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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Knowing Now… PART TWO (Dorothy, Green Women, and Galadriel)

Things I wish young singers knew now, that they don’t know now…


Preparation means score study, not highlighting your part:
            Young singers who make it as professional singers are either naturally adept at learning opera roles easily or they have a much more evolved work ethic than their peers. It’s that simple. If one doesn’t like learning music for the rest of one’s life, then you should find something else to do with your life and not muddle up the young artist market with your fantastic kissed-by-god voice. Step aside and make room for those who truly want to work in the operatic field.
            Lara Ciekiewicz recently posted the great Maureen Forrester’s 3 Rules:
1)   Be Prepared
2)   Be Punctual
3)   Be Nice
            Pretty simple, eh?!

Learning Music Is Not Work, It Is A Privilege:           
            Studying is not working. When you get paid for doing something, that is working. Opera singers are paid to perform, not rehearse or learn their music (there are a few exceptions here, and this is one of the great differences between Opera and Musical Theatre. You get paid to rehearse in musical theatre and that’s usually when you are taught the score too – sounds like a better deal, no?) Please stop thinking that learning music is work.
            Back to the Privilege part… I feel so strongly about this. There are billions of people in the world striving to find water, food, and shelter. They work till their hands bleed. They work miles from home and never see their families. Children are making shoes and t-shirts somewhere in the world, working for practically nothing, right now as I type these words. Learning is a fu#*ing privilege. Get your heads out of your arses and dance into a practice room! Do it with joy and remember just how special you are for possessing enough talent to be in that practice room, or in a rehearsal room, or onstage working on some masterpiece. You are a re-animator of a composer’s intentions, their minds and artistic souls. It’s just such a precious gift!
            But it is not WORK!

The current operatic choices for Career Paths can, and should, be followed (as in, “If I get my degrees, do summer gigs, get into a paid apprentice program, get into a resident young artist program, and then get management, I will find my career like Dorothy following the Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard”):
            No, No, No.
            Dorothy had to murder a very misunderstood and emotionally disturbed green woman in order to get what she wanted. That horrid Glenda could have told her back with the Munchkins to click her freaking heels, but no… Bitch. Glenda was a Bitch. She wanted the green woman killed but wouldn’t do it herself. Manipulative Bitch, really.
            The idea of following the 20th century young artist path to a career is simply so last century.  And it didn’t work for most people who tried it. It only worked for the very lucky few. It probably worked for your teachers and for the singers that your coaches know in the field. Wait for it… That’s because they were the lucky few, so of course they’ll think their path was a pretty good one.  
            It is 2015 and things have changed, Jo.
            What’s changed the most? The Market? Certainly.  The Demand? Probably. The Supply? Absolutely!
            Career Paths open up because one creates the environment in which to find and follow your OWN Path(s). You are responsible for stepping into the operatic forest and for creating your paths. And the kicker is that these Paths are only apparent once you turn around and look at where you’ve been, realize how you got there, and understand the people who helped connect the breadcrumbs along the way.
            What to do then? Open your field. Imagine. Have Plan B, Plan H, and Plan Q. Work on as many fronts as possible. Network, Network, Network. Stop putting other’s paths and successes in front of your own. Listen to yourself. Listen to Oprah. (There is something to what she says about success in life.) Regardless, one cannot passively pursue any kind of career, let alone an operatic one. So step up to the plate and start swinging. Or if baseball metaphors are too last century…
            Don’t follow that yellow brick road; you might have to murder a green woman. Click your heels together and use your imagination to get you where you want to be.

Lost opportunities seldom, if ever, return:
            When I’m out and about down in the United States directing, I spend oodles and oodles of hours in coffee shops with members of the local chorus, with cast members, or with production staff; they talk about their career aspirations and ask to hear my thoughts. It’s not brain surgery, nor is it life changing I’m sure, but it can get you thinking about yourself in another’s light. I wish more young singers would ask for one-on-one time from guest artists, ask them for a coffee, let alone a beer or a perhaps even a dollar taco night. Massive lost opportunities.
            David Daniels recently posted on Facebook how upset he was that at his guest recital at some university because so few students showed up. Just last month, Michael Ching was here for three days in rehearsals for our latest opera production (a double-bill of his Buoso’s Ghost and Speed Dating Tonight!). My cast was there to listen to him talk about his music, his music making, and his thoughts on the current state of operatic composition. It was a great talk that also culminated in his singing one of his songs at the piano (a song about a veteran, sung by the Michael on November 11th – quite moving and quite an insight into Michael as an artist). Were other students there? Outside of my most exceptional students, no. Were they invited? Yes. Were they free to come? Absolutely – it was during our regularly scheduled class time.
            So why didn’t they come?
            I think it has something to do with how young people think they’re supposed to learn – Directly. Information comes direct via Google and Wikipedia now. No more skulking about the library stacks digging through card catalogues looking for unlooked for connections or happening upon a book that was next to the book you were looking for. Information seems to be treated as only something needed to answer specific questions or situations. But we all know that connecting dots happens INDIRECTLY as well as directly. Sitting and listening and watching connect huge dots!
            But maybe it is just another example of the disease that has hit so many of us (including me!) in this Information Age. Perhaps the loss of attendance at special events also has to do with the sense that everyone is a bit “overbooked” or “overscheduled”. Everyone has “too much to do”.  This is a viable argument when looked at from certain standpoints.
            Yet – look at the successful people in this field. We all have the same amount of time in our days as they do. We all have the same number of hours in our days as Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote a hit rap musical, is currently starring in it, and also scored some of the new Star Wars movie (the Cantina scene). He gets things done.  He shows up, I’m sure.

And the last thing I wished young singers knew now…
            Opera is such a joyous field. The people in it are filled with the best kinds of noise and knowledge, filled with good times and expansive hearts. Most people who make music for a living are filled with a very special kind of light. I think it’s like Galadriel’s phial that she gives to Frodo in Lothlorien. Sam uses it to fend off Shelob. It’s filled with a blinding light that sends evil running for cover. Filling yourself with opera can be like carrying around a magical cordial. It keeps the bad times at bay, it emboldens your imagination, it whips at the wild beasts that surround you. It spreads the light of creation to others.

            And that is our work really. Spreading our special kind of light into this very dark world.