How not to be a one-trick pony.

When I started performing as a kid, I felt like I could be anything or anyone I wanted to be. Levi in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? Did it. Switching between soprano, alto, and tenor parts in choir? Did it. The bass solo in Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem? Did it. 

But as I transitioned into the “real” world of music in competitions, at Interlochen, in collegiate productions, etc., I soon found out just how badly people, especially other performers, wanted to put each other into boxes. If you can define someone’s abilities and capabilities, you can determine just how insecure or confident you need to feel around them. Instead of working to better themselves in every aspect of their craft, a lot of these musicians were spending time labeling those around them as one-trick ponies.

One of the most talented singers I know, who was a finalist on one of those singing competition shows and who has achieved much success and critical acclaim, was labeled a one-trick pony by his peers. I was labeled a one-trick pony because I studied opera in school. Therefore opera was my trick and, according to the other artists I knew, I couldn’t learn another. So when I started writing a musical and performing more commercial music, I had folks tell me flat out that I couldn’t “do that.” Well, I could. And you can, too.

So what does it take to get out of the ring and into the land of the living? You have to keep doing the work. Step outside of your comfort zone. Even if you’ve found your niche. So you’re an R&B singer? Great! That’s what you love, that’s what you’re good at. Working other genres will only broaden your abilities and your range and make your work inside your genre that much better. In the same way that working your lower range increases power and strength in your higher range, working other parts of your artistry will help expand even the things you know you do well. While at the same time, bringing everything else up to meet it. 

The best thing I could’ve done for my classical singing was to branch out and start studying commercial styles at Brett Manning Studios. And once I left the world of opera and developed my own commercial style, the best thing I could’ve done was to push myself to work on country songs and listen to Michael Jackson and slave endlessly over Tori Kelly’s runs. 

The gift that we have demands to be expressed. But it is honored when humble ourselves to tackle the bits that we don’t even want to share when we’re on stage doing karaoke. It is honored when we admit and begin to believe that we are not, in fact, one-trick ponies. So to all you one-trick ponies out there, self-diagnosed or otherwise, I dare you to learn another trick. Whether you keep it to yourself or share it with the masses, I promise you it will deepen your connection with your craft and widen your view of yourself and your talents. 

Instead of asking yourself what you have to lose, ask yourself what you have to gain. There’s a whole world of style out there. Be greedy. Choose more than one. And never, ever limit yourself to the land of the one-trick pony.

Colby LapollaComment