A contribution by Christiane Iven to the academy day “Theater und Kritik” of the theater academy August Everding on 16.11.2017
In their profession, singers are constantly put up for public evaluation.
From the audience, from (sometimes ill-meaning) colleagues, from conductors, general directors, stage directors, from people who broker and sell art.
And from music journalists, whose verdicts can build up or destroy careers and whose meaning, considering it is limited to the opinion of one person, is disproportionately powerful.
Lastly, the evaluation of one’s own ability is often shaped by the singer’s own disabling and exaggerated self-criticism.
To withstand being incessantly evaluated and, unfortunately, often judged destructively is a challenge that is not to be underestimated for the emotional stability of a singer.
To express oneself artistically through the voice, with the most possible permeability and sensitivity, and still simultaneously remain impervious to hurtful insult, is a contradiction that cannot be resolved and a stress field where each must find his or her own way.
Many of us know how difficult this is and how our opinions of ourselves are so often shaped by negative thinking!
A typical example: A premiere went well, the singer’s own performance was generally successful, the audience was euphoric, the people, whose opinion is important, were happy, and many reviews were positive.
And then in a little clause in a newspaper review is a meaningless, critical limitation, or a listener drops an irritating remark in passing conversation, and suddenly it can be the case that all thoughts revolve only around that. All the praise is perhaps invalid and meaningless. From the eyes of someone outside looking in, the deprecation becomes absurdly important.
Singers are particularly vulnerable. Understandably so, since one’s own voice is a part of one’s own personality and the boundaries between the voice and the self are fluid.
The instrument is one’s own body, which cannot be put down like a violin or trumpet.
He who criticises the singing criticises the instrument and thus the whole person.
If we ignore or repress the criticism, it will work like a seeping poison.
Our trust in ourselves will be weakened, we will develop anxieties or even psychosomatic illnesses.
This is unfortunately not uncommon in singers.
In order for us to strengthen ourselves mentally and emotionally, it does not help to retreat into ourselves, but rather to look the insecurities in the eyes and to keep some things in mind:
• Acceptance strengthens the realistic image of oneself: it is completely acceptable to be sensitive and vulnerable. It is part of the profession, just as is the need to protect emotional balance.
• The criticism often has a grain of truth somewhere. I can discover it and learn constructively to take away something useful from it. What can I do and change? Which solutions are open to me? Which forms of support can I seek?
• The voice is an essential expression of my being, but it is only a part of it. If I can discover a deep and satisfying connection to other forms of expressing my personality and feelings, then I can protect myself from demoralising self-deprecation.
• Perfectionism weakens me. No one can or may ask me to be perfect. Why is my work only good if it is pleasing to everyone? Why do I expect from myself something that is impossible and that no one achieves? Why is it important to me to be the best, instead of just steadily becoming better?
It might help to remind oneself that
• criticism and possible degradation of the work does not necessarily apply to the person behind the work,
• only we ourselves decide how we deal with criticism and how we can use it constructively,
• no one person can be liked by everyone, and
• to be imperfect underlines our uniqueness and defines us from the masses.