Perfection and Paralysis: Laura Valle on the Dichotomy of Performance

Laura Valle in Argentina. Courtesy of Laura Valle.

“As soon as the pressure rose, I was on stage, stiff; not risking and not connecting with myself. I was singing with the critical mind on stage,” said Laura Valle, a singer-songwriter and vocal coach from Argentina based in Orange County. “It felt like I was wearing a  restraint and the results [of the performance] were average,” Laura continues, “because I was trying [too hard] to control. It took years of self awareness, meditation and continued negotiation with my perfectionist mind, reminding myself over and over again to let go of the brake and rely on my intuition.”

Intuition is a peculiar concept. The world is now, for the most part, a technologically advanced era where science, pragmatism and critical thinking are highly valued. Therefore, in music, it makes more practical sense that if you perform the way you’ve practiced, you would put on a great show, right? Well, despite expectations, the stage will always be an unpredictable and enigmatic space. And intuition, which Laura speaks of, is not scientific and predictable. There are moments in life where that ‘Luke Skywalker’ intuition is necessary to defeat our own Death Star. Star Wars aside, people who follow their intuition usually never regret it because you hear a lot more often phrases like, “I shouldn’t have doubted myself,” or “I should have gone with my instincts.” But that’s easier said than done. There are times when our minds and our hearts fight to take control of our bodies.

Laura’s motto is “walk hard and breathe softly”. To her, ‘walk hard’ means, “to work hard on my craft and be resilient to disappointment, and ‘breathe softly’ means to be kind to myself and others and be patient with the process of my music and the development of my voice”.

Laura started her career as an actress and tango singer in Buenos Aires. During her residence in Europe, she toured with several latin jazz bands and obtained a music degree from the Conservatory of Music of Basel, Switzerland. She also studied classical and jazz singing with top coaches Jay Clayton, Sheila Jordan, Sandy Patton, Liliana Ruggiero and Kathleen Michaels. In Southern California, Laura  performed at venues such as the Ford Amphitheater Los Angeles, Museum of Latin American Art Long Beach, Make Music Pasadena and jazz clubs in OC and LA. Laura has had an extensive record of successes as well as failures and she is courageous in her willingness to share those moments with us.

For a person with impressive credentials, education, and experience, how can someone like Laura still tighten up and freeze when performing? There is no simple answer except that it happens and it happens to even the best and most seasoned performers, from Mariah Carey to Whitney Houston. As powerful as a voice can be it is still the most fragile instrument; compared to one that can be transported in a case and plugged in before showtime, the voice is vulnerable to the weather, the singer’s diet, their energy and, especially, their mindset.

From “The Effects of Stress on Singing Voice Accuracy” in 2014’s The Voice Foundation, authors Larrouy-Maestri and Morsomme have concluded that “highly significant correlations were found between the intensity of cognitive symptoms and the vocal accuracy criteria. [...] [and what must also be considered is the] challenge level and perception of the symptoms in experimental and pedagogical settings.” Therefore, it’s understandable that someone like Laura, with similar experience from studying at a music conservatory and being a vocal coach for fifteen years, is going to put significantly more pressure on themselves to perform at a professional standard than a person who has never studied music and is singing in the shower.

Perfectionism is a problem I see in singers as they deepen in their technique and expectations. It comes from focusing too much on the result they want to achieve, like, sounding strong and on pitch, impressing the audition judge, or sounding like a certain artist. That makes them break the connection with the true artistic mission, possibly losing the audience or just even singing just good but not great. Many singers experience, to a greater or lesser degree, that at a certain time in their careers there is a blockade of artistic expression due to fear or having big expectations.”

“Singers who work a lot on their technique can start to get very critical. We do need to work on technique to keep our voices in shape and protect it from vocal injury but we also need to balance the intuitive, sensorial and emotional aspect of our performances in order to connect with the audience and achieve our real purpose: communication. The most important and easily forgotten aspect of singing that needs to be mastered is, without doubt, the brain.” 

Laura Valle (right) performing with Juan Estanga (left) at the Notorious Jazz Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Laura’s words closely resonate with a concept that is also highly valued in sports performance, which is flow state. Put simply, it is a state of mind where a person is performing a task, balancing absorption and control at optimal levels in order to achieve the best results. Initial explorations on flow state have existed as early as 1975.  

In The Experience of the Flow State in Live Music Performance, William J. Wrigley and Stephen B. Emmerson discussed one way musical flow state could be measured. In this study, students concentrating in music of different years and instruments were surveyed after a performance and asked to self-evaluate it based on experiences such as awareness, concentration and control, to name a few. While this and many other studies about musical flow state deserve its own reflection piece, the results were that “these results suggested that most students struggled with becoming absorbed in their performance. Almost 60% of students experienced low amounts of enjoyment (Autotelic Experience), and just over half of the students (58%) did not experience a strong balance between their perceived skills and challenge of the examination.”

