Coaching, Perfectiion and Excellence

Evan Bortnick Wiesbaden

The first time I heard the word „Coach“, outside of singing or sports my body jolted. I wasn’t sure why. In singing, as I understood the term, the distinction between a voice ‘teacher’ and a voice ‘coach’ was that the former worked with a focus on technique and the later worked with a focus on repertoire. The teacher worked on repertoire sometimes, but the main focus, the main area of competency was vocal technique. The coach worked on technique sometimes but the area of competency was the repertoire. Ironically a master voice teacher or voice coach wasn’t necessarily a master performer, but understood and had experience in teaching/coaching singing.

The sports coaches that I remember from my youth (I can vaguely recall wanting to swim in the Olympics when I was around 9, and competed a little on the fencing team in college) rarely showed off how well THEY DID the sport, but were fantastic in showing us in detail how we could do the sport better. So where did that jolt come from? Somehow the idea (back then, of course) of a “Life Coach”, as in someone coaching me on how to live my life better, seemed laughable. Now you see the term everywhere. Everyone’s somehow a “Coach”, including me, which is why I’m examining that first reaction.

Making the inner life transparent is hard enough. But making the inner life transparent so that someone else can tweak and adjust and regulate can be REALLY scary. Honestly, it took a couple of times for me to build the necessary trust to even consider allowing it. After that, the idea that I could have been resistant to communicating more precisely, thinking more clearly, juggling my assorted torches of interest more skillfully seemed ridiculous.

“Excellence” has become something of a buzzword. I just did a search in Amazon and the word brought up a total of 110,360 results! I can remember in the 80s reading what was then considered a ‘business’ book, called “In Search of Excellence”. I remember thinking even then that each of the points in the book could be made to fit into a model of personal maturity and development. It also seemed in the years following, that the book precipitated a wave of interest in what Excellence, Potential, Entelechy, Mastery and Fulfillment could really look like, on a personal level, on a familial level, on a collective level, in the career, in relationships and in health. Given these considerations a Life Coach, or Fitness Coach or Relationship Coach or even Consciousness Coach didn’t seem quite so cheesy anymore. “Perfection” or “Perfectionist” is something voice teachers hear a lot from students. Behind the word and behind the intention is a healthy and basic need for growth, transformation and ever higher octaves of efficiency. The amazing thing to me is how fast the transformation CAN be. I like Buddha’s quote in this context: “SEEING IS ENOUGH!” I’ll give you an example.

A couple of years ago at the University in Weimar a young woman came alone into the pedagogy class on a day when all the other students were in rehearsal. She asked a question about learning and integration and after elucidating a bit I decided to demonstrate her own learning strategies in a short voice lesson. It didn’t take long before both she and I noticed that she was quite cramped up, both physically and mentally. I asked if she wanted to talk about it and although she said yes, my sense was that it was politically dangerous for her to do so. When I mentioned this impression, she seemed quite relieved, so I decided on another route. I had a vague sense of the quality of situation she found herself in, so I asked her to think intensely about what was troubling her and, while feeling her head relaxed on her shoulders and not moving it, to follow my finger ONLY with her eyes. I held my finger a little less than an arm’s length away and began tracing lines in the air. Her only job was to think intensely of this present conflict situation, keep her head relaxed and still and to follow my finger with her eyes. I traced every imaginable line over and over in the air and noticed where her eyes had trouble going. Those lines I repeated until the movement was fluid. I then traced figure 8s in the air in all directions and slowed slightly when her eye movement lacked fluidity. After she could reflect on her problem with full eye movement fluidity I asked her how she felt; “much, MUCH better!”, she said “What was that?” What, indeed?

It’s a simple and effective technique from the Neuro-Linguistic-Programming model called the Eye Movement Integrator. Facets of it appear in advanced yoga exercises, Wing Wave, in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and some other models. One of the principles behind it is that we obtain, store and access information and inner states through a process in the brain which is mirrored in eye movements. This of course also works the other way around; through eye movements we obtain, store and access information as well. So whatever the specifics of this young singer’s conflict were, she was accessing far more inner resources and inherent knowledge after our exercise than before it. The advantage for us is that I didn’t need to know any details whatsoever in order to help her. The fact was, after the exercise, it ceased to be either present or important. A solution was somehow reached which didn’t even need to be spoken of. It’s even possible that SHE didn’t know the full implications of the solutions which came up. We went on to the lesson demonstration of her learning strategies with a much more motivated and introspective inner state. This is just one example of a rapid and effective coaching technique, developed in coaching contexts, which can be effectively used with classical singers, professional speakers and anyone interested in charismatic communication.

It is also an example, for me, of how fluidly my own passions and interests can be combined in a voice lesson, when and if I allow myself to think outside any given box.