If you were anything like me during your undergraduate years, you probably spent the Summer working extra hours at a dead-end job, took an occasional vacation or day trip to the beach, and found yourself two steps behind vocally when you returned to school in the Fall. Often, we justify this by thinking that rest is good for the voice, or that since we’d worked so hard that we earned the break. While these things are certainly true in some instances, I’ve found myself in quite a different place over the past few years.
It should come as no surprise to most readers that there comes a point at which we must consider singing to be our job, regardless of whether it actually provides the majority of our income. For many young artists, Summer is the time when we most feel like working singers. Last Summer, I was energized and motivated by the thrill of daily rehearsals and freedom from a day job in banking I had held for years. However, there are Summers when, despite countless auditions, we find ourselves without work. This Summer is just that for me.
So how do we stay motivated and productive through a dry spell? Ian Howell has written an informative article in this journal called To Do-ing Well in Your Singing Career, which outlines simple organizational steps we can apply to our day-to-day routine. However, I’d like to elaborate a bit more on how I apply this concept to myself.
Last Summer, I started to shift my thinking about singing in a way that boosted my motivation. Although I’d enjoyed the occasional paying gig, I was still had the mindset of a student, looking forward to a hazy future that I wasn’t quite ready to take hold of. During the month I spent covering a role in a small, professional opera company, I was inspired by the young professionals I met. Many of them were only a few years older than myself, and they remembered quite well what it was like to be where I was. The most important thing I learned was that I had to approach singing as a job, and plan accordingly.
This has forced me to look ahead during the long periods of downtime between engagements. In the past I’ve made the mistake of working toward what is most immediate, then floundering through the periods without work or projects. What I like to do now is always plan a project to work towards, whether it is to learn a full role or an independent recital or performance. Setting goals, rather than merely singing through a few new songs when the mood strikes, keeps me working for myself. This also keeps me from feeling inadequate or useless when the events page on my website begins to look sparse. One or two days a week is allocated for administrative tasks, like updating my website, bio and resume, or sifting through audition listings. Believe it or not, many companies and organizations hold auditions during the off-months, which is why an annual membership to sites like Classical Singer or YAPTracker is worth the reasonable price.
Whatever stage we are at in our career, we have to seek balance. We need personal time just as much as time spent honing our voices, and the knowledge and experience gained from personal enrichment can directly inform our craft. I’ve experienced periods of frantic, last-minute preparation, flanked by periods of laziness during which I greatly neglected my musical development. Although the “break” often feels great at first, it is always a frightening jolt when I force myself to grind the engines again. I can honestly say that I am happiest when I maintain an active, yet balanced routine – and we all know that a happy singer is a better singer.