When I was preparing for a recital recently, part of my performance journey was to deal with feelings of inadequacy and fear of making a mistake. My mentor teacher suggested I watch this 2016 interview/conversation between mezzo sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Dame Janet Baker where the women discuss the relationship between performer and audience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d70Bj3tC0XQ
I found it particularly helpful (from 18:45 to 22:50), when these icons of performance discuss the metaphor of the singer performing from behind a pane of glass. Baker says the singer’s job is to “keep the glass clean”, so that the singer allows the audience to clearly look in. She describes the nakedness a singer feels when he or she is transparent like the glass so the emotion of the music can pass through. DiDonato comments that “the work it takes to keep it clean is endless” and suggests numerous technical and musical examples of “cleaning the glass”.
I love the idea that from behind the clean glass, the singer can see-out to the purpose which is bigger than them. As performers, singers in particular, we are serving something much more important and bigger than ourselves. It was also very reassuring to hear these iconic women describe how the singer can’t do it (keep the glass clean) all the time, and can’t be perfect, but should always strive to keep the glass as clean as possible. For me this means that I am giving my audience the gift of music and so, to the best of my ability, I must clear the issues – technical, musical, emotional, physical or otherwise – out of the way and keep the glass clean to allow for the most authentic communication possible. It is an ongoing process of wellness, skill building and resiliency.
This to me is a beautiful metaphor for performance in life as well. The glass is a lens through which I see out and others see in to navigate relationships. What emotional, physical, psychological, or other issues are making my glass dirty, and thus preventing me from having authentic relationships and authentic communication? What do I need to do to keep the glass as clean as possible while still remaining safe and empowered? What is the essence of who I am, and to what extent can I allow others to look through the glass to really see me, engage with me and appreciate me? How can I support others in their efforts to keep their glass clean? Sometimes we take for granted the courage and vulnerability artists put out there. It is a gift of emotional engagement and authentic communication, which even though it may be challenging, is totally worth the Windex.