ArtSmart mentor Ben Wager describes his pride watching his student Jamil overcome performance anxiety.

To most people, merely walking a across stage to receive a diploma is about as much of a stage performance as they’d ever like to put on. There’s something unnatural about performing feats on stage in front of people. After all, why would anyone want to put their venerabilities on display like that? To SING on stage in front of an audience is one step even further since the instrument that’s on display isn’t just part of you, it IS you. It’s precisely that daring, that voluntary bearing of one’s feelings that draws out people’s admiration. Almost everyone has musical heroes and sports heroes which command a degree of admiration that, say, a literary hero or an intellectual hero doesn’t. It follows that the public display of singing itself is one of the most difficult aspects to teach. It goes beyond technical ability to fight millions of years of self-preservation instinct that keeps us from making outright fools of ourselves in front of our peers. Jamil is one of those voice students who’s beginning to figure out what it takes to garner the confidence singers need to perform. I’ve had few students that have shown more hunger to improve and perform than Jamil, a soft spoken but supremely eager high school senior with an instrument somewhere between tenor and baritone. At first, he would chastise himself for making a text or musical mistake in front of me but the number one rule in my studio is that no one is allowed to be afraid of making any kind of mistake and that there’s really no sound that could come out of a human voice box that could possibly shock me. Other times Jamil could be quite hard on himself for not singing certain notes with the ease which accompanies great singing. Pairing this understandable demand for excellence with an important audition in January (which didn’t go his way), we found ourselves struggling to cross over a certain threshold of confidence. Steadily, over the weeks, he began to allow himself to be more experimental and trust that I wouldn’t steer him too wrong. Finally, in early February, it was his turn to sing a solo in a masterclass and he took a music stand up with him to perform a song I was sure he had memorized. He sang beautifully and full of self-assurance but I was convinced that the music stand was acting as a safety barrier. When it was time for Jamil to sing certain sections of the song again, the first order of business was to remove that barrier. There he was, on a stage, singing a song he knew by heart, and this quiet, introspective 18-year old stood up straight and took a huge step down the path of performing music in public. I was so proud!

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By Ben Wager  |  Published on 08/03/2020