When Things Have To Get Worse So They Can Get Better
Original artwork by Jacquelyn Kruzic
My last yoga class was a total disaster. After lots of steady improvement, I felt I was back at square one (or square negative-1 . . . is that a thing?).
After class, the teacher checked in with me to make sure I wasn't feeling discouraged. And I wasn't. I knew I was struggling not because I had "gotten worse," but because the improvements I've made recently exposed a habit I had unconsciously developed to compensate for my poor form. Now that my form is better, the habit that used to help my stability is actually hurting it.
We discussed ways in which I can strengthen the right muscle groups between classes and properly develop stability. Then I'll be back to my normal slow-improvement, until my progress uncovers the next hole in my yoga proficiency.
As I drove home that afternoon I started thinking back to some of the more difficult periods of my vocal development, like switching fach, and reworking my vocal technique with a new teacher.
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I hit the proverbial wall with mezzo rep, and for the first time people started suggesting soprano rep that didn't feel awful in my voice. With all the pressure I'd been under to sing soprano. I figured a fach switch was exactly what I needed to build on my moderate success as a mezzo.
Instead, my success rate dropped drastically. As a mezzo, almost every application I submitted garnered me an audition time-slot. Once I turned soprano, people wanted to hear me only about 25% of the time. I went from being clear about what I should sing to drowning in a sea of conflicting opinions regarding what kind of soprano rep was appropriate for my voice. Perversely, the better I got, the fewer auditions seemed right for me.
(If the number of opportunities you should apply for is inversely correlated to your skill, you might be a young dramatic.)
The thing is, while transitioning to soprano was absolutely the right choice at the time, my voice was never going to stay in that initial rep. But it's not like I could have gone straight into actual dramatic rep. My voice needed time to grow and settle into soprano. It may have taken longer than I anticipated, and the transition may have been awkward, but neither my voice nor my artistry are the worse for it.
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Not coincidentally, I started with a new voice teacher around the same time I started to change fachs. The effects of her training began to show immediately, and as I continued in her studio, people who heard me infrequently were quick to remark on how much my voice had grown and changed since the they heard me last.
But while my progress and improvement were evident in the long term, they weren't always obvious day to day. Sometimes singing well was a bit of a struggle. Sometimes my voice would just straight-up refuse to work at all.
The first few times this happened, it freaked me out. How can I be doing everything right, yet sound so wrong? Eventually, I noticed that my voice would, like, hibernate every so often; just before it got way better, in fact. Though I felt like I was regressing, it turned out these periods of poor singing were an integral part of my progress.
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It may just be that I care less about my down-dog than my singing career... but I like to think my optimistic response to that epic fail of a yoga class is due to being older and wiser and having learned to take my failures in stride.
It's so easy to get wound up in our failures and loose sight of their place in our overall success. It's nice to have a reminder now and then (even if it's a cliché epiphany after a yoga class) that sometimes things have to get worse so they can get better.