Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who will be ringing in 2017 with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in an “Enchanted Evening” of American classics on December 31, offers advice for singers and shares her game plan for starting the new year off right.
So, that was 2016 … ! I’ve always loved looking back at a recently closed chapter in my life, analyzing it to learn what worked well (and what didn’t), appreciating it for what it was, and setting up my game plan for the next adventure. While this past year has been an astonishing one for me in many ways, I have to ask: Is anyone else out there happy to usher this particular 365-day cycle out the door? I thought so. So, that means this is the moment for us to decide how we want to open the door to the next cycle. Typically this means a list of resolutions. But I’m not a huge fan of those because, speaking from personal experience, they generally last until January 17 when the temperatures are stuck below freezing and staying in bed sounds MUCH more tempting than that morning training run for my first marathon. Eh hem. So with that in mind, I offer you four things I will be trying to follow in the coming year, with an eye towards the long term, not just a temporary fix for 2017.
See what it feels like to simply be with yourself without distraction or interference. Be brave—see if you can sit in solitude and simply observe the world around you.
1. Connect, ’80s-style: (Bear with me, I’m a child of the ’80s.)
Turn off your cell phone. This doesn’t mean to put it on vibrate and pretend each beeping notification isn’t making you salivate and palpitate. Actually turn it off. Yes. You. Go on...slide the bar into the off position. Immediately. Bravo/a. Now: Put it inside your backpack/purse. Zip the closure. Zip it. (Or better yet, leave it at home altogether.) Yes, I’m talking to you. Now, look up and meet your world.
“Well, Hola, Singer.”
This is the mode that will enable you to actually interact with the world around you, to learn from it, to connect with others without the veil of anonymity found on the Internet, to gather resource material for that profound human emotion you are hoping to convey on the stage with a degree of depth that will justify people paying high ticket prices to see you live! Take your dis-connected self to a café and sit without a single agenda—and just give yourself the gift of observation. Soak it up and see what it feels like to simply be with yourself without distraction or interference. Be brave—see if you can sit in solitude and simply observe the world around you.
2. Practice with purpose, Kobe-style:
I love this article by James Clear that highlights the effectiveness of very deliberate practice. Now that your phone is turned off, and you have connected with either yourself or the world around you, set an agenda and get into the practice room! If you can, keep your head clear as you vocalize so that it’s very purposeful. As you’re warming up, are you just going through the motions to warm up quickly and get to the "good stuff”? (“Gotta figure out that final note at the end of Nessun Dorma!”) Stop it. Stop it right now. That’s wasted time. Get mentally present so that every scale and arpeggio is a chance to grow vocally. Give yourself that time. As you move to the music, resist the temptation to solve all the issues at once. Study after study shows the power of deliberate practice: It’s not just about hours in the studio, it’s about the quality of your intention and work. So have an agenda you’d like to accomplish in that session. No panic about how much you have to learn in the next month, how far behind you are...leave all of that with your cell phone tucked in your bag. Use this time for effective work. You’ll be astonished at how far that goes in getting you closer to the artistic heights for which you are aiming!
3. Clean house, Buddha-style:
If you can give yourself one gift in this coming year, drive out that incessant, destructive, debilitating inner voice that holds you back, shames you, cuts you down, and limits your utterly wonderful, unique potential. I spoke about this a few years ago at Juilliard and stand by it more than ever today. I know that we singers think we are being dutiful and diligent by being hard on ourselves, but I have yet to see how a truly destructive, hyper-critical inner voice helps us grow. If you can say that it makes you a better singer, a happier artist, a more contented human being, then by all means, amp it up. But I would wager that many of you are unaware of the havoc your critical inner voice is wrecking on your self-confidence and your artistic integrity. Tune in to it, observe if it is helping your artistic desires or not, and if it’s not a helpful force in your life, KICK IT THE HELL OUT OF YOUR HEAD. I’ll predict that the space it opens up within your mind will serve you in a far more impactful way than any amount of thinking “you are the worst singer/person on the planet that has ever existed” ever will.
4. Don’t give your power away, (dare I say it?) my-style:
I’m selfish. I don’t like to give the power of my happiness away to other people. Looking at 2017 and the drastic changes that seem to be being ushered in, I am very clear that I will not give away my capacity to love, to hope, to live optimistically, to stand by the sides of those who may be oppressed, to sing with a clear conscience, or to live freely to anyone. I will keep my heart and mind clear enough so that the energy I expend goes to one of creation, not to one of entering the turmoil. (The Jonathan Larson quote, “The opposite of war is not peace: It’s Creation” is currently giving me life.) Creation can include an infinite number of things. I invite you to think about what you want to create around you, and within you—and then go the hell for it.
I will not give away my capacity to love, to hope, to live optimistically, to stand by the sides of those who may be oppressed, to sing with a clear conscience, or to live freely to anyone.
Don't miss Joyce DiDonato perform at the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve
Tune in to PBS on Saturday, December 31 (check your local listings)