Music Major Minute: Singers (Should) Have More Fun

 

Having fun is an essential part of your practice routine—and a necessary but delightful way to achieve your goals while reducing stress.

 

I recently watched a TED talk by Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun, where she stated, “Fun is the secret to feeling alive.” As a professor and a higher education enthusiast, I have most often seen students cautioned not to have too much fun if they want to succeed. Our culture is busy, busy, busy and success is rarely described as the product of a fun time. Yet, outstanding performers appear to have all kinds of fun on stage. I have heard teachers advise that performances can be fun only if we do an unbelievable amount of work to prepare. So, this talk about “fun” and “feeling alive” caught my attention. If we want to encourage our students to do their best but we label fun as a cautionary tale, are we missing something?

In her book, Price specifies that fun is a feeling, not an activity. The toughest class might be the most fun because of the inherent joy in discovery. Lunch with a friend can be fun when you connect or it might be the odd social encounter that can only be ended by saying, “Well this has been fun, let’s do it again,” when we definitely did not have fun. 

Price describes “True Fun” as the intersection of playfulness, connection, and flow. Good singers strive for all three of these elements in performance. Could it be true that in order to sing well, focus, embody our characters, and connect with our audience, we need to have fun?

What happens for singers at this intersection of playfulness, connection, and flow?

  • We sing for the sake of singing, sans worry about the outcome.
  • We let go of perfectionism—there is no such thing as perfect, anyway.
  • We enjoy the people around us: our pianist, our scene partner, the conductor, the audience.
  • We focus, we breathe, we support, we share, we sing, and we care.

 “Fun isn’t just a result of human thriving; it is a cause.” 

With this quote, Price obviously feels we need to have more fun in order to thrive. If you had an instrument in your hands, it would be called “playing.” We have work to do as we learn our music, study for exams, and prepare for concerts. Music majors take more credits than most majors, and the work can pile up. 

Having fun does not mean skipping the work and getting behind. Remember that fun is a feeling, not an action. The trick is chasing the fun feeling in rehearsals or at the library. Learning and succeeding will be more fun when we incorporate playfulness, connection, and flow as we do the work. 

Stress is unhealthy and overwhelming. If you are feeling stressed in your classes, consider the flow. Getting behind and procrastinating projects intensifies anxiety. Going with the flow includes keeping up with the workload. Time management is preached as an important key to success in college. When you are in the flow, the zone, or however you define passing your classes, you will feel less stress and be more open to having fun.

No doubt about it, college requires work and it can get intense. The memories that stay with us involve connection. Music departments are a space for bonding—when we spend hours in rehearsals and survive 8:00 a.m. classes together, we can really connect. 

How can you increase connection and prioritize fun?

Reduce distractions. Turn off notifications on your watch and phone. The constant presence of social media distracts us, numbs us, and makes us feel “less than.” Instead of following endless online personas, seek real-life interactions. Your classmates will become friends when you spend time together, study together, grab food together before rehearsals, etc. As Marcel the Shell with Shoes On learned in the beloved movie of the same title, Internet fame creates an audience, not a community.

Carve out time for someone who makes you laugh. We all have 24 hours in a day, and after sleeping, attending classes, doing laundry (please do your laundry!), and working part-time jobs, it might seem like there is no time for joy. Spending time with people who make us feel good about ourselves is an important lifeline in school. Friends celebrate our successes and cry with us in heartbreak. Being there when your friends need you will give your personal life more meaning. By planning ahead, you can keep up with the flow of your course load and find time for connection.

Study groups. Invite classmates to study together and cash in on some synergy. The network TV show Community was based on a loveable group of characters connected for wildly amusing reasons under the guise of studying for various degrees. When you study with others, you find community and support that you will undoubtedly need when you are analyzing 12-tone rows!

Office hours. Your professors post their office hours and they are available and amenable to meet. Emailing a question is better than stressing in silence, but face-to-face time with your professors will help you understand assignments and target your research while also possibly mentoring your career.

How to Let Go of Fear and Maximize Flow

Price discusses the idea that fun creates a self-reinforcing cycle that helps us prioritize the things that bring us joy. If you are an optimist, the cycle of joyful living might be second nature. But the doubtful might dismiss this cycle as not applicable. Michelle Obama has some advice for dealing with doubt and fear. In her recent book, The Light We Carry, she shares her family motto: “Go forth with a spoonful of fear and return with a wagonful of competence.” 

Stepping into a new college class can be overwhelming, and professors with too many degrees might appear intimidating. If you go forth with your spoonful of fear, or take your seat in class and greet the challenge of the unknown, you will cultivate competence. To get into the flow, we must take our first steps. The momentum of “going with the flow” will help you let go of fear, and the above mentioned “self-reinforcing cycle of fun” will sustain you.

Obama shares, “To this day I remain a little shocked that Barack and I made it through eight years in the White House, but somehow we did. The bad news is that is hasn’t eliminated fear and doubt in my life. The good news is that I’m not intimidated by my own thoughts anymore.” 

As I consider Catherine Price’s adage that fun gives us life, I find a direct correlation with the First Lady’s method of facing fear by practicing gladness. She calls it “starting kind.” We are our own worst critics, but we can work intentionally to accept our true selves. Obama describes her practice as looking in the mirror and not looking for what she doesn’t like. Rather, she tells herself, “You’re here, and that’s a happy miracle, so let’s get after it.” When you start your day with kindness, it is more likely that you will treat others in kind. Creating a path of gladness is a flow I hope we can all “get after.”

Finally, a few thoughts on playfulness. The word itself means “light-hearted and full of fun.” When we remember that fun is a feeling, the idea of playfulness can be identified as feeling open to new ideas and ready to learn. The voice lesson is a perfect example of the need for playfulness. Singers in training can be more successful when they are open to trying new techniques and, as Obama advised, “get after it.” The Power of Fun offers the correlation to music students that playfulness will aid your fun and progress.

Life can get heavy and woeful, but navigating a tough time usually gets us back to the sunlight-infused notion of playfulness. If you need more than a pep talk, seek a therapist for professional support. If you just need a nap or a snack, listen to your body and take care of yourself. 

The light-hearted theme of this installment of “The Music Major Minute” is offered as a reminder that our pursuit of great art will be fun when we are playful, connected, and in the flow. If you sing today, it will be a better day. If you laugh, it will be a lighter day. If you have fun singing and laughing with others, it just might be the best day. 

Christi Amonson

Christi Amonson is a soprano, a stage director, a curious reader/writer, a professor of voice and opera at The College of Idaho, and a curator of food, hugs, and good times for her family.