How to Overcome the Fear of Singing

How to Overcome the Fear of Singing

Brianna is a bright-eyed 5th grader. Every time she comes to my studio, she acts like there is nothing more joyful than singing. On top of her cheeriness, she has no discriminative mind. That is, no matter what I suggest to her to sing, she will go for it without interjecting her own likes or dislikes. Her mind absorbs new sound like paper. She listens, then takes it all in until the song becomes thoroughly hers. She follows my advice and tries it without a moment of hesitation. When she performs in front of a large crowd, she just opens up, and beautiful, soaring sound flows out of her mouth.

I often wonder, how Brianna does it? I must admit, I often don’t feel comfortable singing in front of people. I especially abhor singing and playing the piano at the same time. How can I expect that the magic will happen while I’m occupied with muscle coordination in order to play two instruments? I wish I could just be oblivious instead of thinking which keys to play next. All I can do is to practice till I feel numb and… pray. Still, 30 minutes before the performance, my heart begins to pound; I start to have cramps in my stomach. I feel like Maria on the way to the Trapp family’s home for the first time:

“I Have Confidence”

(from The Sound of Music:

Lyrics by Richard Rogers, Music by Oscar Hammerstein II)

I've always longed for adventure

To do the things I've never dared

And here I'm facing adventure

Then why am I so scared

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries

If I don't I just know I'll turn back

I must dream of the things I am seeking

I am seeking the courage I lack

I have to keep telling myself, “It’s ok, Chie, you practiced enough, memorized the song, you will make the audience love you!”

Somehow I will impress them

I will be firm but kind

And all those children (Heaven bless them!)

They will look up to me

And mind me with each step I am more certain

Everything will turn out fine

I have confidence the world can all be mine

They'll have to agree I have confidence in me

Then I go up on the stage, begin to play my song, so far so good, la la la…. then, play the wrong chords in the third verse. I feel my face flushing; I can no longer hear anything but my dark thoughts. As I step down from the stage, there seems to be warm, long-lasting applause coming from the audience seats. But all I’m thinking is, “S**t, s**t, I knew I would mess up on the verse, and I did it, didn’t I?” I go home with a still-knotted stomach, cry on my husband’s shoulder, and drink three glasses of scotch (Some of said events were added for theatrical effect: No, I actually don’t drink like that.).

Back to Brianna, I wondered, “ Does her natural ease come from her lack of super-indulgent ego, perhaps?” As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of my existence. My face, my body, my voice, my whole presence were peculiar and odd, and I felt a very strong sense of alienation from the world. Whatever I did, I felt either I had to prove myself, or I would end up feeling judged, or overwhelmed by the fear of failure. It was a lonely place to be.

Luckily, later in my life I have learned to have a more balanced view about myself with the help of meditation. Now I see that the world has been made through the wondrous interaction of everything in it.  I am a practicing member of the club “Be Here Now.” When I perform, I watch my breaths, look around, and try not to exclude any feelings from my mind. If I made a mistake or two, I can let the moment pass (with the rate of three times out of five), then go back to performing.

The basis of good meditation is to stay with your breath: the basis of good singing is also to understand how the breath flows within your body. Natural singing occurs when you learn to work with your breath, instead of forcing it. Better yet, the best singing maybe when you are not even thinking of anything: Just focus of what is happening right there and then. Brianna has this art of complete focus. For that, she is my teacher.

Here is an exercise I often use before I begin a lesson:

One thing I don’t want to let go is the joy of singing. Because that is the way for me to stay connected to the world. I believe I can share something beautiful. If I can remember that, then there will be nothing to be afraid of . No matter how your singing turns out, it will be a gift from you.

The Sound of Music

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds

That rise from the lake to the trees

My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies

From a church on a breeze

I go to the hills

When my heart is lonely

I know I will hear

What I've heard before

My heart will be blessed

With the sound of music

And I'll sing once more

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