This week our guest blog post comes from young baritone Ricardo Panela. Read his refreshingly honest account of the determination required to keep going in this rewarding, tough and at times unforgiving business.
Ricardo Panela: My relationship with the word 'resilience'
When I was asked by Audition Oracle to write a blog post, I didn't immediately know what I could write about that would be a good addition to all the great previous posts from esteemed colleagues.
However, because the request came as a follow-up of a newspaper review regarding a lecture I did for an audience of non-musicians about Auditions, I thought that it would be good to repackage that in a way that would hopefully be meaningful and helpful for someone else in the profession. That said, I won't bother you with details about auditions and audition tips because, at the end of the day, it's such a personal subject that you just have to take in the feedback of the people around you but then find out what works for you and stick to it.
I will instead talk a little bit about my relationship with the word 'resilience' throughout these 6 years that I've been freelancing in the U.K.
At one point or another in our development, we all come across someone who talks about the importance of being resilient and of staying at it if we really want to pursue a performing career. Initially, and while we're young (and often foolish), we perceive this notion of resilience as meaning that if we want to succeed, we need to be prepared to face everything with a grin and stay in a constantly positive mindset which will hopefully help us overcome obstacles. My experience is that this works for a while when your energy levels are high and you don't have much else to worry about in life. After all, there's no problem with not being successful at one audition because a generous grant or benefactor will keep you going during the month when that production would take place.
While this may be the reality for a very talented and lucky minority, most of us will find ourselves in a position where a missed audition is a missed job and, as such, income which is not going to happen. Besides dealing with the psychological aspect of rejection, we also have to deal with the practicality of unemployment.
Once you've been balancing these things for a while and just generally living a life with all that's good and not-so-good about that, there will come a moment of exhaustion where you simply cannot remain on a positive mindset no matter how hard you try. You go and talk to people and everyone says how privileged you are to have a unique talent and that things will get better, etc., but no piece of well meant advice seems to be enough to fill the void.
In those moments, more than dealing with rejection, we find ourselves dealing with self-doubt: after all, if we're not getting work, it surely means we're not good enough. Never mind being rational and realising we're trying to make a living in an ever-dwindling market which is only really profitable once you've secured a place on the A-league. The point is that these feelings of doom and gloom naturally overtake the rational part of our thinking and, in all honesty, making music (and singing in particular) is such a personal process that you can't simply ignore there will be an emotional side involved in everything you do.
With this in mind, how does one make the concept of resilience work? How does one manage to have a rational approach while simultaneously trying to shake off all the negative feelings which seem, at times, overwhelming?
The bad news is: I don't really know.
I could just enumerate a few platitudes which you'll be likely to read in any self-help book: stay strong, stay focused, think of all the difficult moments you overcame and how you felt back then, etc. This is all true but not really easy to implement if you're finding yourself incapable of fighting off these negative feelings.
Why not, then - for a change - to stop trying to fight them and allow yourself to fully experience the negative emotions which adversity inevitably brings?
From my experience, I find that trying to force myself into a positive mindset under difficult circumstances is not only unnatural, but ultimately exhausting. It forces you to try your hardest to make your body react in a way that feels contrary to the situation at hand because your subconscious is clever enough to figure out it's being conned by your conscious mind.
On the other hand (and please bear in mind that is nothing more than my personal experience and how my brain is wired), I find that allowing myself the time and space to feel terrible while slowly trying to defuse what triggered the crisis and combing through the situation at a rhythm which isn't faster than my body can take at the moment, really helps me to shift things back into place.
By allowing myself the time and space to react naturally to things, I allow my brain to experience what it needs to experience and to process what it needs to process in a way that's natural and adequate to the current situation. We're only talking about brain substances such as endorphins and serotonin in the end, and while you obviously need to keep a watchful eye and make sure the situation isn't dragging for longer than it should, the concentration of the brain substances will slowly re-balance itself and gradually allow you to objectively assess the situation.
I find that after a while, this shifts my brain back into 'problem-solving' mode and enables me to go and find solutions to what has now become a clear question.
This is what resilience is for me: the ability and the willpower to constantly solve problems in a way that is natural to who you are.
There are obviously other things you can do to help yourself a little bit. For me, during a recent and quite tricky patch of the road, it was to take a week off singing and whenever I felt I needed to make music, I found piano scores on Scribd of famous big tunes from movies that I've always liked (OK, the character themes from all the Star Wars movies...) and launched into playing them at the piano. Now, mind you, my piano skills aren't great but then again, the point of that music making wasn't to achieve technical proficiency but to simply experience music in a context completely free of professional pressure.
Treating ourselves with kindness may seem like a challenge at times, but at the end of the day we experience so much strain and difficult circumstances on a daily basis as part of our jobs, that we owe ourselves the kindness we'd show others in the same situation.
Ricardo Panela, baritone
Born in Aveiro - Portugal, Ricardo has distinguished himself for his interpretation of the florid baritone Bel Canto roles, deemed beguilingly sonorous, a technical tour-de-force and mesmerising by different music publications. The 2015 - 2016 season saw Ricardo debut to critical acclaim at his home country’s National Opera House in Lisbon, in Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmelites. Previous career highlights have included the London premieres of Saverio Mercadante’s Don Chisciotte at Leighton House Museum and of Federico Ruiz’s Los Martirios de Colón at the Southbank Centre. The current season will see Ricardo debut at Opera Holland Park as Masetto in the company's Young Artist production of Don Giovanni. Ricardo is also a two-time bursary recipient of The International Opera Awards Foundation, who have generously supported him for the last 2 years. Ricardo studied in Portugal with Juracyara Baptista and António Salgado, and in the United Kingdom with Laura Sarti and Dennis O'Neill, and sang in masterclasses with artists such as Sir John Tomlinson, Montserrat Caballé, Teresa Berganza, Della Jones or Nelly Miricioiu.