My New Year’s Resolute Suggestions for Singers, et al …

So, that was 2016 … !  I’ve always loved looking back at a recently closed chapter in my life, analyzing it to learn what worked well (and what didn’t), appreciating it for what it was, and setting up my game plan for the next adventure.  While this past year has been an astonishing one for me in many ways, I have to ask: is anyone else out there happy to usher this particular 365-day cycle out the door?  I thought so.  So, that means THIS is the moment for us to decide HOW we want to open the door to the next cycle.  

Typically this means a list of resolutions. But I’m not a huge fan of those because, speaking from personal experience, they generally last until Jan. 17 when the temperatures are stuck below freezing and staying in bed sounds MUCH more tempting than that morning training run for my first marathon. Eh hem. So with that in mind, I offer you things 4 I will be trying to follow in the coming year, with an eye towards the long-term, not just a temporary fix for 2017.

1. Connect, ’80’s style:  (Bear with me, I’m a child of the 80’s.) Turn off your cell phone. This doesn’t mean to put it on vibrate and pretend each beeping notification isn’t making you salivate and palpitate. Actually turn it OFF. Yes. You. Go on – slide the bar into the off position. Immediately. Bravo/a. Now: put it inside your backpack/purse. Zip the closure. ZIP IT. (Or better yet, leave it at home altogether.) Yes, I’m talking to YOU. Now, look up and meet your world.

“Hola, Mundo!”

“Well, Hola, Singer.”

This is the mode that will enable you to actually interact with the world around you, to LEARN from it, to connect with others without the veil of anonymity found on the internet, to gather resource material for that profound human emotion you are hoping to convey on the stage with a degree of depth that will justify people paying high ticket prices to see you live!!! Take your dis-connected self to a cafe and sit without a single agenda – and just give yourself the gift of observation. Soak it up and see what it feels like to simply be with yourself without distraction or interference. Be brave – see if you can sit in solitude and simply observe the world around you.

2. Practice with Purpose, Kobe-style. I love this article by James Clear which highlights the effectiveness of very deliberate practice. Now that your phone is turned off, and you have connected with either yourself or the world around you, set an agenda and get into the practice room! If you can, keep your head clear as you vocalize so that it’s very purposeful. As you’re warming up, are you just going through the motions to warm up quickly and get to the “good stuff”? (“Gotta figure out that final note at the end of Nessun Dorma!”) Stop it. Stop it right now. That’s wasted time. Get mentally present so that every scale and arpeggio is a chance to grow vocally.  Give yourself that time.

As you move to the music, resist the temptation to solve all the issues at once.  Study after study shows the power of deliberate practice: it’s not just about hours in the studio, it’s about the quality of your intention and work. So have an agenda you’d like to accomplish in THAT session. No panic about how much you have to learn in the next month, how far behind you are, leave all of that with your cell phone tucked in your bag – use THIS TIME for effective work. You’ll be astonished at how far that goes in getting you closer to the artistic heights for which you are aiming!!

3. Clean house, Buddha-Style. If you can give yourself ONE gift in this coming year, drive out that incessant, destructive, debilitating inner voice that holds you back, shames you, cuts you down and limits your utterly wonderful, unique potential. I spoke about this a few years ago at Juilliard, and stand by it more than ever today. I know that we singers THINK we are being dutiful and diligent by being hard on ourselves, but I have yet to see how a truly destructive, hyper-critical inner voice helps us grow. If you can say that it makes you a better singer, a happier artist, a more contented human being, then by all means – amp it up.  But I would wager that many of you are unaware of the havoc your critical inner voice is wrecking on your self-confidence and your artistic integrity.  Tune in to it, observe if it is helping your artistic desires or not, and if it’s not a helpful force in your life, KICK IT THE HELL OUT OF YOUR HEAD. I’ll predict that the space it opens up within your mind will serve you in a FAR more impactful way than any amount of thinking “you are the worst singer/person on the planet that has ever existed” ever will.