A study that involves self-reporting one’s own performance has additional factors that come to mind. That what can be perceived as ‘good’ is subjective (because someone can think they’re in tune when someone more skilled in that instrument can detect they are not as in tune), and when one perceives that they are doing a 'good' job, that in itself drives pleasure. Hence, ignorance is bliss. It is very common for musicians to experience a mishap in their performance that perpetually ‘derails’ the rest of the performance. In that case, it’s important, as Laura says, to be kind and patient with yourself, and just move on and stay in the moment. 

Perhaps studying things like flow state is a marriage between science and the peculiar; that certain cues we give ourselves about a performance that can be empirically observed and reflected upon may be indicative of something that your body “intuitively” knows and can do naturally. Don’t think and pressure yourself to be in the moment while the performance is happening, but temporarily suspend the critical voice and just be in the moment. It’s understandable that the more hours a person spends refining their skill in music, they can start to distance themselves from the initial joy that music first brought them.

Laura started to sing because it gave her enjoyment. But, sometime during her career that pleasure got lost to perfectionism. The fact that she is a vocal coach makes her extremely conscious of her sound. “When it is not the greatest, I have to remind myself to be patient and mindful each day.” And from her responses, it’s obvious Laura practices what she preaches. She doesn’t say that she sounds ‘bad’ the way so many self-deprecating  musicians and artists would.

Laura's lexicon includes phrases like ‘not the greatest’ and ‘good but not great’ that still conveys an honesty that there is room for improvement without self-punishment. Laura teaches students of any age, but the majority of them start singing with her between six to twelve years of age; which is a highly impressionable time where Laura’s compassion is necessary. And why would she say something to herself that she wouldn’t say to her own students? Because in a world where American Idol hopefuls are ridiculed for entertainment and any person with a Youtube account is a music critic, Laura’s type of positive self-talk is something a lot of artists can benefit from.

Laura Valle and Ron Kobayoshi (piano) performing and recording at Studio 770 in Brea, CA.

Tip time!

Here are some tips from Laura Valle based on her experience as a singer and vocal coach.
  1. Cultivate awareness. Your voice is an instrument. Be mindful of the relationship between voice, breath and body. When you start your daily warm ups, lean your senses towards the sensations in your body and follow the vibrations of the sound inside of you (not the sound you hear which is already past tense). Basically: stay in the present moment.
  2. Self-Start. It is essential for an artist to set things in motion without expecting others to do the job. You can and you will get help along the way but you need to start the practice, the writing, the band, the gigs, the home recording studio, etc and expect that drawbacks will be part of your journey. Every single business has ups and downs.
  3. Use the intellect to assist you plan your practice. Choose the songs, learn the scales and melody of your song, work on timing or listen back to a recording and evaluate what you want to improve. Don’t let it dominate your intentions when you are actually performing or recording.
  4. Observe your critical mind. Don’t critic it, don’t push it away. It is an important part of your success but just needs to learn its place and serve you when you need it. 
  5. Perform Live. It is essential to grow your confidence and skills as a singer. That can be a challenge during a pandemic. Live streaming on social platforms and recorded videos of your rehearsals are the alternatives you have available today when in-person performances are not an option.  Singing with  the intention of sharing can bring out the adrenaline to awaken up your powers. By thinking about singing to an audience you start to create a two way energy loop that can change your interpretation.
Laura continues to perform in California and Buenos Aires.  Her debut album “Perlas”, was rooted in South American influences. Her second release “Charismatic” employs a stronger jazz and pop orientation. Her music is available on most digital platforms such as iTunes, Apple Music, Deezer or Amazon for download or stream. Currently she is working on finishing voices for her third album, planning the release of a video she shot in Buenos Aires and collaboration with a Vietnamese artist, Tatu, singing in three languages a in a song called ‘Love of Yin’. 


1. Larrouy-Maestri, Pauline; Morsomme, Dominique (2014-01). "The effects of stress on singing voice accuracy". Journal of Voice: Official Journal of the Voice Foundation. 28 (1): 52–58. doi:10.1016/j.jvoice.2013.07.008. ISSN 1873-4588. PMID 24094801

2. Wrigley, William J.; Emmerson, Stephen B. (2011-11-23). "The experience of the flow state in live music performance:". Psychology of Music. doi:10.1177/0305735611425903.

Laura is signed to Gloucester Records, along with Glasspirits, Mumkai and Dommme. Her contact information and latest news can be found on her website Information about her vocal coaching is posted at