Working Outside of the Comfort Zone – Part 1

So this is a subject that is close to my heart and something that throughout my life I have found myself doing a lot! It always feels uncomfortable to begin with but with experience on my side I am now able to appreciate what working outside of the comfort zone brings to personal and artistic growth and development.

I usually find that with learning a new skill (singing or playing the piano perhaps!) that there is a period of intense activity, enthusiasm and fast growth that happens at the start as the skill is new and as yet unchartered. If the student has wanted lessons for a long time there can be an initial explosion of energy that occurs in the first few lessons and a desire to play or sing all the time. Firstly it feels great, fun, explorative and exciting and this is just how learning something new should feel. This is the kind of “falling in love” bit of a relationship and students may feel motivated to explore and just immerse themselves in what they are learning. It doesn’t really feel like learning at the start.

With singers who come to me with no prior training everything is new for them and they feel very quickly that they are improving, revealing and strengthening what they have. For singers who have been trained and who arrive at an established standard, working from this point and then moving outside of this zone can prove more challenging as students may have very set ideas as to their vocal style, strengths, weaknesses and their type casting. Working with these singers to shift their awareness, mind set and boundaries can be difficult initially as trust plays a huge part in them being taken away from what they are familiar with. Having sung for all of my life without singing lessons I was a very reluctant to have lessons as I did not want anyone messing with my voice – I had a strong idea of who I was, how I liked to sing and what I did and did not want to do. At sixteen I had my first singing lesson with an open minded, supportive and experienced teacher who did not change what I had but who worked with me to explore and strengthen. Moving into session singing however required me to explore other sides and qualities to my voice often taking me to places I had never been before and introducing me to styles I never thought I would be capable of singing. Thank you session singing!

Everyone at some point will hit a point where they reach a ceiling or plateau. Learning to ride horses as an adult I experience this first hand. Feeling like you have suddenly reached a limit (or what appears to be) can feel like the wind has been taken out of your sails and that you really do not know how to get past this stage (and it is a stage). Having people on hand to help and encourage you can be really beneficial and also friends to boost you when you are doubting yourself. Ultimately though these transitions may feel very personal and at times lonely and how you navigate through will depend on how OK you are to venture from the straight and narrow path. Having an open mind helps and trusting that you will feel eventually feel more grounded but with a new outlook and insights.

There will of course be a level at which you reside and over time you will get to know your voice much better, which helps with confidence. I often ask my students “how well do you know your voice”, which is an important question. The whole point of getting out of your comfort zone is to expand on what you know, challenge your beliefs and perhaps find out that you can do more than you thought you could. Not a bad thing really!


The Creative Flow

So I am fully in the creative flow again after a period of not knowing what to say and how to say it. Song writing used to feel super fluid and my inner critic was mostly supportive but as I have become older that inner voice has been more of a hindrance than a help. Having something to say plays a huge part and I now find writing in my 40’s that I am involved and engaged with the process but not embedded in it. This means that I can observe and edit and hopefully make decisions as to what is best for each piece of work over and above any personal interests or ego. I am also finding (but don’t quote me on this) that allowing myself to reveal my work is a lot less painful and reactive than it used to be. It doesn’t mean that I care any less about what I’m doing but just that I can let go of the songs and allow them to exist in the world without laying claim to them. Each song seems to have a life of its own and it is kind of like going into labor and then giving birth. Each child comes out (sorry for the graphic nature!) in a different way and you can never fully prepare for how things will go. I guess it’s all about experience in the end. I can only be thankful at this moment in time that I am able to write, am not collapsing into an exhausted heap every time I finish something and that there is an element of enjoyment in delivering a completed song. Working with singers is the icing on the cake for me and it is just brilliant to listen to great vocalists bringing my material to life.Long may it continue!IMG_2899