Stella Brüggen

Stella Brüggen

The Perfect Way to Sing

Last month, I posted a story about battling my stage fright. I got the nicest responses – private messages, texts, comments on Facebook – for which I am sincerely thankful.

The people who got in touch also had some incredibly valuable advice.

‘About your stage fright: you’re in your third year. That’s when you know just enough to think you don’t know anything. Try to enjoy the concert. Get in touch with why you’re singing.’

This from one of the foremost opera divas of the Netherlands, Francis van Broekhuizen. She had some more advice to share, which I found particularly helpful:

‘Tension isn’t bad. You could call it focus – but try to move the focus to your audience instead of yourself.’

Interestingly enough, this is almost the opposite of some of the most popular advice on stage fright: to ‘focus only on yourself and forget about the audience’, to prevent anxiety about being judged.

Francis’ advice is that we don’t look at the audience in fear, but with curiosity and openness, asking ourselves what we can give them instead of what they are expecting from us.

Sylvia Zandvliet-Bodenstaff, the mother of one of our ‘opera kids’ (and tireless stage-hand) sent this:

‘Striving for a perfect performance is great, but what is perfect? Nobody is. You are human as well. The people in the audience will often not even hear your mistakes.’

These two messages in particular led to a small-time revelation during my practise the next day.

Going through my warming-up, I was searching for the ‘right’ position of the [o] in my mouth when I suddenly realised: there is not one right way. The only things that exist are what I like, what the audience likes, and what doesn’t harm the voice.

No matter how fantastic of a singer you or I become, there will always be people who don’t like it. And no matter how many people hate what you’re doing, there will always be people who are moved by you.

Nobody’s perfect – but more than that, there isn’t a perfect way of doing something as subjective as singing. Pretending that there is will only lead to disappointment and the unwillingness to share with the audience what we can already do now.

Let’s strive to improve the authenticity of our interpretation and the health of our voices, and not fall into the perfection trap.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Comment at the bottom of this page or DM me on insta (@stellabruggen). 

2 Responses

  1. Nice paper. There is yet another reason not to strive for perfection. Perfection supposes that all the marks are A. But not all aspects of singing point in the same direction. Therefore, there is no maximum of these aspects but an optimum. Increasing some will go at the expense of others. Therefore, you have to actively determine what you want to achieve, rather than to strive for an abstract feeling of perfection. Also, what you consider best for, say, expression, your audience may not.

    1. Hey Paul, that’s a really good point. We tend to think of our progress as singers (or musicians or artists in general) as a linear development to getting ‘better’, but the reality may be closer to the careful sliding of many dials on a panel to look for the combination that pleases us and our audience most. I wonder how much we as singers get to choose in what we want to achieve – I’m still a little bit in this mindset of ‘my voice will show me what to do’, not ‘I will show my voice what I want with it’. Or at least, that’s what I feel like I’m being taught. Curious to hear your thoughts if you have any on this subject :)