When it comes to vocal performance, I guess we can put “doubt” and “fear” into the same wordsphere. Only problem is that doubt and fear are extremely personal; based on a performer’s lifetime of unique experiences. When I was 17, I sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in front of a halftime homecoming crowd. I was decked out in a sequined white tux with tails (thanks, Michelle!) and a stars and stripes top hat. Cheerleaders were in position down on the field – maybe they formed a star, I don’t remember that part very well, but I do remember that I sang and danced on that field. And my microphone was off. The whole time.
The microphone didn’t have an on/off switch, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. As I was performing what appeared to be a mime act, Donna, one of the celestial cheerleaders said, “Your mic’s not on.” And I said, “Yeah, I know” and kept dancing (box step, walk, walk, grapevine…).
When I quietly left the field with the cheerleaders, Scott the sound guy confirmed on the sidelines that, yup, my mic was off the whole time. The drama teacher, Mr. Ruehle, saw my reaction to that news and complimented me on my professionalism, mentioning how I just “shook it off.”
It was disappointing for sure, but I did shake it off. You see, just two years prior, at the gargantuan annual high school musicale extraordinaire held in the sold-out gymnasium, my mic was off for the entirety of my big solo debut at my new school. Now, that was horrifying.
Performing can be a very humbling experience and your willingness to surrender to mayhem is one of the keys to happiness.
So, as a vocal performer, what is in your control?
You can’t do much about the mic, the mixer, the accompanist or the sound system, but you can know your lyrics inside out.
Here’s your checklist:
Without singing it, how fast can you enunciate every word of the song in a monotone with no spaces/word stretches? Can you do it in under 30 seconds? Time it.
How few breaths can you take in that 30 seconds? One? Two?
Can you look at or read an article on your phone while saying your lyrics as quickly and as understandably as possible? Can you then tell us what the article was about?
While facing in one direction, focus on one item in the room and tell the lyrics to that item, then change to north, south, east or west, focus on another singular item, repeat and continue.
Be joyful in your practice.