Being Willing To Be Criticized

Performers have to be willing to criticized on a regular basis. We start being criticized as young students and it continues straight through until we retire or die.

The criticism comes not only from teachers but later from others if we go on to be in the profession. We get feedback from acting, language and repertoire coaches, from accompanists, conductors, from stage directors and maybe from our colleagues. We get it from the press, maybe also from our managers or agents and from our significant others. No matter how much you do not like being criticized, it never goes away. You can resist it but you cannot avoid it unless you stay in your living room.

It takes a special kind of person who has to develop a special kind of mindset to take in all the critical evaluation and make of it something positive. Of course, it depends as well on how the criticism is presented. It is a lot easier to deal with it if it is given in a fair and considerate way that is honest but kind. If the evaluation is just plain nasty and mean, it takes a lot more “inner strength” to see the value in it (if there is) and make it useful.

Everyone is criticized or evaluated, it’s true, but critical evaluation doesn’t necessarily come at average people in average jobs every single day, and hopefully doesn’t last year after year. And, if the person being criticized is lucky, what is being evaluated is the work being done, not necessarily the person who is doing the work. Personal criticism is much worse to face than criticism about the product itself, unless that product and the person creating the product are one and the same.

It’s hard to separate out who is the singer and what is being sung and that gets even worse if the person singing is doing a song of their own composition and also playing the accompaniment. It takes an extraordinary individual to be able to “step outside” their own experience and see it as if from “outside” in an objective way. The video camera has helped us all to do that in a better way, but not every artist records and watches their artistic endeavors to do self-analysis.

Being a vocal performer (or any kind of performing artist) is, by definition, a vulnerable thing. It takes real guts to stand up in front of an audience and depend on two tiny pieces of gristle, buried deep inside your throat, that you can’t feel and never see, and open your mouth in a song. It puts everything you have on the line, as you present something that you care deeply about and in which you have invested a lot of money, time and energy, and which you are hoping will be acceptable to others. If it is not, you can’t do much about it while you are still up there singing, so you can end up truly embarrassed. Of course, if you are successful, you can be thrilled, and, in some really rare cases, you can end up rich and famous.

AND, one of the worst things about being criticized is having to deal with the criticism that we aim at ourselves. Artists are notoriously hard on themselves. Some truly talented and well prepared people are so harsh on themselves and so unable to allow themselves to think they are acceptable, they never even attempt performing. I have had students who were genuinely talented and ready to take themselves out into the world as performers argue with me about how awful they were. Usually, those people don’t stay in the studio because if they can’t accept my opinion, why should I take their money?

Once in a while (and it is really rare), I run into someone who is the opposite, meaning the person thinks they are much better than they actually are. They stand up in front of others to sing (or perform in some other way) and are just terrible. Sometimes they know and don’t care. They just want to do it and do. Most of the time, though, they don’t know and if someone were to tell them, they don’t believe it. Lizzy Grant seems to be the “in the moment” example of someone who is making Lana Del Rey (her stage name) a success based entirely on how lousy she is. We live in an unbelievable country, folks!

I don’t know a single singer who really likes being criticized but most of them who are good are smart enough to know that the criticism is a necessary evil and that going on entirely without it would be a mistake. Allowing others to criticize you so you can improve automatically keeps you humble. It also allows you to change, to learn, to grow and to discover new things that are very exciting. It keeps you in touch with your humanity and with your art. In the end, it’s a pretty good trade off.

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One thought on “Being Willing To Be Criticized”

  1. I have an 8th grade student in choir who is in the top ten singers (talent) that I’ve had in my sixteen years of teaching and she refuses to audition for solos because she gets to nervous and thinks she’s terrible. I have spoken with her parents about getting into private lessons and she’s flat out refusing. There are indeed artists like this. Like the star basketball player who doesn’t go out for the team.
    Jeff Costello

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