey, and can seat about 30. Perfect space for my 12 singers plus a friend.
Different clients like different spaces, and it seems to be one of the factors of performance anxiety. The smaller space of L&S has been home to 3 of our studio gatherings in recent years, and the feedback from most of the singers is how much they feel at home there. Close quarters, smaller crowd? I’m often their accompanist too, if they aren’t playing for themselves. When we’re at The Evening Muse, I’ve usually recruited the JDVS band, which adds a new element. The Muse can hold about 100, and we’ve filled it once before when I had almost 30 singers lined up. By the way, the JDVS are some of my favorite musicians in town who can read charts to 15-25 songs with very little rehearsal (like maybe one!) and come in to support my clients who are excited to be singing with a band but nervous of the experience too. When we are in the big auditorium, it could be just me playing, or 2 of us, or the whole band - whatever the arrangement, it’s usually the kids that like the big space with a high stage - the adults, not so much.
We hear ourselves differently in different spaces. Even with audio amplification, the sound system and space matter. If we don’t practice in those spaces with the same equipment, it’s all a little different come performance time. The newness and the unknown can add to the nerves. Wherever you are singing, try this: when you step up into your spot, close your eyes and picture the place you are most comfortable singing (most of us that’s home). Open your eyes and keep the image of your furniture, smells, etc.
Of course, there are so many variables that can add to or relieve our anxieties when it comes to performance. I’m realizing how much the space makes a difference. Here are a few other variables I noticed from this performance:
I have always required singers be memorized to sing on a concert. This time i didn’t; trying to keep it low-key. I really think everyone was memorized, some just wanted the words there for comfort. Most didn’t actually look, and for some it was more of a distraction.
Fun and funny songs seem easier - the singer is having fun (hard to worry as much), and maybe the audiences laughter puts them more at ease too.
Most of my adults don’t like the word “concert” or “recital” - too formal, maybe too many (or just one) traumatizing memories from youth. I’ve taken to “song-sharing event” “singing gathering” “spring singing extravaganza” “song-circle” - let’s just get together and sing some songs!
I don’t require people to bow. Just be thankful for the applause! There is always applause!
The more easy and relaxed and informal I am, the more relaxed they get.
I tried something new at this gathering. I asked all the singers to stand, assume the superhero pose and close their eyes. We took a few breaths and then I asked them to hear and sing the first few lines of their song in their head (the act of audiation!). Then, I asked them to lip trill (an air-pressure exercise) the beginning of their song on the count of 3, so that there would be a cacophony of sound. Everyone had a good laugh! And, they got to warm up a bit, hear their song in the space, hear weird sounds, and build testosterone (powerful chemical!) in the stance. I’d like to think it set the tone for a fun and lovely hour of music making!
Does singing in different spaces make a difference for you?