We never see the rough drafts of the Masters.
Where are the tears or sweat on the canvas? We don’t see the crumpled drafts, the misdrawn sketches, the failed attempts.
Whether we listen to recordings or see/hear idols on television, we always get singing artists at their best. The most HUMAN recordings are LIVE, where our idols deal with nerves, the conductor, the orchestra, the audience, and their own particular feelings that night. There was no ‘cutting,’ no ‘do overs.’
Studio recordings give an unfair view of the artist and therefore ourselves in relation to them. They sound lush, wonderful – in short – perfect! (This is largely out of the control of the artist. They’ve been mixed and balanced by the skilled ear of a technician.)
Matt Edwards at Shenandoah University has a video of Broadway singers on and off-mic that is revelatory and gets played a lot in my studio.
Missing out on our idols’ rough drafts feeds our insecurity and skewed feelings of vocal progress. It makes us feel we can never attain our goals because the canvas we compare ourselves to is so overwhelmingly perfect.
A recorded revelation of my youth was hearing an outtake of Judy Garland coughing in the middle of “Over the Rainbow.” Judy COUGHED! It was a comforting moment to realize that this film star was not immune to a frog in the throat. I could connect to her in a very human way.
To help with perfectionism, we need more stories about singers working out technical problems. How long did it take them to learn that role? How many months did it take to get a predictable high C? How many takes in the studio were needed to get a good recording of the ‘Sempre libera’? Was the song or aria patched from MANY different recordings? How many times did Menzel have to sing “Defying Gravity” for the cast recording? What does Linda Eder do on a bad voice day?
Our issue with perfectionism is that we know our story inside out. We don’t know our idol’s. So we beat ourselves up for this lack of information. We constantly hear problem-free artists having problem-free performances. Joyce DiDonato is one of the rare artists who recently has humanized her process and her artistic and vocal journey.
We need to hear about tears spilled at the piano. The years of work spent. We need to understand the challenges. The difficulties. The fear. Not in a salacious, gossipy way – but as a means to connect in a deeper, more meaningful way. When we know something is difficult, we can be gentler with ourselves when we make mistakes.
Perhaps then, perfectionism can be seen as the unreasonable and self-defeating ambition that it is.