A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Finding a pressure-release-valve

I've been on holiday these past couple of months, although perhaps a more appropriate term would be 'funemployment'. Such was the joy of having a contract that pretty much ruled out any Summer festival activity worth staying in the UK for, so a while back I decided to be kind to myself and allow there to be 2 months in my life that I will just not worry about.

It's only natural for freelancers to worry. We feel that if we're not working then the end is nigh! We watch our savings (no, I'm not joking, though I understand why you thought I might be ;) ) melt away, while social media is full of our peers doing exciting stuff for money (or at least either exciting stuff, or stuff for money). Or just anything to be doing something. And yes, if you let yourself worry about the fact that you're not getting anything on the old CV at the moment, then you run the risk of even being jealous of people you know are in unrewarding shows for offensively low fees.

To be honest, I didn't know how I'd cope with this holiday. I'm a thinker and a worrier, plus I'm just coming out of my adventure with moderate clinical depression, so it could have gone either way. But today I'm here to tell you that it's been amazing! To have time to myself, time to spend with friends and family, to sleep in one place for longer than 6 days (my last 2 contracts were pretty long tours). I could have decided to stick around in London and very proactively look for smaller festival work, which I've done before, and emails always come in with invitations to audition for interesting projects that go on over the Summer. I'm glad I didn't.

The time I've had now has allowed me to reflect on a few things. Firstly, on one of the last words of encouragement imparted on me by my head of department and vocal coach - 'You're the kind of singer who'll always have work'. Not 'You'll go far!' or ' You'll be on the big stages in no time', or 'You have a world-class voice'. At the time I thought: fair enough, but I want more. But what more is there? Big theatres? Massive productions?

I remember walking out to do a step-out solo in a Prom a few years back, looking out at the massive RAH audience and thinking 'yeah! this is pretty cool!' while at the same time trying to will my knees into stillness. It was cool, and was a undeniably a bigger rush than I've had doing smaller venues, but every venue still gives some sort of rush, and the Prom has since been replaced by a new highlight in my memory: over 200 school-kids singing along with ETO's Shackleton's Cat so loudly that I could't hear my colleagues or the band any more and I just thought to myself 'oh well, we'll all get back together after this number, so why not just ride this wave of enthusiasm for now'. School hall beats Royal Albert Hall.

What I'm clumsily trying to say is that good work at any level will hopefully give you a rush like this every now and again (let's be honest, it doesn't happen in every gig) and top up your drive. I firmly believe this, you just have to be open to receiving it, rather than grumbling away that you'd rather be somewhere else.

I certainly seem to be employable, and being asked back to various places has given me confidence in my employability, which takes the pressure off my freelance neuroses and makes it easier to be open to those unexpected hits of awesomeness. I've also put a considerable amount of effort and investment into finding alternative revenue streams. I've not gotten a day job, or a temp job, because I really want to spend my life either working with music or relaxing with nature. So until I figure out this singing technique malarkey to a level that will enable me to fulfil my dream of teaching (and it's a very specific dream, which doesn't revolve around taking people through their grade x exams), I've poured a lot of my energy into recording musicians. It lets me participate in the amazing work of others, to bear witness and shine a light on the progress of my returning clients. I love it, I'm good at it, and it earns me some money, all of which keeps me happy and afloat, and... Yep, takes pressure off the 'main job'.

I talk to my friends about this stuff quite often, and I've noticed that the happiest singers I know, are the ones who have something more important in their life than singing. I'm talking about the ones with babies ;) They have such a healthy and invigorating attitude to life, and it spills over into how they go about their careers. They are kinder to themselves, because they aren't doing it to cater to their own ego or lofty dreams of the Met stage, but they're doing it for the ones back home.

Not seeing any babies in the immediate future, but in awe of this healthy attitude, I've decided to fill the gaps in my life with things that may not be more important to me than singing, but are just as important and just as rewarding. And it took some 'me time' to figure out what could get me out of bed in the morning other than 'the career'.

So my advice to anyone reading this who's panicking about gaps in their diary, why not choose one of those gaps and make a pact with yourself not to worry about that particular one and see what it brings to your life... You might just find (or build) a pressure release valve that will keep you from blowing your top when the going really gets tough.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jan, What a great thing to discover a colleague who has same thoughts and reflections about this our little world - although one works around it is difficult to find people who speak their mind, due to different factors sometimes ignorance other times suspicion or just because they can't really analyse properly what is around. It is like discovering a great writer with whom you have affinity. Wishing you the best in your career!