Head Noise, Epic Failure, and Other Opportunities for Growing

In my last blog, I talked about returning to studying opera.

In this post, I will recount to you the tale of my last coaching session, which I will endearingly refer to as, “Hot Mess.”

A sampling of some of the suggestions coming from my brain during the session include, “This is too hard for you,” “You will never make it through this aria,” “You should just give up and stay in musical theatre where you actually know what you are doing.”

A sampling of some of the things coming out of my coach’s mouth during the session, all in the spirit of tough love of course: “Legato!” “Did you practice? What exactly DID you practice?” “You’re not breathing!” and “Exactly which end of the elephant did that sound come out of?” Yep…hot mess.

The experience was less than fun.

And I learned more from it than I have learned from a lot of more successful experiences lately. Why is that always the way?

After my coach gave me a hug and said, “Don’t be discouraged,” I got in my car and thought a few things.

The first thing was, “Oh, so singing opera really takes a whole lot of practice, and good practice, not just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.” You’d think I’d have gotten that download, being a teacher and all.

The second thought was to ask myself, “Why I am doing this?” I don’t have any expectations of singing at La Scala one day, but singing classically has sort of called out to me, and I (and my clients) can only benefit from this training. It’s also an opportunity to face some dormant self-criticisms and -flagellations head on.

I had a lesson shortly thereafter with my incredible teacher, Renee Sousa. Love her. I talked about my recent crash and burn, and she gave me some wonderful insight about practicing.

None of us want to practice.

Not when its framed in the form of a DISCIPLINE, or something we HAVE TO do. Our inner child (and we all got one) rails against it.

She told me about when she would commit to exercise and her health. She said that if she didn’t want to go to the gym, she’d just tell herself, “Well, I’ll just put on my sweats.” Then after that, she said, “Well, maybe I’ll go chill in the sauna or the whirlpool at the gym.” Then as soon as she got in the door, she was off and running on her workout.

So Renee suggested to me that when I go to practice, I just tell myself, “I’m going to vocalize just for five minutes.” Then see what happens after that…I can tell you from experience that once the engine gets revved, I’m ready to sing and have a good time, taking my time and working in a focused, helpful way.

It also sets up a space in your head where you know it’s most beneficial to go in small chunks, rather than feeling daunted by the task of the entire aria, sonata, or whatever.

I also had a great conversation with her regarding the practice of technique. When I work with Renee, she helps me so quickly. Everything gets lined up and effortless singing ensues. Then I wonder how to find and recreate this in my own practice.

Renee compared it to burying a treasure chest in the desert. You go back to find it, and it may take you a few hours to locate where you buried it. The next visit, maybe less time, and so on. Until you have visited the site enough that you know exactly where the gold is buried every time. That is building technique, and it requires many visits.

But I have to say, the idea of saying, “I’m just going to sing a couple of scales, that’s all,”…It’s effective. Notice where it’s helpful in other areas of life. Today when I was working out, I said, “I’m just going to do this one set. I can do that.” Until I had completed them all after an hour.

Final point is…I’m learning a ton from confronting all of this. I’m growing by doing something new and unfamiliar, and  have so much experience from the field to share with my clients…not to mention compassion for their plight when they are in the middle of working out their own technique.

We are fellow travelers with our students. We get to circle back and walk the road with them that we have covered. And in the meantime, let’s keep seeking out those teachers who can show us the way on roads we haven’t yet traveled.  It’s fun, it’s rewarding, we become better people, and better teachers.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas!


About the Author

Dan Callaway
Dan is a voice teacher in Los Angeles who works mainly with professional and aspiring musical theatre performers.

He is also a consistently working singer and actor performing in Los Angeles, New York, and across the country.

Recent credits include Musical Theatre West's production of SPAMALOT, 1776 with Cabrillo Musical Theatre, I LEFT MY HEART: A SALUTE TO THE MUSIC OF TONY BENNETT at ... [Read more]


  1. Valerie Kampmeier

    Thanks, Dan! That’s such a good reminder from your teacher- just to bite off a small mouthful at a time. It’s amazing what happens if only we can just get started. I really appreciate your honesty in sharing your process, and I’m excited for you!

  2. Dan Callaway

    Thanks so much Valerie…appreciate your feedback and support a lot. Happy New Year!