Do you know the feeling when you have been carefully
preparing to woo your audience with your quartet package for weeks, you feel nervous on hold but it is under control, then you walk out in front of the lights and boom- your legs start uncontrollably shaking? Followed closely by your voice and as much as you are trying to just get on and feel the song as per "the plan" to sing to the best of your ability, your face, body and singing are showing that you are fighting this internal battle of mind against body. That was me with BS4 singing in the mixed Binh quartet competition on Saturday 1st November 2016 in Bournemouth.
So I'm taking a look at this situation so we can all learn from it as I saw it across the face and body language of many people who were on the stage over the weekend. We are just human after all.
It all boils down the the fight or flight response when we are put in a "life threatening" situation. Your body says you are doing something really dangerous. Putting the next few minutes of your life for a "score" and entertaining a knowledgable audience means you are up for public scrutinisation. However, it isn't a reflection of your entire life and ability for just those few moments so don't let it affect you more than it should. Personally I am fairly able to usually perform, talk and communicate confidently in most situations and normally I can channel my nervous energy, am prepared and regain composure so it was a shock for that to happen to me.
Looking at the situation I was struggling with myself wanting us to improve on last year and was very aware of my own inexperience (just twice on convention stage before a year ago and once with a really low score) compared to the many other competitors with quartets filled with medalists, judges and experienced directors. I had stepped into the lead role for the first time (which is my second calling I believe alongside baritone), was confident with the music and could sing it nicely. However we had left it to the last minute in September before we decided what we were going to sing as we had been busy. I'm also aware that I wanted to show that I can sing well and then perhaps people may buy teach tracks from me. We hadn't had any coaching either and personally I find it hard to self assess whilst I am singing myself (although I can hear, judge and suggest just about everything when listening as an outsider that can be improved). Our pre preparation consisted of one song being performed in public as we didn't get much opportunity. On the day before convention, I was feeling anxious, grumpy, a bit ill and decided to abstain from drinking and all night singing. So I had applied pressure and high expectations on myself.
The day of the contest dawned and I was already fairly overwhelmed. Usually it doesn't happen to me like that. I always have a plan, I know my stuff as best as I can ready to share and I dearly hope that although I feel like an imposter sometimes that I cover it well to help people feel comfortable in my company.
Hair straightening that morning was a trauma. I turned to social media for positive vibes. I wasn't hungry and was incredibly grumpy. I couldn't remember words for everyday things. I wished that we had been allowed stage time (or even a little pre visit walk on stage) as it is totally full on to go straight out and not have that. Not being in a competing chorus or quartet meant that my first experience on that huge stage on the weekend was when I stepped out from behind the curtain.
I used tools that I have learnt that usually work to settle myself and it was becoming effective by the afternoon. Breathing slowly and imagining doing the performance well (this time I was The Ringmasters). Usually I do power poses, but I didn't remember. I accepted that I was nervous and that helped. I had practiced the art of gaining composure whilst performing so I reminded myself I had something to draw upon when I needed it.
Stood behind the curtain and we were ready for the announcement. I was feeling manageable and far more under control then how I was feeling earlier that day. Walked out, went to the front, went back
for the pitch, first two notes and then it hit me. An alien reaction to me who doesn't usually get it this bad. My legs felt like I had no control of the shaking and may go beneath me. You couldn't see it thankfully (and I now know why so many people sing in wide trousers). The voice wobbled, my support went and got a little shriller. I immediately kept trying to put myself back in the song but I couldn't quite get it back as easily as normally, my face told the untold story and mistakes crept in. Luckily no major errors happened as I defaulted back to a well learnt version of the music albeit the shaking. When you know you can do a reasonable job and then that happens it is so frustrating, but I just couldn't help it. I got it back together and we finished but I walked off quite annoyed with myself to let everyone (and myself) down yet glad it was over.
So to help prevent this happening again, I know that being prepared and acceptance is the key. Practice properly and allow time. Don't put unfair pressure on yourself, get another ear, get stage time if it is offered and remember that it is only singing and it is a hobby. I'm after all the help I can get to grow as a quartet singer (and a decent coach/director for good measure) as it is no secret that one day I really would love to aim to be in an national/ international level quartet. It is a case of one step at a time (large steps hopefully!) and I've already made huge progress in a short time.
This reflective personal post isn't about our results but BS4 did quite well considering. We improved on our score from last year and as much as we would of loved to have made over 60, but we were very close with 59.8% and came in 10th place. Not bad for a Black Sheep chorus Extreme quartet with no high achieving barbershoppers (yet) and a lead who had a nasty and unexpected attack of the wobbles.
And a super well done to the winners Hannah and The Hurricanes. They are so talented!