“Why don’t you perform more often?”

I haven’t blogged for a while – sometimes life just gets in the way, and juggling teaching, professional development, music/creativity and a family life is not always an easy thing to do. Setting priorities is something very important, and my priorities have changed more than once in my life, and probably will keep on doing so.

Today, I’d like to write a bit about myself – as coaches, we certainly want to give valuable advice to our students, but we also have our own lives, and when I look around on the web, I very often see a lot of self-marketing, but the person behind it seems to get lost. I am not excluding myself from this by the way – we all need to promote our businesses (actually one thing about being a self-employed coach that I don’t always enjoy).

A couple of days ago, one of my students asked me the question I picked as the header for this post. A short explanation how we got there: I usually sing very little to my students – I demonstrate techniques, but I don’t indulge myself in singing FOR them. I had teachers like that myself, and I found it horrendous – not because they weren’t amazing singers (they truly were), but because that’s not what a singing lesson is about, and it’s also not what the student pays for. A singing lesson is about the student, trying to solve their vocal problems and helping them along on their journey to become artists – not about the teacher who needs a pat on the back for how amazing they are. So despite trying not to sing too much – every so often, I have to sing excerpts of songs to make intentions clear, especially when I work on performance and interpretive issues. After I’d finished, the student said: “You have such a great voice, I would pay to hear you sing – why don’t you perform more often?” Uh oh…

I performed for well over a decade, so I am not one of the coaches who went into teaching straightaway without any performance experience, and I believe it is important to be able to advise my students on this part of the business as well (or even just on performing as such if they don’t aspire to be professional singers). I always loved performing for sharing music with others – but I hated being in the centre of attention. I hated it as a child, and I still hate it today. You obviously learn coping strategies, so the stage-fright I suffered from as young performer was not really an issue later on, and playing roles certainly helped.

What I never enjoyed however was when the focus was on me instead of the music. What I also didn’t always enjoy was the idea of having to earn a living with singing: You cannot always be picky, you do stuff you maybe don’t feel that passionate about, your artistic freedom gets its wings clipped on more than one occasion, and the thing you actually love turns into something that feels laborious.

When I moved to Scotland from Germany over 6 years ago, it was decision-time: Focus on performance, or focus on teaching? I did the latter, for a variety of reasons I don’t want to bore you with, but most of all because I simply love teaching more than performing. I would be lying if I said that I don’t have these little selfish moments as a coach: You see your students grow into good, sometimes great, singers and artists, and you are proud to have had a part in this development. Mostly though, it is about a genuine love for teaching, and passing on knowledge.

On a purely personal level, teaching also enables me to have a private life that doesn’t need to take the backseat on numerous occasions.

On an artistic/creative level, it is now hugely important for me that I don’t have to earn my living with my music/my singing. If I sing, I sing, and I don’t need to care whether I am commercially successful. People can love my voice or hate it. They can enjoy the music I choose to sing, or they can be utterly bored – it doesn’t matter because my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. I sing almost every day, so it’s not that I stopped singing, and I never will. Creative work is a necessity for me, and I’d do it anyway – no matter if someone pays me for it or not (if you think this means I sing professionally for free, or sub-standard rates, you are mistaken though).

These are all very personal choices, and for that reason, they are not “right” or “wrong” (maybe a bit strange to some, but I can afford not to care ;)). It just sometimes saddens me when some young artists feel so much pressure to build up this whole persona, just to appeal. When performance is not a vessel for sharing music, but rather one to indulge in vanity, or trying to replace personal insecurities with audience admiration. Sadly, it usually still doesn’t make the insecurities go away, as many performers’ life stories have shown over the years.

That’s not to say that everyone who loves performing doesn’t have artistic integrity – far from it actually. It’s just the thought that you should be doing what you need to do anyway, no matter if you are commercially successful or not, no matter if people like what you do or not, and that no one should make you feel you have to change something about yourself or your music because “it will sell better”. [Tweet this!]

I’d like to finish this post with a quote I read on VoiceCouncil Magazine recently:

As singers, our artistic identity lies at the heart of everything we do (…). However, with the record label pulling all the strings, at what cost does this ‘fame’ come to our artistic identity and wellbeing?

Why don’t I perform more often? The answer for me is simple: Because I personally feel it would (and indeed did) very often work against my artistic identity, integrity and personal wellbeing. That’s enough to know it doesn’t add anything to my life…

© Petra Raspel 2012

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