Pop Filter: Sum of all fears

I used to be terrified of singing in front of people. When I was a choir kid in middle school, one of my greatest fears was that I would forget the words to my solo or choke on a high note in front of hundreds of people. After singing solos for audiences for almost a decade, I no longer distinguish between performances for three people and ones in front of 300; every time I get up there, I’m singing for me — not to impress anyone. They’re just along for the ride.

Nerves are more than just emotions, of course. They manifest themselves in our behavior and our physiology. Some people pace around and talk endlessly while others get cold sweats and have difficulty holding their bladder. In my case, my legs start twitching uncontrollably. But while these physical reactions are difficult to prevent because they are mostly subconscious, mental stress is something that we can learn to deal with, and different people have their own mechanisms for doing so.

Singing all by my lonesome out in front is strangely intoxicating at times. Not as scary as it used to be, certainly. The moments spent performing give you that shot of adrenaline you feel as you reach the climactic peak of a roller coaster ride, the kind of thing you could get addicted to. There’s a moment of serenity that washes over me as I count down the minutes before show time, in which everything that could go wrong, all of those potential universes that lie in front of me along my fourth-dimensional path, shrink into a little box the size of an almond. Then I crush it with a fifth-dimensional hydraulic press.

Being on the solo mic is more relaxing than singing harmony, the same way being in a car is more relaxing than riding a plane, despite the car being a steel death trap (statistically). Since I’m the most important voice part for that song, I’m in the driver’s seat, and when it comes to singing, I can get you where you want to go (if you know what I mean). When you’re sitting on a plane, you’re putting a lot of faith in a flight crew way in front behind a reinforced steel door, to make the right choices. The illusion of control or the lack thereof is everything.

At some point during my singing career, I learned that worrying about how other people in the choir or vocal ensemble sound is a good way to develop premature gray hair. You can only micromanage their learning of the music and vocal technique so far; eventually, you have to step back and say it’s on them to find the time to fix their issues. Stressing about things beyond your control isn’t good for you or for your performance. Figuring out the difference between the factors you can control and the ones you can’t is the first step we all take.


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