Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Resistance is a Tricky, Sneaky Monkey

Happy New Year….Here I am with more adventures and lessons from the world of the teacher-as-student.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, --not absence of fear. --Mark Twain

Last post I shared with you some great insights from my singing teacher, Renee Sousa, on practicing and overcoming resistance.

Well, I learned that valuable lesson only to discover that resistance is a tricky, sneaky monkey.

I took a trip to see my folks in North Carolina for Christmas and had all kinds of plans to practice my arias and get ready for the auditions for the LA Opera Chorus that were coming up this month. I had also told Renee that I was planning to audition.

Then the following monologue ensued in my brain over the course of the holidays: “You’re not ready for this. You will get in that room and crash and burn. They will figure out that you are an opera phony. You are already doing great in musical theatre. Just stick with what you know. What if Broadway calls? Opera is a such a niche subculture market anyway. Is that were you really belong? And can you seriously see yourself singing in a real opera house? You’re going to be discriminated against from the get-go once they see that you were in Phantom of the Opera and never in an actual opera.

You get the idea. So the fourteen times that I saw, “Set up LA Opera audition appointment” on my to-do list, I simply didn’t set it up. I was afraid.

Then I was afraid to tell Renee that I wasn’t going to audition after all. I thought she would be disappointed in me. So I just didn’t communicate anything and fell off the opera grid.

Then later this month, Bill, my coach, emailed me and said, “Where did you go? Did you give up singing?” Might have been kind of a joke, but it was actually pretty much true.

I have to say that I’m glad Bill emailed me because it made me screech my tires and look at my stuff.

Singing classically brings up more fear, resistance, and craziness than any other creative pursuit I’ve gone after. I don’t know what it is or what the brain noise is about. I do believe, though, and I share with my clients, that the areas of our greatest resistance are often where the most precious gold is found.

Of course, when it comes to myself I can be completely blind to this. And I am great at lying to myself. Resistance is so quick and sounds so rational.

I sat down and had a talk with myself. I talked it through with trusted friends. Finally, bottom line, I realized that at the most basic level, the classical singing is feeding me creatively and making me a much better teacher. If there is no other reason, that alone is worth so much. I also had to admit to myself, yes, I do dream of singing on an opera stage one day. A big, fancy one. In Europe, even. I also realize that it might never happen. But it might. Truly, God only knows.

And after a 2012 that was, frankly, a wrenching year for me emotionally and spiritually, I have come to say and say often, “I would rather have God’s surprises than my plans.”

So there you go. If you recognize a love in your heart, you have to be willing to have your heart crushed. Or as C.S. Lewis said it so much more eloquently, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

So here I am going out on a limb, and admitting that I love opera and I have dreams of singing opera and with orchestras in concert halls all over the world.

And if we are good teachers, we’ll provide a safe space for our students to be able to express those same heart desires. We will also provide a safe space for our students to say that no such desire is there.

That was also a valuable lesson to me as the student in this scenario, and a window onto my own ego and self-importance. I was afraid to disappoint Renee, assigning more personal interest in my career to her than was actually there or appropriate.

When we talked about ┬ámy flake-age at my last lesson, she said to me, “I don’t have a need for you to be one thing or another. I don’t chase students down. Many come and go. I only want you to be here if you want to be here.”

Made me realize that while Renee has been really clear and encouraging with me about what she thinks my potential is, she is not going to become a stage mom. We have to decide our own paths as artists, and we have to allow our students to do the same.

At the same time, though, I am very grateful that Bill nudged me a little. It made me really look at what I was doing.

So we as teachers have to decide what that balance is according to our own personalities and hearts…how to encourage our students so that they can have a space to look at their own creative desires and how they are helping or hindering themselves. It’s a person-by-person call.

I know for myself, my own experience of smashing into my own resistance is making me bolder in pushing my clients through theirs.

Grateful to be a student again…whether I’m teaching or learning. They’re really the same thing, right?

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  1. Valerie Kampmeier

    Dan, that’s a fantastic article! I love the way you write so perceptively and honestly about your own process. Resistance is indeed a sneaky monkey! One thing I will say though is that, in my experience, sometimes if we take time to listen to it, it actually has good information for us. Or maybe at least is well-intentioned. That doesn’t mean we have to let it boss us around, but a dialogue can be good.

    It was also inspiring hearing Renee’s point of view. I aspire to be that neutrally supportive of my students, and I think I’m much closer these days than I was.

    Looking forward to hearing the next chapter of your adventures!

  2. Dan Callaway

    Thanks so much Valerie…really valuable, what you said about listening to resistance as well. And I have taken your advice and heard some really valuable info from mine. Thanks for that encouragement and advice.

  3. Claire L. Duffle

    Dan, thank you for posting this! I am going through the exact same thing currently…after taking a hiatus of music and working in an office job for a while, I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I had thought if I pushed aside my “silly, childish” aspirations of being a professional singer, I’d feel more content. But nooooo, I grew more and more restless. I knew it was God’s nudging. I quit completely, started my own studio, and am now taking voice again myself and auditioning. But that resistance is still there. Daily. It’s still an internal monologue of “you can’t do that. You’re delusional. Why did you give up security for something you may never achieve?” And I’m working on crushing that and focusing on how much potential I have every single day. THANK YOU for being so open about this! As I was reading, I was thinking, “Yeah, him and me and a million others out there!”

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