my inner renée

i’m in the middle of practicing and i’m crying (again). i feel like all i do lately is walk on eggshells. eggshells at work, eggshells in practice, eggshells in my lessons. pretty much the only place i feel OK at the moment is curled up on the couch or in bed. i cry in my lessons, i cry while practicing at home, and damn-it, it’s really hard to sing when your nose is dripping on the floor. he keeps telling me that this is OK, this is normal, in fact, this is actually progress, so why do i feel like i’m just falling apart?

on top of that my voice feels horrible, and i feel horrible for constantly writing these depressing posts. funny thing is about 20 minutes ago when i was singing “cockeyed optimist” i was actually pretty content. now i’m trying to get through just the first line of “but who may abide the day of his coming?” and i can’t sing two words without getting a lump in my throat and mist in my eyes. add to that congestion that seems to be slime-ing up my throat and putting pressure on my ears, and exhaustion from singing contemporary hymns that just stretch my vocal cords like a taffy puller, and i’ve got a very unhappy situation.

gee, do i complain too much?

luckily, i bought a book yesterday (and i got it for FREE because i used borders bucks, that i got for FREE for taking surveys) and it’s such a delightful read. who ever knew renée fleming is funny? i’m reading her book the inner voice: the making of a singer and while she and i couldn’t be more different, i’m constantly shocked at the similarities between us.

example: she writes in the first chapter,

what i wanted were buckets of approval and love, and to be good. i was a notorious teacher’s pet, a straight-A student.

yep, that sounds like me. exactly like me. it’s probably what’s making me cry so much right now. i just want my voice to be good, and i’m constantly feeling like it’s anything but. nothing works, and being miss summa cum laude (it gets really embarrassing being introduced that way), it’s supposed to work. when it doesn’t work, that means i’m stupid, and heaven knows i’ve had many the anxiety attack coupled with breathing attack because i couldn’t figure something out and subsequently felt stupid.

and all i want is for people to like me. i spent a good part of my so far not very long life feeling very unloved by my peers, and it has left me scarred, always trying to please people, always trying to get people to like me. my dad says that everyone likes me, that i’m easy to like. but that wasn’t always the case, and i still don’t really believe it.

which brings me to something else renée writes just a few sentences later:

i was naturally shy—doesn’t every actor, dancer or musician claim a childhood crippled by shyness?—but if i was told to get onto a stage, then that was where i’d go.

shy, shy claire. claire who always hid behind her mom. claire the crybaby (that trait is coming out a ton right now). claire who is scared to talk on the phone. claire who doesn’t know how to play with others, is too scared to play with others even though all she longs for is to be with them.

renée continues on the next page

i longed to be a renegade, to smoke cigarettes in the bathroom and sneak off from school after lunch, but i never had the courage. instead, i kept up my A’s.

i always wanted to be the rebel, to go against the grain. i just didn’t have the guts. instead i got caught up in this good girl, straight-A student world, and that’s all i knew. people couldn’t understand why i didn’t want to cross over to the wild side for a little bit. but some of that came out. it came out in my somewhat odd form of dress. it came out in my weird hair colors. but i was still pretty straight-laced. something inside me though was pushing the norm.

the comparisons continue

in the face of so much accomplishment it was hard at times not to feel like a dull penny. … the only person i know how to be competitive with is myself. i can push myself to any limit, but i am worthless when it comes to competing again other people. those early horse shows nearly broke me. for me, fear manifests itself in a nearly catatonic state. the more panicked i feel, the more my eyes go dead. i become so utterly still that i could put down roots and grow leaves.

that crippling stage fright really hurt me during my first two years of college. i found it so hard to just let go in performance class, that i just ended up being frozen on stage. and then i’d beat myself up afterwards. self-inflicted mental abuse is not constructive, but it’s how i seem to operate.

renée also mentions in her book that jan degaetani told her, “don’t train all the naturalness out of your voice.” that seems to be all i’ve been doing until a few months ago. when i started with gregory, he told me i had at least three different voices: my natural, beautiful mezzo voice, my boy soprano voice, and my countertenor voice. the latter two needed to go – i was just affecting them based on what i had been hearing and what i thought i needed to do to produce a good sound. i was listening to my iPod at work today and an andreas scholl track popped on and granted, i think he’s a fabulous countertenor among a field of countertenors who sound wispy and artificial, but i only listened for about 10 seconds and then switched the track. i felt disgusted, almost violated, as i realized that just a few months ago, i sounded like that. it wasn’t even that i disliked the sound, but that i disliked the sound on me. what the heck was i thinking before?! *shudder*

anyway, back to renée. in chapter two she talks about her education and her voice at the time:

at that point my voice was a minefield of problems: i couldn’t sing softly, i was physically tense, and i had no high notes. everyone knows that a soprano with no high notes isn’t going to go very far in the world.

the second and third points she makes really apply to me. tension seems to be the root of all my problems. i can’t chill. i don’t know how to relax. i haven’t figured it out yet; i’d really appreciate if it would just click but i don’t see that happening. the tension makes my jaw hurt. it makes my voice hoarse. and it really holds me back. not having high notes – that was a wall that had to be brought down. i ran from high notes, because they scared the living daylights out of me!!! thankfully i’m starting to get them now but they are still a bitch to sing. and, while i’m not a soprano, they’re still pretty darn useful.

and then i hit this part of the book:

no voice is discovered on a desert island without having been corrupted by the desire to imitate a passing seagull, and mine was no exception. i’d been performing so much and mimicking the mature sounds of my parents and other adults for such a long time that i had developed some bad habits along the way.

ding ding ding! hit the nail on the head. geez, it’s like this woman knows me or something. it’s really true that we learn about ourselves through observing others. renée fleming is the last person i thought i’d find that with, but life had a way of proving us wrong, doesn’t it? i have a feeling reading this book is going to open some doors, tear down some walls, and turn on a few lights for me. i’m going to go sing now, and then i’m going to continue to find myself through renée. *hugs*


2 thoughts on “my inner renée

  1. Hi Claire.

    Funny. When I read your first lines I thought Oh, Claire should read Renée Fleming’s book!! And then you did :-)) I just finished it myself. But I didn’t read it because I want to be a singer, off course 😉

    Good luck with your singing. I’m convinced you will succeed.


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