There’s a school of thought that says we should never let go of any of our dreams, but always continue to give them everything. That our failure or success in different fields is entirely determined by our commitment to that dream, by our belief that it will happen. That if we for some reasons stop dedicating ourselves to a dream, we will end up living a half-life that we will always regret.
I’m starting to think it’s more complex than that. A life lived without dreams would be sad, indeed, but as we grow and change, our dreams sometimes change. As our dreams contact reality, we learn more about them… and perhaps we discover we’re not so well suited to them as we thought. We may also find new things to dream about. So there come times when we have to reshape our dreams, or indeed let go of old dreams and find new ones…
(As I write this, I wonder – is this all really true, or am I just trying to reconcile myself to letting go of something that has been a cherished hope for so many years? I think it’s more than that, but it’s an important question.)
I’m at that stage with my dreams of singing professionally. There is no doubt in my mind that singing will always be part of my life. I had often thought of doing it professionally, in order to be able to dedicate my time to improving my skills and to have the opportunity to perform at a high level, but things never quite seemed to work out. Just over a year ago, inspired by the attitude I’ve described above, I decided that if I didn’t really give it a try, I would always regret it. And in trying to raise my game, I learnt a lot about myself.
Importantly, I think I’ve learnt that my joy in singing is very vulnerable to the fierce competition inherent in singing professionally… I love singing in concerts, where all I am asked to do is to give pleasure to my audience, and I delight in the post-concert comments which tell me that they have indeed enjoyed my singing. But doing auditions are so different, not least because success is rare and feedback is even rarer. And I can imagine that the pressure of having to make money would just exacerbate that.
Singing is very personal to me – when I sing there’s a sense in which I open the voice of my soul to my audience. And, as I found after the break-up, my personal emotions are closely entwined with my singing. I suppose if I went for it professionally, I would toughen myself up, learn a greater emotional distance.. but I’m not sure I want to.
I must also recognise that, at 31, it is in many ways too late for me to take the standard routes into professional singing. So much of that journey seems to depend on having the luck to be in the right place at the right time. And for various reasons, I just wasn’t.
Deep down, I also feel, rightly or wrongly, that I don’t have the steely discipline needed to really get to the bottom of my technique. To really hammer into my vocal and mental musculature the consistency that I would need to get to the top. There are a lot of reasons for that – I’m very much a person who lives in her head rather than her body, and that kind of athletic repetition doesn’t come naturally. I like to try different things each time… Also my expectations get in the way of my achievement, as I’ve discussed before.
Maybe there are people who only have one dream throughout their lives… for them to let go of that dream would be a real loss. But I have always been someone who has had a lot of different dreams.
One question people are asked, when trying to find the dream they should pursue, is “what did you dream of being when you were really young.” I know the answer very well – it was writing, not singing, that I dreamed of as a child. Not that I didn’t sing, too, but the stories and poems I wrote were an even deeper part of my identity. I don’t remember when I started really writing… but I know I tried (independently of my parents!) to send a story to a publisher at the tender age of 9, and that certainly wasn’t the first thing I’d written.
At sixteen, having written 3 fantasy novels of over 50,000 words each, I stopped writing. I realised that the stories we tell express what we know and believe about the world, and that I didn’t know enough. At the time I thought that I needed to move from writing fantasy to writing about reality, and that the big blockage was my lack of experience. Actually I’m still drawn to writing fantasy – the freedom it gives you to create a world in which you can give expression to so many thoughts that would be harder to communicate otherwise. And I think the effort of creating a completely new world often says much more about your views of how things work, or should work, than a story set in the “real” world.
In the months when I was too choked up to sing, I rediscovered writing again. And found in it a source of healing and expression that has been very precious to me. So much so, that I haven’t missed not being able to sing anything like as much as I would have expected. An important difference, for me, was that writing gave me the opportunity to do things my way.
Now I am working on rediscovering my singing, because it gives pleasure to me and others. And I am also exploring songwriting, too. Singing will, as I say, always be part of my life.
But I have a feeling that the new dream that I want to start to dream will involve writing. So perhaps the title of this post should have read “dreaming old dreams again”!
(The youtube clip (with a great slideshow!) is of an Argentinan folksong called Sapo Cancionero, a song about a toad that is in love with the moon, with the eternal madness of all poets. The refrain means: Singing toad, sing your song – how sad life is if we live it without a dream to aspire to!)