Performing, like speaking in public, can at times be an outrageous act of courage.
Especially if you are a singer who has lost her voice.
My friend, who shall remain nameless, called me yesterday. It was the first night of her two-week run at a very well-known cabaret room in San Francisco. And she was so sick that she had almost completely lost her voice.
"I don’t know if I can sing. Everytime I take a breath I start coughing," she said in a rough, raggedy voice. "And I have press coming tonight. If I could, I’d just call the whole thing off."
It’s scary. When you are a singer and you’re sick and you need to perform, it just feels awful because you know there is no way you can do your best. There is no way that you cannot be super-conscious and cautious about what kind of sounds might come out of your mouth, or if any sound at all will come out of your mouth.
But, as they say, the show must go on.
So, I’ll tell you what I told her. When you can’t be at your super-shiny best, when you’re instrument is less than ideal, when you are working with obstacles over which you have no control, REMEMBER, your connection with your audience must be your primary focus.
See, what often happens with singers in particular is that they get so obsessed and self-absorbed in trying to sing well that they cut off from their audience. Especially when they aren’t in great vocal shape. They are mentally fussing with their voices so their energy and attention is on technique and getting through the next phrase without coughing.
But here’s the deal. Your audience doesn’t care if you take a breath and start coughing. They understand that singers get sick. They don’t care if that note didn’t soar out with perfect intonation and pitch. They will forgive all that IF you don’t leave them.
So, don’t leave them. No matter what happens, be with your audience. Sing to your audience. Let your availability and vulnerability be right there for them. Don’t hide. Be real with them and they will love it, whether you’re spot on or not.
I remember seeing Rita Moreno perform several years ago, and she was sick. No, her voice wasn’t as strong or as clear as it usually is, and at one point she had to turn from the mic to cough, but she was right there with us. She didn’t hold back on her presence and energy. And it was a fabulous show.
When your voice leaves you, when your speech isn’t perfect, when something goes wrong with the equipment, none of that matters IF you can stay with your audience through it all. When you hit the stage and you know you’re not at your best, let it go. Decide that your connection with your audience will be your primary goal and focus, and you will do just fine.
P.S. My friend did do just fine. She even sang pretty well, and the reviews are going to be great. I just know it.