The other night at work I had a lovely encounter with a lady, whilst she was waiting for the elevator that I had just called for her. I asked her how she was and she told me that she was tired, because she had been to Stratford already that afternoon, to see The Philadelphia Story. I asked her how she had enjoyed it and her response was beautiful. She told me that the lead woman had clearly studied Katherine Hepburns accent to a tee, but that she was clearly trying to reproduce Katherine Hepburns portrayal of Tracy Lord and not her own. Then, as the elevator doors were about to close on our conversation, she looked at me and said, “I wish that she had respected herself enough to trust herself more”. I thought that this was beautiful. That’s really what it is all about, isn’t it? As artists, we have to make thousands of character choices. We can be inspired by other people, sure. I watch people closely, on a day to day basis, to see how they hold themselves, how they move, etc. If I see one specific characteristic that I find fascinating, I may even see how I can incorporate it into a character, and try to explain why that would be a part of who she is. There is actually one thing that I do with my hands on a daily basis, that I subconsciously picked up from someone that I respect. It took me a while, I am sure, to realize that this specific person is where I picked it up from, but I know now that it is.
So often, we are told to ‘fake it until you make it’. A lot of our teachers will seriously tell us to 'pretend to be an opera singer;, in our lessons, and it is when we pretend to mock the greats that our technique often zips right into place (this actually happened in my last voice lesson). Weird, isn’t it? I know that I am not alone in what I am about to say; I have the fear that someday someone is going to look at me and realize that I am a fraud, that I don’t actually know how to sing. I know that I am not the only singer to think this way, because I have had many conversations about this very topic. This is a ridiculous way to think and to live! Because fact of the matter is, I DO know how to sing. I am NOT a fraud. I’ve always had a difficult time accepting compliments and I’ve also always had a difficult time believing that I actually do have any sort of talent. But here is the thing. I am a Christian and a deep believer in God. Even if you and I disagree on our religious beliefs, please hear me out. I believe that God created me, that I am created in His image and that any talents that I may posses, come from Him. I also fully believe without a shadow of a doubt, that He has brought me to where I am today. That every door that opened or closed, were done so for a reason, and that I am exactly where I need to be. How can I believe these things in my heart and yet at the same time turn around and tell someone that I have no talent? How could I be running unashamedly towards my dream of becoming a professional opera singer, if I don’t believe that I have any talent? We need to treat ourselves better. We need to be kind to ourselves. We, artists in specific, but also everyone, everyone out there, we need to treat ourselves with respect. We need to trust ourselves. We need to stop putting ourselves down, stop worrying about what other people think of our art (whatever form it may take) and get it out there. There is only one of you, and therefore you are the only person in the world that can make the artistic choices that you choose to make, in the way that you choose to make them. And you know what? That is a pretty cool thing. So yes. Take advice and gather ideas from other sources. But trust yourself enough to realize that you know what you are doing, and commit. Do what you need to do to become the character, to finish the painting or song, whatever it is! Trust yourself. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Let’s be honest. I should really consider this an open letter to myself. Until the next one, xo. Deena.
p.s. After writing this a few days ago, I came across this beautiful half hour video about an opera singer, creating the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House. You can witness a bit of what I talk about in this video. You can see that even professional singers who have a full career, struggle. They worry if they are good enough. They get lonely. It is in our loneliness that the demons of self-doubt seem to attack and a career in opera can be one of the loneliest roads. I already deal with this on a daily basis and I’m not considered a professional yet. This is one of the reasons what we must be kind to ourselves. We have to surround oursevles with people that we love and trust, but we have to know and realize that they will not always be able to be there when we need them. We have to be kind to ourselves, so that in those lonely, quiet moments, after a rehearsal, lesson, coaching or practice that didn't go so well, we are able to stay strong and trust ourselves that we will be better next time.
(the above picture was taken by Carly Chalmers, in Salzburg, Austria this summer, where I was singing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni)