Katy Bourne

When You’re Up There (an excerpt)

POSTED ON December 08, 2011 | POSTED IN: My Blog | 14 Comments

I’m sure that volumes have been written on the psychology of performing. My philosophy is this:

It’s about the JOY

We all work hard at perfecting our craft. Lord knows the myriad of things that we vocalists have to shed on: intonation, phrasing, expanding our scat vocabulary, tricky arrangements, eighth note triplets, Cole Porter changes, breath control, arpeggiating intervals and on and on and on. A performance is where our practice hours culminate and bear fruit.

However, at the very heart of it, a performance is not about how “good” you are.

It’s about the simple joy of making music and the thrill of the creative synergy shared between musicians. It’s about telling the stories and connecting with your audience. If you’re worried about how good or bad you are, you’re not only missing out on something really wonderful but you’re also potentially compromising your performance. Why? Because when you judge what you’re doing, you’re removing yourself from the immediacy of the moment. How can you sing well if your mind and ears aren’t really there?  You can certainly be mindful of all the things you’ve been working on, but let go of any notion that you have to be “good.” Just be. In fact, before you step on the bandstand, send your inner critic over to have a drink at the bar. You don’t need her onstage with you.

Audiences are generally willing to be on your side. Your exuberance goes a long way. If you’re having fun, it’s infectious. If you’re feeling good, your audience will be happy. I recently saw a concert with two vocalists on the bill. One was technically flawless and had a pristine and beautiful voice. However, this vocalist was almost surgical in her approach; she was cool and detached. I didn’t feel a connection with her. The other vocalist on the bill was technically pretty messy and had a gruff voice with questionable intonation. However, he came at the music with an undeniable joie de vivre that was mesmerizing. He was playful and didn’t take himself too seriously. He was soulful.  I felt an instantaneous connection and could not get enough of him.


So, step up on that bandstand and sing. Enjoy yourself.

This is what you wanted, right?


14 responses to “When You’re Up There (an excerpt)”

  1. Jason Parker says:

    This is great, Katy! Good advice to vocalists and instrumentalist of all kinds. Can’t wait to read the rest.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for reading & commenting, JP!

      Do you have any performance philosophy to share?

      • Jason Parker says:

        Well, I suppose that my overall philosophy can be summed up in two words listen and communicate. For me, the joy of being on the bandstand comes from the opportunity to really be WITH – with the other musicians, with the audience, and with the music. My best performances are the ones where I am in the moment and not concerned with anything but listening to what’s going on around me and trying to add to the communication that is going on. When I let anything else enter my mind I know that my performance will not be as good.

  2. Brynda B says:

    Great excerpt Katy! I couldn’t agree more….my best performances by far are when I get “lost” in the song and quit worrying about how “good” I am. Not always an easy thing to do.

    • admin says:

      Thanks to you too, Brynda!

      I’ll ask you the same question as I did Jason: Do you have any performance philosophy to share?

  3. Erik Hanson says:

    I’d say you’re right on target Katy.

  4. David James says:

    This is nicely written, and I completely agree. Additionally, when performing a piece it it important to like or even love that piece. Then, when you arrive on stage, you can think of yourself as “treating” the audience to your rendition of something you love. With this in mind, a simple look to the audience, maybe even a smile to initiate a connection with them, brings you and them to a more relaxed level where you can focus on bringing them the most pleasant performance you can: one that you enjoy. This is much better than thinking you are being critiqued, even when you are being adjudicated!

    • admin says:

      Hi David. Thanks for dropping by the blog! And I agree, playing a tune you really dig has its own rewards. What is your instrument?

      • David James says:

        Low Brass and Vocals. I also find that if you try hard enough, you can even learn to enjoy singing/playing something you didn’t start out liking (like a cursory piece in a competition, for instance). It always comes out better for everyone when you just get into it.

        Thanks, Katy!

  5. Dear Katy,
    Thanks for your excerpt on performing and purely enjoying the moment. It definitely takes a certain mindset that can at times be hard to reach, but when you get there it’s like flying! This is exactly what I try to teach my vocal students in my studio and also why I organize trips to Rome, Paris, Berlin and Prague for instance. If you like; check out http://www.vocaljazztrip.nl, there’s also a page in English.
    All the best from Amsterdam, Ilse Huizinga, jazzsinger.

    • admin says:

      Hi Ilse. Wow, all the way from Amsterdam! Thanks for your comments. I don’t know that the “mindset” can be taught but I do think it can be “learned” through experience. Your jazz trips sounds very cool but I couldn’t find the English page on your website. Thanks again for reading & commenting!

  6. There was a lengthy discussion on either JVOICE (Rosanna Vitro) or Jazz World (Scott Yannow) recently that was based on the question “What’s the most important element of a jazz vocal performance to you?” “Honesty” was the answer that came up the most.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Carolyn. Agreed. Authenticity is key. I do think it comes out in a joyful approach. (Unless, of course, one is a naturally glum person.) Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.