Total Pageviews

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Giving not Taking!

A few years ago, I heard his holiness, the Dalai Lama, speak at the Bell Centre in Montreal.  I was a guest of Sanford Sylvan's and was also in the presence of my rather spiritual, yet firmly agnostic oldest son.  We were there mostly because of my son's interest in Buddhism - an interest he's had since our days in Ithaca (when he was barely 6). To say the least, it was an inspirational afternoon spent in a hockey arena with 15,000 other human beings.

The Dalai Lama talked about educating the heart to be more compassionate.  He also talked about how important it was to bring happiness and joy to others.  That's certainly something opera strives to do - bring joy to others, happiness to those experiencing it live or on recording, as well as bringing joy to those creating opera in the rehearsal room, coaching studios, or on the operatic stage. He also discussed the importance of human beings communicating with others as equals. Hmmm... Operatic equality...

It got me thinking about what makes a good coaching.  For me, a good coaching happens when the singer in the room shares with me their ideas/art and I share mine. I give, they give; a non-competitive tennis game perhaps. Recently, however, I have started to worry that singers are wanting to "take" something away from their coachings.  It's a phrase I've heard a lot lately: "I really took something from that coaching we had last week" or "I really got a lot from the program - really feel I got my money's worth". Stuff like that.  It's worrisome.

I was remembering what it was like to work with singers who gave, and thought about a "Camelot" production I directed a few summers ago at Ash Lawn.  My cast of leads was a remarkable trio: Peter Clarke, Katherine Pracht and Christopher Burchett.  They GAVE so much in rehearsal and allowed me to GIVE BACK. We spent our days and nights rehearsing by giving to each other and we received back in spades - and that resulted in the audience enjoying really remarkable performances in that "Camelot".

I also distinctly remember one of my best coachings I ever "gave". It was with Matt Worth one summer at Glimmerglass. He walked in to his first coaching with me (and of course we were both wanting to make good impressions), and said he wanted to coach some Weill songs. Now, I just don't do much Weill and I didn't know these specific songs he was programming for his upcoming recital. So I asked him who he'd last coached these songs with, and when he mentioned it was one of NYC's greatest coaches, I about lost my lunch! What could I possibly have to say that SuperCoach hadn't already covered? But off we went and got right down to making music (and boy can Matt sing!) Matt GAVE so much while singing these Weill songs, that I was able to respond and GIVE back some of the best I had to offer. By the time we were done, I felt like I really knew the piece in a new way, knew Matt as an artist, and felt that Matt had explored the song even further than before. As I remember it, we both were a bit giddy afterwards.

I love that sort of collaboration - and think that most of the time the idea of collaboration is missing; certainly the collaborative spirit has begun to disappear.  Too many singers wait to write in their blocking dictated to them by their stage director, or worse, judge the direction before giving it a try.  Too many singers judge their coachings based on what they "got" or what they "took from" their hour working on whatever they've chosen to try to make better. Imagine walking into a coaching or rehearsal and deciding that everyone in the room was going to become part of the process of creating music by GIVING -- starting with yourself.

It's time to step back and remember we're all human beings and start giving our talent, time, and focus to each other.

Stop taking from people, it's not what our art form was based on and it's taking a toll on the music and art that can be made.


  1. I know it's been awhile -- sorry! I'll start blogging more often, as I've got a bunch already written! Best to all my readers!

  2. Many times when I enter into a collaboration with someone "more learned" than myself, I often leave feeling drained of any artistic choice I have thought or made in exchange for something being more stylistic or vocally more appropriate, etc... I always try to give a piece of myself in every thing(even if it is not what I have been instructed to do). I just feel that at my age and experience level I don't quite know enough and must enter these things with a questioning, open, seeking mind.

    Nicholas Davis

  3. Open and seeking is terrific, questioning is always a good thing as long as it's not being mistaken for judging.
    Too often, young singers are made to feel that their ideas are less appropriate or correct -- however, that doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to walk in the door with them! Having nothing to offer (or "say") simply because you might think someone else knows more than you just creates a void that has to be filled. Filling empty space is tiring, boring, and frankly not something that most of us enjoy. It also lessons the trajectory of learning down to more basic elements.

  4. This makes so much sense to me. In the past year, I have been fortunate enough to have SO much coaching, that it has almost completely replaced my own private practice sessions. So now, instead of going into a coaching with the intention of performing for the coach and then "taking" their advice, I am forced to use that time to experiment, as I would in a private practice session. This has created a much more collaborative environment in my coaching sessions. The best coaches I have worked with have always created an atmosphere in the coaching where my artistic ideas were valued. If too many singers aren't bringing enough to the table, I would say it is because there are so many coaches out there who make us feel inferior or are too dogmatic about how a particular piece MUST sound. I say throw tradition out the window and make some bold choices!!!

  5. Go Sydney! I miss your voice and your artistry. Hope you're enjoying Santa Fe, Elizabeth and I want to return there someday and revisit our old haunts - particularly 10,000 Waves. Regarding your comment -- YES that's it exactly. I think part of the problem is with the dogmatic coaches out there (and teachers) who only know bits and pieces of what opera really is about, yet pretend they know the world of opera. Throw the buggers out, I say!

  6. You just can't fix STUPID.