15 February 2011

What am I doing here?

I was waiting at an audition last Saturday when an unfamiliarly enlightened thought struck me: I was not viewing the other singers around me as competition to be feared and loathed. I could hear snatches of warm-ups and last minute rehearsals from the practice rooms, and from these it was clear that the vocal caliber was quite high. But this didn’t throw me into a panic; I didn’t have the compulsion to compare my own shortcomings to these anonymous sounds. Instead, they reassured me of my worth: since we had already gone through a prescreening round, all the singers around me had been in some way selected to audition. Including me. “If the others are impressive,” I thought, “I must be as well, in some capacity.” I felt like an insider, and I felt flattered.

This isn’t usually the situation at an audition, when tension runs high. Moreover, most audition situations are not callbacks or invitation-based exams: in a general “cattle call,” it is exponentially more difficult to feel loved and wanted. (Except perhaps for the consummate egomaniac, but that’s not really the way to go either.) I realize I won’t have the luxury of feeling so cared for at every interview and audition, but it doesn’t mean I cannot synthesize a comfortable atmosphere through my perception of the situation and, more importantly, of myself in it.

Ideally, we would not need so much comparative input from those around us, being able instead to have an inherent feeling of self-worth. Realistically, however, in a world and a career path where progress is an idée fixe, one person’s worth is constantly placed on a scale with his competition. An audition is not, ultimately, about finding the perfect singer, it means finding the best singer in a given group – so the comparison to others is that much more on candidates’ minds. That’s fine, and necessary, to some extent. It’s also helpful to track one’s own progress with the general level of others more or less in the same boat.

But drawing comparison, and the natural longing for a competitive edge, cannot become a debilitating loss of sense of self. Self-esteem means in part self-knowledge. It means knowing that you are your own working organism, rather than an entirely relative shadow of those around you.

As I’m seeing, it gets easier with age – or rather, with maturity. It also gets easier with experience and a basic list of accomplishments that serve as a stabilizing base. Without these applicable “successes” – concerts, awards, even simple praise – it’s hard to shape a visible form out of the general mass of potential talent and practice hours. In much the same way as children have to develop a sense of their personalities, singers, and other career-people, have to create themselves over time. A balance must be struck between the developing internalized and externally-fueled senses of self.

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