Last week I went to my sister's graduation from Leeds Metropolitan University. It was a grand affair with a lot of tradition, and it was a great way to mark the end of a stage in my sister's life before she starts he new job as a school teacher in September.
It reminded me of my own graduation from the Royal Northern College of Music and made me realise that even though we leave education, the learning journey does not stop as soon as we leave a formal institute for learning. In fact, a person's graduation from University is not the end at all. It is the beginning.
Graduation marks the opening of new doors and windows. It is from this point that individuals really begin to take charge of their own journey. YOU are now in control of your own development. No one is going to give you everything on a silver platter. You have to go out and get it for yourself - unless of course you are exceptionally lucky. But even then, luck can only go so far. After your luck runs out, you have to take responsibility for yourself in order to maintain where you are.
Since my graduation I have developed so much more, both as a performer, and as a person.
Since graduating, I became self employed - this brought on a whole new set of challenges that I needed to conquer. I have also had to build up a reputation for myself as a professional singer. This can only come through working and performing to a very high standard consistently. And not allowing myself to give into the little devil that sometimes sits on my left shoulder telling me to stay in bed all day eating junk food, while drinking wine, and watching the Antiques Roadshow. In fact, I even threw away my television to increase my productivity and reduce the aforementioned temptations!
So what small steps can you take to improve your learning journey? Where have you still got to progress to?
My next step is to start introducing daily work rituals and try to introduce more elements of routine into my daily life. I want to wake up an hour earlier every day. This will be my time to get my morning practice out of the way (before the day has begun). This will quieten the little angel who sits on my right shoulder nagging me all day to do some music practice and will allow me to more effectively use my time.
Another learning curve I am going to make in the next 2 weeks will be on the 10th August when I have 2 gigs on one day. Both of them challenging in their own ways. The first, I will be performing at a wedding with a string quartet who I have not previously worked with before. The second gig is very different; with my classical girl group The 3 Sopranos, in an evening with Victor Michael (it's being filmed in HD for Sky Arts). This day will be a challenge of stamina for me. It will test my ability for preparation. It will be a highly stressful day where I will need to work on my coping strategies. It will also be a great test for me to overcome nervousness. BUT I know that I can achieve these things. I know that I can perform fantastically at both gigs. And, I know that I will come out of the other side of this day and be able to say "I learned something today that you can't learn in a school or university or conservatoire."
My learning journey is still ongoing. It will never stop. It's what keeps life exciting.
What things have you learned since graduation day?
I firmly believe that when I am hired to sing for someone's wedding it is my duty to help them to have the most special day possible.
Here are a couple of examples of how I have gone The Extra Mile to make recent client's special days even more special.
1. I always ask what and how much music they want me to prepare.
Whether it is one song during the signing of the register or a couple of sets of background music for the cocktail reception, the choice is up to my client.
2. I always discuss which songs you want me to perform. It's your day therefore the songs have to mean something to you.
3. I am willing to learn something new especially for your big day. One wedding in Liverpool recently asked me to sing "At Last" by Etta James during the signing of the register. This is not my usual repertoire but it was so important to this couple as she had been waiting for him to marry her for 10 years!
4. Punctuality and reliability. I have never missed an engagement yet. I regularly have to turn down social events and invites to parties because I have to maintain my health for performing. Once a booking is confirmed it then becomes a priority in my diary. I always try to get an early night the night before I have to sing so that I can be on top form on the day.
5. Attention to detail. I recently sang at an Asian wedding and the dress code was Bollywood Glam. Although I did not already own anything suitable to wear, I made it my mission to ensure that I fit with the dress code.
6. Practice, practice, practice. I rehearse the music for my performances until I can not get them wrong. I need to feel prepared when I walk onto a stage to perform. In fact often I over prepare.
It is this conscious effort to make sure that my client is fully happy with my services on their special day that has built up my reputation as a wedding singer and why the happy couples who I have sung for in the past would recommend me again in the future.
Till next time,
Jennifer Coleman - is a classical / opera singer, and vocal coach, performing across the UK and internationally.