Flow States

Hello Everyone, I'm sorry I haven't written in a while.  I am finishing my first semester of my senior year at UW-Madison, and it has been a very intense semester. I have been preparing for the MONC Upper Midwest Regional Auditions. The process thus far has been so fulfilling. I have been diving into the repertoire to push myself as far as I can go.  I am so lucky to have Julia Faulkner guiding me through the way. She has recently moved from UW-Madison to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she is now the official voice teacher of the Ryan Opera Center. Her apartment, where she teaches, is also so beautiful. It's an inspiring place to sing in. I have been reading, thinking, and attempting to apply flow states lately in performance. Here is a definition of "flow state" from Wikipedia: Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotionsin the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.  The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions. How do you know if you are in a flow state? 1.Intense and focused concentration on the present moment 2.Merging of action and awareness 3.A loss of reflective self-consciousness 4.A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity 5.A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered 6.Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience An example of a flow state could be a professional skier going down a mountain.  Although, flow states do not require some Olympian type of act; flow states can be achieved in simple tasks such as driving. In fact, driving is the most common place where people experience flow states in what one would consider "daily" life. When musicians are lucky enough (or skillful enough) to have it happen when they perform, it can really work wonders.  It has happened to me a few times, and it is this amazing full immersion in the moment. It feels like I'm in a bubble of awareness in the present, and that at the edge of that sphere there is information being processed.  And, for me, that is coupled with an open and vulnerable heart. The information is observations for me, those observations that can quickly turn into the little voice inside your head bringing you down. But, if you can reign in that voice and use it as a tool to observe it can become a strength. I think that flow states are one of the most amazing states of consciousness out there. Sometimes milling over concepts like this can help musicians grow more than hours and hours of practicing. An equation I found recently is this: A=P-I where A=Performance in the present P=Potential I=Interference Interference can be a number of things: low body awareness, tiredness, mental blocks, etc.  I would characterize the most powerful "I"'s to be mental blocks. This is that ever discussed little voice inside your head. I find the equation inspiring though. It has freed me of the idea that whatever performance I do is everything. Yes, in the professional world you are "only as good as your last performance", so doing a performance with too much interference can cost professional singers.  But, the part of the equation that I took a lot from was "P", because "P" is real, and if one is able to figure out how to tap into "P", it is nearly unlimited.  I think that "I" can be characterized by whatever performances one has labelled as "bad" or as "failures".  A comfort that I think is wrought from truth versus sugar coating, is  that "bad" performances were simply muddled by too much "I". Thus, a bad performance is something that can actively and conceptually be changed. Too often I see musicians defining themselves off of their last performance, and deciding that because "x" happened they are now a certain type of musician that can't achieve their dreams. I could talk about my musings regarding the psychology of performance for a while, but I think I will leave you (and myself) with that for now. I would like to give a quick thank-you to the people who have supported me through this semester (you know who you are). Go with the "flow", 00000