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That Nagging Sensation is Going to Kill You, and Other Things I Think about during a Summer Program

There are very few things that I get frustrated with. Whether it's due to my naturally sunny disposition (I hear you laughing, mom) or years and years of therapy, it usually takes a lot for me to get angry.

This is not so much the case when it comes to my voice. I know, we've all been there; our technique is not as solid as we want it to be, we don't understand the psychology of this character, that word is impossible to pronounce, etc.. It's all too easy to become impatient with our bodies and our brains, and I'm here to tell you that this impatience will drive you nuts.

Picture this: You're attending your first-ever summer program, over Zoom, in the middle of a global pandemic. There is no final performance, just a "goodbye, stay in touch!" and then you close your laptop so you can take your dogs outside to pee. It's not a high-stakes program, but you're a singer with a perfectionist brain. You were asked to come with the music learned, not memorized. Do you:

A. Have fun, enjoy the process and get valuable feedback from some of the best musicians in the business, or

B. Hold yourself to an impossible standard, freak out the entire time you're preparing your roles, and curse your body for not getting that note right the first time?

No one is surprised to hear that I went with the second option in the first week. Unsupervised, my thoughts dunked my head in a metaphorical toilet and gave me a swirly matched only by the bullies in every 80's movie ever.

The reality is that I got a ton out of the program. I met amazing people, got to work on my technique and artistry, and took a deep dive into my roles that I will forever be grateful for. And yet, I couldn't help but hear a voice that sounded a lot like mine, telling me that my insecurities were not just thoughts my brain made up, but grounded in fact and therefore immovable.

My insecurities could very well be grounded in fact, but that helps exactly no one and I'm trying to have my Hot Girl Summer over here.

As far as summer programs go, I'd say mine was pretty fantastic. I learned a lot more than I thought I would in two short weeks, and the most invaluable takeaway was learning how debilitating my own insecurity can be. I watched my confidence shrink to the size of a walnut because I thought doing difficult things imperfectly meant I wasn't improving. At some point, it occurred to me that this was the reason we practice. Still, it wasn't until I noticed the thought pattern that I was able to lift my head out of that toilet and start enjoying my program.

So I am writing this to all of the first-timers, the baby singers who are also spooked and resentful of said spook. That was me, and occasionally still is, but I'll let you in on a secret: there is nothing wrong with you for having an emotion. Ostensibly, everyone has a brain whose job is to produce thoughts. My brain, for example, is a big fan of playing this phrase on a loop when I do something wrong. I know. I wish I was kidding, but I swear it used to really sting when the moment was right. Regardless, I am here to remind you that you are not your thoughts. That nagging sensation is well within your control, and you are more than capable of teaching your brain to be kind to you, I promise.

- Camden McLean

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