Everybody’s a critic.

Criticism. If you are willing to put yourself “out there,” as a performing artist, then some criticism is inevitable. I personally have received some lovely reviews, and a couple that, um, weren’t so lovely.100_6107

The lovely reviews were fun to receive, but not particularly memorable. The less than lovely–okay, the shitty–reviews are much more vivid in my memory.

My first skin-thickening review came during a five-night run of a cabaret performance. Reading that I effectively possessed all the emotional depth of a wading pool wasn’t fun, but the reviewer was so snarky and biting that I ultimately concluded he must have eaten a bad oyster or something, and taken it out on me.

Much more recently, though, someone I respect quite a lot wrote a review that was, for the most part, pretty tepid, but the reviewer did remark on my voice, which he said was “pretty” but didn’t possess much “body.” I’m not going to lie: that stung. And I humbly submit the following:

My voice is, indisputably, light and clear; as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I know that I will never be able to belt like Aretha. But I started singing 19 years ago, and this I know for sure: my voice is not without “body.” Light? Yes. Weak? No way.

But the real issue I’m trying to sort out, here, is this: how do we deal constructively with criticism that may or may not be constructive at all? If we take our good reviews to heart, crowing inwardly, “They got me! They really understood me!”, do we then have to be just as willing to impart significance to the reviews that hurt (or infuriate) us? How do we keep our skin thick but our hearts open?
Wretched Reviews

I admire the iron will exerted by artists who swear that they never read their own reviews. In the age of Google, though, I don’t know how on earth they manage such a feat. The temptation is too great and the access is just too easy.

For my part, I’m not content to categorically dismiss critics and criticism as irrelevant. There are, for example, many knowledgeable “arts journalists,” as opposed to “critics,” who further public literacy about the arts as well as promote artists via their writing. So I want to find a way to enjoy positive feedback, learn from the negative feedback, and not take either too seriously.

I intend to lick my wounds and be grateful that someone who writes for a living would be willing to attend a performance and devote multiple paragraphs to a review. And then I’m going to go back to doing what I love the most: singing.

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9 thoughts on “Everybody’s a critic.

  1. hey girl i just read through a bunch of your blogs, what a lovely start to my morning. reviewers! augh, i hear you. i myself have become much less of a critic over the years…. for that i am grateful. i also really loved the one about forgiveness, and also truth and fact. lots of great writing! and insights. xo

  2. For some musical critique commiseration may I recommend the “Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time,” compiled by Nicolas Slonimsky, from which I will quote a review of Puccini originally published in the New York Tribune by H.E. Krehbiel in 1900:

    “In La Bohéme, silly and inconsequential incidents and dialogues . . . are daubed over with splotches of instrumental color without reason and without effect, except the creation of a sense of boisterous excitement and confusion. In his proclamation of passion, Puccini is more successful so soon as he can become strenuous; but even here the expression is superficial and depends upon strident phrases pounded out by hitting each note a blow on the head as it escapes from the mouths of singers or the accompanying instruments.”

  3. Hey girl! It’s Erika from the ol’ Wasilla days. I’ve been really enjoying your blog, and yesterday’s was no exception. It takes humility to accept criticism, apply it if it’s constructive, and realize that we will never please everyone. But with all of that, we then have to have the confidence to keep doing what brings us joy, no matter what! So keep it up, and enjoy the ride!

    • Erika! Thank you so much for responding to this post. It was not an easy one to write, that’s for sure. You’re absolutely right: we can’t please everyone, so on with the show!! Thanks again for reading.

  4. I remember the first time I saw you sing 15 years ago in a high school play. I remember thinking you had the most incredible voice I had ever heard, and that if you didn’t sing for a living it would be a crying shame.

    Nice to see you are still at it. I am sure you are even more remarkable now then you were back then.

  5. I have been reading your blog and listening to as much of your music as I can get my hands on. You never cease to amaze me, Hilary! I think you can do anything, really. I remember reaching a point in my life when I realized that everything was not all about me. If I didn’t get the positive reaction from an interaction with some one I would think,” What did I do wrong?” and then spend hours trying to figure out what. It was so freeing when it finally occurred to me that maybe it had nothing to do with me. Just maybe they had a life that didn’t involve me at all. I love being in my fifties! I’m so comfortable with myself now. You’re reaching that level of maturity so much earlier in life than I did and I commend you. Enjoy the ride!

    • Thank you, Mimi! I totally hear you–even though we’re in a culture that tells us to fight aging with our whole being, I am loving the process. The greater comfort with oneself and joie de vivre that comes with experience are worth far more than a wrinkle-free visage! Keep on doing what you love and thanks for writing!! xo

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