4. Don’t give your power away, (dare I say it?) my-style.  I’m selfish. I don’t like to give the power of my happiness away to other people. Looking at 2017 and the drastic changes that seem to be being ushered in, I am very clear that I will not give away my capacity to love, to hope, to live optimistically, to stand by the sides of those who may be oppressed, to sing with a clear conscience, or to live freely to ANYONE. I will keep my heart and mind clear enough so that the energy I expend goes to one of CREATION, not to one of entering the turmoil.  (The Jonathan Larson quote, “The opposite of war is not peace: it’s Creation” is currently giving me life.)

Creation can include an infinite number of things. I invite you to think about what you want to create around you, and within you – and then go the hell for it.

At the end of the day, empower yourselves in ways you never thought possible. Why on earth wouldn’t you try? I plan on doing that for ’17, and, to quote the great Mother Superior who I shall sing on New Year’s Eve ~ I plan on climbing every mountain ahead! Let’s make it a GREAT one!


Article commissioned for Lincoln Center


  1. I love this so much Joyce! I’m going to be joining in and making these my goals for the new year and beyond. Thank you for being a constant inspiration to us artists, creators, teachers and humans!! I’m often tempted to start up an even more niche blog than my current one and call it ‘What Would Joyce Do?’ ? thank you for being another one of the golden ones who encourages and champions us as we ”climb every mountain”
    With love and energy for another year of creation and fostering real connection,
    Rosie x

  2. Grace Skinner said…

    As a fellow singer (and mezzo) I so appreciate your words of encouragement and wisdom. I’m getting ready to apply to grad schools and that shaming inner voice is pretty strong at the moment telling me things like “you really think you’re good enough?” The truth is, kicking that voice out is something that has to be done practically everyday (for me at least). It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this struggle but that it CAN be kicked to the curb.
    Thank you for your authenticity and encouragement. You truly do inspire me as a singer, performer and person.

    Much love!

    Grace Skinner

  3. Maria Jose Badano said…

    I get more convinced as the time passes by an artist must train himself in a holistic way: body,mind and soul.Joyce is a proof of this. She inspires me to want to be an artist whose most important goal is to spread love, wisdom and good energy to the world. For this I need to work every day not only on my technique but also on the kindness I should have in my heart to share with others. Happy new year Joyce!!!

  4. Jim Jandt said…

    Creation. To begin with nothingness and end with somethingness. Simple? Yes. Open to all? Yes. Vital? Yes! Thank you, Joyce, for your creations and your creation itself – the act of creating. My sole resolution for the year is not new. I continue a life with “no regrets”. Simple? Yes. But it requires evaluation and knowledge of self. As to the point, I regret not yet hearing you sing in person. That will change this year. And the no-regret year begins!

  5. Hansjörg Gadient said…

    Dear Joyce

    Please go on teaching! I absolutely adore you as a singer, but I love you even more as a teacher! I am a professor for landscape architecture and therefore a teacher myself and of course I am an opera fan. I think that teaching young people is one of the most important things we can do. So, I absolutely admire your teaching! I find it precise, knowledgable, loving, encouraging, honest, sincere and specific. And good fun, too! Teaching is an art and you master it! I have been watching you teaching trilling in a very down-to earth way (“5 Minutes a day and 6 weeks will do it”) and I have been watching you leading a young singer from very nice singing to true artistery (Teaching Kayleigh Decker the difference from a Charlie Brown christmas tree to a Handel superwide tree with the roots going out as far as the umbrella – talking to a landscape architect there…) in a wonderful way! What you do, is just great, and allways touching. There are so many master-class-videos on youtube, from Caballé loading them with some gym weights to Kraus, Pavarotti and others just showing off that they know better anyway to good old Schwarzkopf who once said that she did not want to be cruel but that it would work quicker that way…) But what you do is so different and honest and sincere and helpful , I admire you’re work and wish you will go on with it as long as possible or at at least as you enjoy it. All the best for your work, your teaching and yourself!
    Hansjörg Gadient

  6. Yildiz Guventurk said…

    Dear Joyce,

    I have just read this… May I say, you are a true inspiration; not just for singers but also for every single artist from every single field. I am a dancer and I have been watching your masterclasses online for the last two weeks. I can’t tell you how much your advice and remarks have helped and guided me during this “in-between” phase that I am going through.
    Thank you for constantly reminding us why we are doing what we are doing.


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~ Joyce DiDonato