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Crack the Cocoon

Elizabeth Caballero, Florenzia en el Amazonas

This year’s election shocked me, and the echo chamber of social media was perhaps the biggest source of my surprise. Shielding myself from dissenting opinions online could be an innocent habit, but hearing opposing voices could’ve spurred me to more focused action in pursuit of a different outcome. As a singing artist I’m tempted to wrap myself in the same cocoon of consensus, but that temporary comfort will ultimately stunt my growth.

We all start out crawling slowly. Each one of us must begin with the basics of learning scales, languages and art songs. The cocoon comes next, and metamorphosis takes patience. Digging into advanced technique and polishing more difficult repertoire doesn’t happen overnight. Hopefully a warm blanket of supportive teachers and coaches surrounds the young singer throughout the process.

Life inside the cocoon was simple and safe. I worked with a couple of coaches who complimented everything I did, so I felt like I was ready to tackle several big auditions. That year I didn’t fly; I faltered. Each of the programs I auditioned for said I wasn’t ready for that next step. Up to that point nearly everyone on my team said I was the best thing since sliced bagels, but the truth revealed itself a little too late. The experience was painful, but it taught me important lessons:

Focus on facts

-Ideas about singing are almost always subjective, but certain aspects of artistry can accurately be measured. Find a teacher who will candidly answer these questions: “Am I singing in tune? Can you hear my voice over the orchestra? Do I have the breath control to sustain this phrase? Can you understand my French diction? Do I look and sound like I understand what I’m saying?”

-Specific feedback is the most useful for me. If someone generally does or doesn’t like a performance, that’s not helpful. I need to know exactly what did and didn’t work in my aria.

Truthful, but not toxic

-The best Olympic trainers pinpoint the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and relentlessly push the Olympian to do his best. If a coach permits inferior performance during training sessions, the athlete will most likely lose his event. I’ve worked with teachers who were too afraid to tell me the ugly truth about certain aspects of my singing, but judges at the Met competition didn’t hold back in their comments. By that point it was too late for me to fix my technical problems.

-Feedback from coaches should be full of veracity but not vitriol. Emotional abuse is never acceptable in any circumstance. A few years ago a teacher personally attacked my brother and me in my lesson. I never walked into that studio again, and I still don’t regret that decision.

Find your filter

-Trying to follow advice from thirty-five varying opinions never works. First I’ll focus on recurring notes from colleagues; then I’ll assess the other feedback with an open mind and compare it with my coach and with my own recordings from rehearsals and performances (the microphone doesn’t lie).

Time to fly

-Life outside the cocoon is risky. There’s always a possibility that you could be hurt. And yet, a kaleidoscopic universe of possibility awaits you once you’re willing to break out of that protective bubble. Soak in the beauty around you, stretch your wings and soar!

yet, a kaleidoscopic universe of possibility awaits you once you’re willing to break out of that protective bubble. Soak in the beauty around you, stretch your wings and soar!

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