Artists often struggle with confidence. We create from the deepest region of our souls, laying bare thoughts and emotions that most people are never forced to expose. Not only do we expose our inner selves, but we then present that exposure as a commodity on the open market where others are free to pan, pick apart or simply ignore. Is it any wonder that our confidence, our belief in ourselves waxes and wanes? Where do we get confidence in the first place? Is it formed or destroyed in childhood by our parents? Our peers? And how does the psychic pain that drives many artists to create in the first place affect our confidence? Does it strengthen it or tear it down?
Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve seen students whose confidence levels bear little relationship to their artistry and achievement. Most of them err on the side of too little, needing support and coaxing to bring out their innate talent. Stop whispering, I urge. You’re hiding your voice; let it out. Don’t be afraid.
Then there are the others. People who have an inflated, yet rock-solid sense of themselves and their gifts, despite all evidence to the contrary. Where did they get that unwavering self-assurance? Is it born or made?
I envy these people.
Years ago, one such person walked into my teaching studio. In her late 20’s and completely untrained, she was convinced that a career on the stage was her birthright. Instead of asking for my feedback, she told me what her future held. Frumpy and unattractive, with a high-pitched nasally speaking voice and a strong Brooklyn accent, I found her confidence breathtaking. Perhaps she did indeed have a unique talent, a once in a lifetime gift. A diamond in the rough who just needed some training and direction to realize her dreams.
And then she sang. And it was bad. It was stupendously, awe-inspiringly bad. So bad that, for a moment, I wondered if it was performance art or I was being punked. She sang with no inflection, no resonance, no vibrato and rarely in tune. But she was loud and proud. Confident. And boy, did I envy her.
I record my lessons to give my vocal students something to practice with and the chance to hear themselves as others do. I never keep the recordings but this one I did. Not to mock her at parties but as a reminder – confidence is mutable and self-directed. No one can give us confidence but ourselves.
So, here she is, in all her self-assured, imperturbable glory. And if you think she sounds a little bit like Miss Piggy (another example of self-possessed aplomb), well, she kind of looked like her too.