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An Impostor with a Plan-Part 1

Several years ago I gave a full recital in a beautiful space with extraordinary acoustics-every singer’s dream right? My accompanist was top notch, skilled technically and with me at every turn. All the boxes were checked for ideal circumstances for this performance. It was a noon recital and the hall was packed with workers and friends taking a break from their busy days. I recognized many of the supportive faces. So why was my heart beating so fast? Why was my mouth so dry after dutifully drinking plenty of water all week? Why were my palms so clammy?

I saw a couple of conductors I had worked for as well as some of my singing peers. Suddenly I felt like I was auditioning. Thoughts like, “Who am I to be singing on this series in the heart of a major city for “A list” conductors and singers?”

Sound familiar?

It suddenly dawned on me-I had “Impostor Syndrome.” This term was first coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It’s that sense you have that you are just playing at the role you are presenting, to convince others that you know what you’re doing. It’s theorized that “impostor syndrome” comes from perfectionist tendencies or insecurities to ask for advice for fear of looking foolish. Wherever mine came from, it was barking loudly in my body and I had to go on. But why did this happen?

It’s quite simple. I had no plan for the anxiety. I certainly planned by practicing hard-learning notes, phrasing, dynamics, coordinating with my accompanist, digging into the texts. I even made sure I looked great in my gown! While it is hard to practice the actual emotion, it is possible to anticipate it.

The solution is to create a plan that you can rely on in performance. Renowned Alexander Technique teacher Cathy Madden calls it “a studied rehearsed plan.”

Try this. Notice a place in your body that feels easy right now. Focus on it. Notice your breathing. Notice another place that seems easy. Focus on it. It could be something as simple as your little toe or ear lobe. Continue this exercise noticing your breath. Simply asking yourself to notice is what matters. Practice this frequently, just like you do your music. Practice it while singing through a difficult passage. Has it changed?

In future posts, we will flesh out a fuller plan, so for now, simply ask yourself to notice places of ease throughout your day, not while you are singing. Where do you notice ease as you wash dishes, as a car is honking behind you, as you anticipate a stressful event? Set a timer for every hour as a reminder to just notice.

…and breathe.

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