Category Archives: Uncategorized

Old Dog, Meet New Trick. (WOOF.)

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I’m on record as being a big fan of trying new things – my own career path is a twisty one, that largely echoes those experiences and topics that I find interesting. But, I have to be honest – I’ve got a great job, a great personal life, and it’s all remained pretty static for the last few years. There are inherent challenges in both professional and personal aspects of my life, but they’re not of the earth-shaking kind. (And I’m quite grateful for the stability and comfort – life is good!)

One of the projects I’ve been closely involved with for the last several years is Center Stage from Wolf Trap. The chamber music series that I program for The Barns at Wolf Trap spins off into a nationally-syndicated radio show that’s heard in Fairbanks AK, San Juan Puerto Rico, and on hundreds of public radio stations in-between. I’ve been involved as a producer for years – which loosely translates into doing research for the on-air personalities, listening for inaccuracies in their narration, and keeping them plied with coffee and munchies to keep the train on the tracks. Spending a few intense days in the studios at WETA talking music nerdery of the highest order with some great musicians is a respite from the opera world that I both enjoy and have come to crave. It’s fun!

This year, we weren’t sure if we were going to continue the series: we had a million internal discussions about its future, about the communities that we were trying to reach. (I personally reach for Sirius or Spotify or Pandora before terrestrial radio most days…is public radio relevant anymore? I’d hope so, but who knows?)  We threw everything – every aspect of the program –  up into the air. When the pieces reassembled themselves? Well, the series had survived. I was named Executive Producer! (Sounds so fancy!) The format had changed a bit, as had the on-air personnel.

They put me in the booth.

To talk.

On air.

(Ouff.)

It’s been admittedly years since I listened to my own voice through a headset – likely when I was singing, trying to critique my technique or performance for improvement. But I was always singing someone else’s words, with beautiful music behind it. Now it was just me – nothing in the sonic landscape to distract from my voice, as I prattled along. RK, a veteran radio announcer colleague and pal, fed me lines and tried to encourage me.

It. Was. Terrifying.

I’m thinking that one circle of Hell is a plane of existence where you have to listen to everything you’ve ever said, played back to you. (Here’s the breakdown: It’s 20% vocal ticks and fillers, 75% sounding reeeeeally dumb; maybe 5% of the time something gets from brain to lips that sounds both clear and vaguely intelligent.)

I had watched the guys banter effortlessly for years from the control room. They made it look easy! But it sure wasn’t. I got home that first night with a fatigued voice (because I usually don’t talk for 8+ hours in one day), and a foggy mind. But I also felt really good – I had tried to develop a new skill, and while I still sounded like Howdy Doody, I was enjoying the process and was starting to feel like maybe it was something I could actually do.

By the end of the second day in the studio, RK and I were starting to work out our back-and-forth, and were really having fun. We wrapped 13 shows, and afterwards we all walked across the street to grab a beer, chat about what had worked, and talk about the new direction the series was taking.

It felt like a new start, an exciting beginning. And I’m grateful to have had the chance to learn something new.

You’ll be able to hear Center Stage from Wolf Trap on a public radio station near you beginning in July of 2015. And there’s an email address listed as part of the broadcast that you can give feedback: I’d love to hear from you! (But be gentle – it’s my first time!) Thanks to the gang – Rich, Vic, and Bruce – for being so patient with me, and for the folks at Wolf Trap and WETA for being so supportive. Can’t wait for the next sessions!

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Artist + Leader

Becky Bermont from RISD wrote a lovely piece for HBR about artist-leaders. I’m especially interested in item #3: iteration.

According to our Provost, iterating on a concept or plan is a lot like teaching — it’s feeling the moment, and responding with real-time agility.

I’m a big proponent of DWWR. (For those of you who have worked with Choral Conductor and all-around dynamo Robert Page, you’ll recognize the shorthand for “Do What Was Rehearsed.”)  But to do so without responding to the room, the audience? Well, it would be a missed opportunity on a large scale, no?

Flexibility, responsiveness, agility – as artists, and especially as performing artists, these are things at which we excel.

“Not yet.”

There’s a beauty in striving. And while meeting a final goal is important – whether it’s a quota, or the completion of a professional project, or remembering to eat our veggies or be more mindful in our personal lives.

Sometimes, we need to strive for things that are slightly beyond us. We learn so much from stepping outside our perceived boundaries. I could argue that that particular kind of striving set me on my very strange, non-linear career path: I had been accepted to 4 colleges for creative writing when I took my sole music school audition. After that audition, I was convinced that it was the path for me – it was foreign and had rules that I didn’t understand, and was something in which my family had little to no background. I could totally succeed, right?

In many ways, I did. In some, I did not. But it was a challenge, during which I was often reminded that I didn’t quite have it, yet.

The power of “yet” is the subject of this TED talk. I love the implied possibility that, regardless of where we are in our career path, our personal path, we can continually improve.

 

Musicianship and Entrepreneurship

Like peanut butter and chocolate! Laurel and Hardy! Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard!

(You get it, right? Two great things that are better together?)

