Practicing with other artists: The best way to get past the anxiety of having to deliver

or: why you should blow raspberries

profile of horse's head with teeth

Even horses know how to blow raspberries.
CC image “Silly Face Runner Up” courtesy of Linda Hartman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I thought I knew all about inflection.

In voice class this week, our teacher had us do an exercise with the tongue twister: Esau Wood sawed wood.  All the wood Esau Wood saw, Esau Wood would saw.

And so on.

We went around the circle one by one, playing with intonation, pauses, emphasis, volume. I was halfway around the circle, exactly opposite from the teacher, and so each time the chain began, I had the opportunity to hear half the group test out their voices before the old saw got to me.

Nothing like test prep when the questions are always the same! Or are they?

The first time around (“Esau Wood sawed wood”) I was prepared to be disappointed. Listening to everyone who came before me and hearing the adjustments our teacher was asking them to make, I mentally rehearsed my own delivery.

This can’t be hard, I thought to myself. I have experience reading aloud.

Not so.  My puffed-up pride landed flat on its face upon delivery. Yeah, the pauses were there… but I was rumbling in the fry, and apparently totally lacking in intonation.

Coming from a family of singers, the last bit particularly stung. And the “fry,” as I was coming to realize, was me hanging out in my chest space every time I spoke, rumbling away. James Earl Jones I am not. What was I doing there?

My teacher had me go over Esau wood sawed wood a few more times, and I overcompensated by getting really high-pitched at least once. The experience was a gentle reminder of the difference between practicing something by myself and for myself, and delivering in the spotlight when all eyes are on me.

This is one of the things that freaks me out about sharing my artistic work, and I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. There’s a difference between doing something for ourselves (“it’s fun, I’m playing, it’s just for me”) and presentation (“now, it’s official, and everyone else is going to have an opinion on it. Gulp!”).

I wrote a whole post on the need to just practice our art. But there comes a point where we’re going to want to show off our accomplishments, and I, for one, dislike the sensation of being like a deer in the headlights.

I love voice class. You might say the meeting is a masochistic experience, since I go in every week knowing I’m going to sound funny, I’m going to feel silly. But everybody else has to deal with the same expectation. We’re all in it together. I may have cornered the deal on pauses; but my neighbor’s voice sings in clear tones, no frying at all. And we all blow raspberries at the start of class and sometimes throughout the middle of the session, too. A bunch of adults, jumping up and down, shaking their heads and going “Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! BBBBBbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRR!”

That’s one of the things I love about my writing workshop, too. We’re all in the fry together, shaking out our language and stretching it.

Being crazy in a group, I’m finding, is the easiest way for me to find my own voice.

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When was the last time you really allowed yourself to be silly?

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