Several of you have offered this as your pet peeve and asked me to write about it!
How do you handle that query of "Oh you are singer? Come on, just sing something!"
First of all, generally the people asking are genuinely curious. And don't have a clue about what you do or who you are. Singing isn't a career or a calling or a way of life or an artistic temperament or anything of the sort - it is more of an American Idol parlour trick to them. Often, they are not trying to be rude, they just don't know.
Now, that doesn't excuse the behavior! But instead of allowing ourselves to develop a stroke due to the stupidity, perhaps we need to examine the psychology of WHO is asking the question. Once we recognize that, we can often walk away quietly, or in some cases, educate!
What makes us unique as singers and as actors is that we carry our instrument with us. I would be interested to hear from those of you who play an instrument that doesn't happen to be nearby what you are asked to do and how it is framed! As a pianist, when I as younger, often the question was framed thus: "You play piano? I would love to hear you play sometime! What do you play?" The piano wasn't THERE.
Unfortunately, as a singer/actor, YOU are your instrument. And there is a great deal of ignorance about what that means to an outsider - a non-musician, a non-artist, a non-career in the arts.
It does not excuse the behavior, especially if it is persistent, but it does create an interesting point.
Sometimes a simple smile, and a quiet "Thanks, but I don't break out into song" is enough. If possible, change the subject, move on or in the best of circumstances, walk away. Getting angry will not get your point across. Even when it's frustrating!
Often I try humour in response to queries such as these. "You'll have to pay for your ticket to hear me just like everybody else" or "My CD is available online, here's my card" or "If I was warmed up, sadly I would probably take the side of your head off" - and most times, people move on!!! Or it opens up another avenue of conversation...then questions about where you sing, what you sing, what is on your CD etc begin to emerge. And a REAL conversation and REAL information can begin to be discussed!
If you are pestered - be it at a party, in the living room with relatives, in the hair salon with wet hair, WHATEVER and WHEREVER, perhaps then you can instead try to describe not WHAT you do, but rather how it relates to the person pestering you!
I always try to turn it back to them. What do THEY do for a living? Where do they do that? How would they respond to be asked for legal advice, a bang trim, financial ideas, a shoulder rub, medical advice when not in the office/place of business on their day off? Often, when it is translated into terms they understand, there is a moment that allows them to get it. And you have educated someone!
In this culture, you will always be asked something like "would you have been in any shows I know?" or "why don't you go out for American Idol" or the like. Sadly, it again is ignorance. They don't know! You can either go into a grand treatise and debate and watch them glaze over, or you can simply smile and say "probably not" or "not interested thanks" and move on.
I have even used the same language back and it often stops things cold, just because it sounds so ridiculous! Example: "You are a singer? Sing something!" with "You are a lawyer? Legal something for me!" To which they look at me like I'm nuts and I return the gaze!!! It is stupid, but they don't understand it but often, they get it. If they don't - it's not your responsibility!
Smiling and nodding and moving away can be your best decision but the situation will dictate what is necessary. Trust it. If you have the energy and there is room to educate, then do it! Remember, education is not about talking AT someone but rather talking WITH someone, and translating an idea to allow them to make a decision. It takes wit, patience and clarity of purpose. Sometimes we don't have time and energy for it. So know what you can do and what you are willing to do, or not, and commit to that.
Bottom line: never feel bullied into doing something and certainly not to feed someone's curiosity when they are not actually willing and able to recognize what you are about!
Smile, nod, put the subtext in your face and your language.
I had a hair stylist who in the salon was telling other stylists I was a singer - and they all wanted me to sing. After a few minutes of pleading, I simply said "If I were to sing you a short song, you would owe me haircuts for the rest of the year - if we want to trade services." Everybody disappeared.
EDUCATE!!! And when in doubt, walk away. After all, some people just won't hear it.
Susan Eichhorn Young
Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking.
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