Will you sing Beauty School Dropout in this Christmas’ school production of Grease?
Now, for me it would have been very easy for me to say “There is no way on earth that I’m getting on stage in 2 months, for 4 nights, in front of 250 people each night and singing a solo of a song that I don’t even know!” and that is the answer I presume many others would give. However, I saw this as an opportunity to actually ‘walk the growth mindset walk’
“walking the walk” – in order to be authoritative you need to have demonstrated the skills.
I was totally in my discomfort zone – it’s not to say I hadn’t sung before. Many people who know me well will have heard an alcohol fuelled rendition of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocha” or Max Boyce’s “Hymns and Arias” at the end of an evening but singing in a school production, which are always outstanding , was something else…..
Walking The Walk:
So, with 2 months to go I brought myself to actually listen to the song. I had never heard the lyrics before so I was starting from scratch. I wrote the lyrics down on my shower proof notes and attempted to learn the words. I still didn’t have the tune and I sounded atrocious. I quickly realised that there wasn’t a chorus that I could revert back to – every line was different. It was inside the first week that fixed mindset thoughts of “I can’t do this.” started to creep in. What had I done by agreeing to this?
“I can’t do this” a classic fixed mindset response to a challenge that is perceived to be too difficult.
1 Month to go:
I had pretty much got the first 2 verses sorted with regards to the lyrics. The students still didn’t know that I was playing the part. It was then I just happened to be in the hall during rehearsals and the tune started playing. My heart sank. The backing dancers where figuring out their choreography and I still hadn’t sung the song in public. Reality of the enormity of the challenge had definitely kicked in. It was at that moment that I decided to be proactive. I took myself up to the music department and said “Right, let’s do it.” I had been telling people that deliberate practice was the best form of practice yet I wasn’t doing it. I needed guidance from a coach who would tell me how to get better. Neil Parker, Music teacher at Croesyceiliog School, was the man. I sang the song (well as much as I knew) and waited for the feedback. It wasn’t great but then again it wasn’t that bad! He expected worse, gave me some pointers to improve and off I went – it was really at this point that whole experience took off.
Deliberate Practice – Practicing with a coach who can give you feedback about your performance.
2 weeks to go:
I had been practising everyday in the shower and the song was starting to take over my life. If I had a spare five minutes I’d be rehearsing. I was a regular at the music department – so much so that I started to feel that I was becoming a nuisance. I started to see the drive that I had when I was child playing sport – the drive in practice to get things perfect before stepping on the field of play. I had the lyrics nailed down, I just needed a few technical improvements. I was fully aware that I wasn’t going to sound perfect – I had only been doing this for a couple of weeks, I had to keep things in perspective. What I did know though was that I was getting considerably better…
The drive to get seek improvement is always at the heart of expert performance
1 week to go
It was the first time that I had opportunity to work on stage with the cast. Neil played the opening bar and away I went. It was at this point that I realised I knew the words but had very little stage presence – To say I was awkward was an understatement. I had a week! Between lessons I would run down to the hall and ask if we could go through the song. I must have practiced about 15 times in that week. I’m not sure if people will think this is a lot or not much but it was all I could fit in.
Practice in the environment that you will perform in.
Dress rehearsal 1 day to go:
Putting the Elvis suit and wig on for the first time made it all become very real. I was also mic’d up for the first time and had the extra sound of the band. I stood behind the curtains and waited for Frenchy to give me my queue – the curtains opened and I sang “Beauty School Drop Out” dressed as the King. I got through it relatively unscathed which gave me enough confidence for the opening night.
Practice gives you confidence.
The buzz backstage extraordinary. I however, had worked myself into a nervous wreck. I must have sung the song 100 times in my head. The curtain went back I sang the song but I didn’t enjoy it – I was an ordeal. My wife and friends were in the crowd and they all congratulated me on my performance but I knew deep down that I had sung it better.
Opening Night singing to Frenchy with my backing dancers
When performers talk about wanting a trap door to get off stage – this was it. As I went into the second verse my mind went blank. If you ever experienced this, it is not a good place to be. It was a full house and Frenchy was giving me eyes like “OMG what are you singing?” I babbled some line and managed to to get back on track. However, because I had sung a trigger word, the backing dancers (who were incidentally the teachers) had come on stage behind me. The whole thing was going off plan. But as they say in show business “the show must go on”. The curtains closed and I knew despite all the practice, I had messed up! The feeling was not too much dissimilar to missing a penalty in the shoot out but your team still winning. However, despite all this most people didn’t even notice and told me what a great job I had done.
Sometimes you magnify your mistakes and make them into a bigger deal than they actually are.
Thankfully, I’d realised where I had gone wrong the on the second night and practiced constantly getting the key line out. I had opportunity to go through the performance for the primary school children in the day. I knew if I got through that line I was good. In the night I once again stood behind the curtain – I had now developed trigger words and they worked. There is no better feeling than being on stage and you are in complete control. I was actually enjoying myself. I sang the final line and knew I had nailed it.
Learning from your mistakes is a vital growth mindset strategy.
It was the end of the journey – Two months before I had never been on stage and here I was about to sing Beauty School Drop Out in front of excess of 250 people including the boys from the PE dept (who I knew were secretly supportive but would never actually admit it out loud) for the last time. I stood behind that curtain for the last time. The music stated to play and I sang like no one was watching. I loved every second of it. I even got a few Elvis moves out from his famous Las Vegas rendition of Suspicious Minds.
So, my Growth Mindset journey was over. What had I learnt about myself?
Well, I quite often slip into a fixed mindset. Over the two months I did speak to myself in a negative tone and this tended to increase my anxiety. However, I also learnt that I can use a whole bunch of strategies that encourage a Growth Mindset and it was only when I did this did I see improvement and an increase in confidence. Perhaps the biggest lesson is to be proactive and seek help from those who can help you improve. I will certainly being doing this in all areas of my life and it starts with me booking golf lessons with the professional in 2017 with the quest to become a scratch golfer!
Thanks for reading – if you think others might like this post then please use the sharing buttons below – Rich