Monday, July 13, 2009


A few weeks ago, I was standing in front of the Atlanta Symphony at their first rehearsal in their summer home, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park, listening to the winds trade off the opening themes of Ecco ridente in cielo from The Barber of Seville, while sweat dripped down the sides of my face. As I took in my first breath to sing the opening lines, I felt my heart racing in my chest, and I realized that my perspiration was not only due to the sweltering heat.

The first time I sang the Count in Barber was in 2003, at the end of a pressure-filled, intense, and mind-blowing summer. I had just finished my first year in the HGO Studio, and earlier that summer had competed in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, sung my very first Carmina Burana with the National Symphony, and was experiencing my first summer as a Wolf Trap Filene Artist. By the time my first rehearsal for Barber came round towards the end of the summer, I was beginning to feel myself crack under the pressure of all of the incredible opportunities that had come my way in those months. The Count was the most difficult role I had ever encountered up until that point, and that summer at Wolf Trap would be the first time I ever performed a leading operatic role in a professional situation. It was also the second time I ever performed any Rossini in public for a paying audience. Warming up for that first rehearsal at Wolf Trap, I started to wonder if my voice was pretty enough. Would I be able to sing as fast as I wanted? Would my high notes come out? What if the conductor hated me? What if I didn't get along with the director? Did my colleagues all think that I sucked? My inner dialogue was creatively catastrophic as my worries and nerves overwhelmed my logical mind. By the time I opened my mouth to sing the first notes of my aria, I was convinced that I was going to be fired for my substandard-ness.

Midway through rehearsal, I realized that I could not live the rest of my life with that kind of neurotic drama going on in my head. It made it almost impossible to sing and sucked any sort of enjoyment I got out of making music. I resolved myself to finding some help when I got back to Houston, and the minute I got home after rehearsal, I bought a copy of The Artist's Way and have done morning pages almost every day since then.

Back in my Atlanta hotel, trying to relax and unwind after our rehearsal, I remarked on the phone to a friend that The Barber of Seville sent me into therapy. While I said that somewhat jokingly, it held a lot of truth. Barber forced me to change the way I approached music. It was, until that point, the first time I felt so much terror of performing that I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull it off. It was the first time I had ever questioned myself so profoundly that I wondered if I was cut out for a career in music. Facing that again for the first time in six years in Atlanta, I was quite vividly reminded from whence I came.

Putting on a brave face, I feigned calmness and nonchalance the day of the concert, but inside, I felt as if I were right back where I had been all those summers ago at Wolf Trap, questioning myself and my ability to negotiate Rossini's virtuosic and naked musical terrain. But this time, as I warmed up for the concert, all the work I had done dealing with my nerves the past six years started to seep in, and I found my nerves and self-doubt turning into adrenaline that was fuel for my focus. Midway through the aria, the first piece I sang on the concert, I realized that everything was going just fine, and that it was, in fact, fun. I felt myself relax, and I began to enjoy the summer night and getting to entertain the people who had braved the heat and humidity to hear this fun, lighthearted music.


Ann said...

Congratulations! I'm not sure if that's the right thing to say, but I feel that its appropriate. And I just have to add this little tiny, inconsequential tidbit. I'm in Seville... Ohio... and I found not one, but two, barbers. That is all.

Daniel Buchanan said...

Thanks for sharing this. We all go through these feelings, so it's great to hear someone say them out loud. Also, I ::heart:: Artist's Way.