So, I finally bit the bullet and sang a solo in a BCOS (Bicester Choral and Operatic Society) concert for the first time at the weekend. It seemed to go ok, I didn't drop the microphone, and I didn't forget the words.
But part of me finds it odd that it was so hard. I mean, at university I was in a band as keyboard player and lead singer, I performed with relatively little nervousness, I even had a green face for a Halloween Party we performed at (yes, there is photographic proof of that, no, I will not be sharing it on Facebook). What changed? Why am I now so frightened of performing in public?
Mainly, I suspect, it's down to a general increase in my level of social anxiety. I don't know if that's an age thing or an effect of modern society, so that other people have noticed a similar increase in themselves. And I also suffer from the typical British disease of being unable to take a compliment.
But I suspect also that the other change between then and now is that I started having singing lessons.
My first singing teacher was an American-Italian opera singer in New York, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, took me through a mixture of Italian arias and American jazz, both of them unexplored genres for me. Suddenly, the length of the notes, the shape of the vowels and other technical things like that, mattered. It turned out there was a whole lot to learn about the previously simple act of breathing. Singing was no longer a carefree thing that I could just launch into, it required concentration.
And now I was beginning to know what it should sound like.
For some people, that's ok, it's a marker that they're aware of but they're not concerned if they don't reach it. For me, not so much. Being a perfectionist can be a wonderful thing, but it can also slow you down. Learning to accept less than perfection is really really hard! Even if other people aren't bothered that what is proffered is less than perfect, I still know that it's not what it could be.
I know I'm not an expert when it comes to singing, but I know enough now to recognise some of my errors. And because I know I'm not an expert, part of me also knows there must be other errors that I haven't yet spotted. That knowledge, combined with all the errors, just makes me cringe inside. Which then puts me off performing.
One way of dealing with it, I am finding, is to set different goals. So this time, rather than the goal 'sing the song perfectly' which was never going to be attained, the goal was 'sing the song in public'. It's not a qualitative goal so there's no option for debate about it at home. I've done it. Tick.
I don't know what my next goal should be. Possibly something completely unrelated to singing, though I am back having singing lessons and cringing most of the way through them (poor teacher!). But Francesca Luel, wherever you are now, what a dangerous course we embarked on together all those years ago!