Are you a champion?
Bringing you the Best of 2014! Celebrating 2014 and beyond!!!!
by Dr. Meribeth Dayme
What does it take to become a champion today? Frequently, we hear the phrase “singers are vocal athletes”. Are we really? How? Are there things we can learn from sport that would make us more fit for singing and performance?
Having juxtaposed singing and performance along with tournament tennis for a number of years, I know what it is like to have performance nerves and a subsequent moment of tension exactly when you do not want it. “Choking is no fun”. And the resulting tension can manifest in everything from sounds that are not what you planned to balls that sail outside of the court when you most want them to go in. One split second of fear/nerves/worry can cause the delicate balance required for top performance to dissipate and with it mental focus, technique, musicality, and communication.
Today, the level of skill and performance in sport is so high that there is no room for error. One marvels at the consummate skill of the Olympic athletes—and not just the medal winners. They continually research, analyse, and hone their skills to ever-higher standards. How can we compare a championship level of athletic performance to a singer who will have only the rare opportunity to take advantage of such research? (There are more and more analytical tools for singing, but they are not always geared to performance, the singers’ version of “match play”). Champion athletes practice a number of techniques that singers would do well to incorporate. For a superb article on training, have a look at: The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes by Carolyn Gregoire in the online Huffington Post 02/14/2014. Singers can take advantage of sports research and learning; they just don’t think to look in that direction.
What do singers need to add to their training that is included in a champion athlete’s regime? Want to be an “olympic singer”? Here is what you need to do. The great athletes do it, why not you?
Focus for performance
Your body and energy field are directed by your mind. What you tell yourself and how you direct your energies are vital to your success. Take a moment to focus/visualize/meditate on what you want before every practice or performance. This is taught as a matter of course to athletes today. It has become an essential part of their technique. Singers miss out when they do not include this important aspect to their routine.
“I visualize sequences,” he said Thursday. “I visualize certain plays. I visualize red zone. I visualize the game being played out in my head. I even visualize myself going to the line and making checks … I visualize the stadium …” Russell Wilson, Seahawks Quarterback
How many singers have ever done this with a song or performance? You too can visualize the text, music, context, being on stage, being comfortable with words, music, and the audience. Your brain does not know the difference between your imagination and what we call reality. By visualizing what you want, you are programming your mind and body to respond to your wishes.
“That consistency is credit to Hauschka’s (Seahawks kicker) dilettantish approach to preparation. He concentrates on breathing, he meditates — and all in pursuit of calming his busy mind.” (Sports Illustrated website)
Maintain balance and flexibility of mind and body
This is key—balance of physical technique, coordination, mind and intention.
Athletes and singers alike practice long hours, learning effective and efficient techniques. These techniques are designed to make them good at what they do and to be healthy and free of injury. Sports science and performance draws from many fields outside their own to improve training, technique, and “match-play”. For the athlete, if it works, they will investigate and use it. They are not hung up on how it was done years ago. Not only do they practice hitting, kicking, throwing balls, etc, they spend hours working all the muscles, general fitness, nutrition, mind and performance training. They happily incorporate yoga, taichi, Qigong, visualisation, and many other such practices into the training regimen.
Singers need a similar physical and mental balance as athletes. While they have embraced Alexander Technique and less often, Feldenkrais, there is a treasure trove of help also to be found in the ancient Eastern practices such as Qigong and Taichi that balance body, mind, and life force as one. Too many singers (and their teachers) are reticent to go too far “outside the box”, and tend to overwork a rather narrow perception of what they call vocal technique. This is not the way to become a champion.
Athletes plan their nutrition carefully. Singers—hmmmmmm
Balanced nutrition can make all the difference to how you feel, your level of alertness, and your energy. Everyone has difference chemistry, so there is not one regime that fits all. However, there is sensibility and discipline. Peach Melba anyone?
For the singer, the opponent can be all that conversation in the head
It’s also in the athlete’s head, but with the added complication of someone else competing.
Any added mental conversation, ongoing commentary, self-criticism are simply destructive to the person and the music. It makes it impossible to take what we might consider a performance risk.
Athletes know they have to take performance risks. They have to go for the shot and not play it safe. The level is so high now that playing it “safe” is not an option. Just look at the incredible kinds of shots tennis players use today. Just keeping the ball in the court is not an option: they have to go for it or they will get eaten alive by the play on the other side. Singers are still playing it safe; often sounding on stage as if they are singing correctly. That is all well and good for learning but not adequate on the stage. When it comes to communicating with an audience, they have to go for it. It’s called taking a performance risk. And what is that risk? It is your own perception of what you are doing that keeps you from being completely in the music, text, and communication of the song. Going for it seems to be a risk because it is a trip into the unknown. The real risk is being too cautious so you can get it right.
Athletes are encouraged to develop their own styles according to how each individual’s body works best.
Singers are still trying to clone their techniques and sounds according to models in the past or some current “idol”. The goal for every singer is complete authencity and grounding in his or her own mind, body and spirit. This is what makes a singer unique and able to be a “champion”.
Champions have the ability to play like children with all that they do.
A wonderful example of this is the philosophy of the football coach, Pete Carroll.
“Football is a game,” …“A game. Pete [Carroll] has figured that out. He makes football fun. All aspects of it—practices, games. One of our goals is to play at a level other teams can’t match. That’s what you saw tonight. What do you see when you see a team, running around practicing to music all week? They’re loose. They’re full of energy. And that’s what we are. I know it works for us.” Michael Robinson. In an article by Peter King, Sports Illustrated website.
The moment singers learn to really play with their sound, music, and communication, it changes their performance forever.
In summary, what can singers do to make some immediate differences to their performance?
1. Know your focus and intention for every practice or performance
2. Remember to “play”. Opera singers tend to “serious” instead of “play”.
3. Stay grounded by keeping your feet solidly on the ground and your toes pointed straight ahead. (Toes out weakens your energy and your sound). The moment you give in to fear,
your energy goes up, and you lose your connection to the ground and your voice. Every athlete knows that they cannot compete in this condition.
4. Great champions have big hearts. Never get so analytical that you leave this out of your practice or performance.
You do not need to practice this. You need only to allow it to come through by loving every minute of what you are doing.
Meribeth Dayme,PhD, a pioneer in the field of the singing voice, founded CoreSinging® in 2010. Her dream is that singers become channels for healing themselves and the audiences they reach. After years of research, writing and teaching singing she has found a way to honour that dream. She has taught singing and vocal pedagogy in university and privately for over 35 years and is recognised internationally for her textbooks on singing and teaching singing, master classes and courses. She now teaches the CoreSinging® approach via Master Classes, Webinars and Teacher Certification Courses. She also lectures around the world. For more information visit www.coresinging.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.