One obvious part of being a professional musician is the same as being an entrepreneur; being pulled together and able to kick ass in what is essentially a pitch meeting, an audition. But Fast Company makes a more robust case for musicianship skills translating into entrepreneurship. The author talks about the solitary skills that B-school teaches; business plans, role-playing, etc; but the communication, responsiveness, and fluidity that musical training demand give us critical skills for success.

Pretty cool, huh? Now go write that business plan!

From the road

I’m writing from O’Hare, sitting cross-legged on the floor, waiting for our next flight. It’s Audition Tour time, and we’re about halfway through: possible repertoire for our 2015 season is fluctuating wildly!

I saw this article this morning, and it resonated with me. It took me a while to truly find my niche, and I think the advice here makes quite a bit of sense.

http://m.fastcompany.com/3037078/hit-the-ground-running/how-to-follow-your-dreams-when-you-havent-quite-figured-out-what-they?utm_source=facebook

Happy weekending! (And if you have some positive travel karma to share, please send it our way!)

From the road: Thoughts from the Audition Tour

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Home base: the stage at The Barns at Wolf Trap

Every fall my colleagues and I embark on an audition tour, trying to find the best emerging talent in the country. (It must be the most involved HR hiring tour of its kind!) Every year it teaches me new things, so from time to time I’ll post about the most striking discoveries.

We’ve only been on the road for a few days, only two full days of auditions under our belts. Here’s what I’ve observed so far:

  • Preparation is perhaps the only weapon we have against rampant nerves. Auditioning is a weird construct: we all recognize it. But those who do it often tend to do it well…
  • It is what it is. I get a lot of flak for embracing this saying, so let me describe the ways in which I employ it.
    • Sometimes an audition is a legitimate interview for work. Sometimes it’s an opportunity for practice, to try something new…there are many reasons to take an audition. Realize the opportunity for what it truly is, embrace it, and learn from it.
    • Things don’t have to be so difficult. Sometimes it really can be “I’m going to go in and enjoy myself.” Often it’s sufficient, both for you and the panel. Leave the expectations at the door, and let’s have some fun!
  • Every year between where I am and where I was when I was singing, I realize how little right I have to give you advice: I’m not singing anymore, and I remember viscerally how difficult it was. I do hear a lot of folks every year, and yes that gives me information on the state of the art form and that overarching view. But really, I’m in awe of the work you do, the time you put in, and your willingness to navigate the audition gauntlet over and over again. That generosity of spirit is a wonderful thing; it’s why I love working with you, and why I can truly say that I have the best job in the world.

Looking forward to hearing more of you over the coming months. Toi toi toi, al!

Oh maturity…

…why do you show up now, when I could’ve used your lessons a full decade ago?

(answer: You did. I wasn’t listening. Whoops.)

I don’t have any real bitch about growing wiser and older simultaneously. Heck, I’m one of the lucky ones – someone who makes a living in a field for which I feel a strong attraction & affection. But the field wasn’t my first choice – in fact, my audition was a bit of a Hail Mary pass. How very fortunate I was to have been given an entré! And how hard I’ve worked to stay in, stay relevant, find the niche that most closely reflects my affinities and talents.

I stumbled across this article in Fast Company that resonates with me, about choosing “must” over “should.” When we opt for “should,” the author Elle Luna argues, we choose other’s views of us. When we choose must, we choose our own unique path.

Should is how others want us to show up in the world–how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self.

(Side note: am I the only one whose heart says a little cheer when big business recognizes wisdom from the arts community? Because HOORAY!)

We all have the opportunity to decide how “must” and “should” manifest in our daily life. I’m going to try to listen to that small voice a little more closely this week. Join me.

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Advice, via Euler and Wild Chickens

It seems like we dish it out in spades, doesn’t it? And oftentimes, it’s not relevant, or at all helpful.

But sometimes someone gets it right.

My pal Paolo wrote a bit about finding career happiness (and also clarified the differences between Venn and Euler diagrams) here. He’s added his own worksheet here, filling in positions that he’s held that fit certain criteria, and daydreaming about those that might fit.

It’s less simplistic than most advice I hear for singers or those  transitioning out… which boils down often to “If you can imagine doing anything else, do that other thing.” More helpfully, Paolo’s outlined an exercise that allows you to put your career path into a concrete, personal context.

I’m looking forward to working through it, myself!

 

Easing back in: Career Happiness

The season is starting to wind down, and I’m hoping to get back here with more regularity in September. I’m jumping in a wee bit early, though, with a link to an article written by a friend. He drills down to the four basic criteria for career happiness:

I believe there are four factors that contribute to how happy or satisfied you feel about what you do for a living, and the potential for happiness increases the more these factors overlap.

 

You love to do it.
You do it well.
It gives you financial security or independence.
You believe it makes a difference.

We experience those four factors to different degrees, but I’d agree that they all come into play when you find the right spot.

You can read more (and see his super-nifty Venn diagram) here.

Gone fishin’.

This little corner of the internet has been pretty quiet this spring. I’d apologize, but it’d sound disingenuous as I’m about to head into my busy professional season, and there’s little chance that I’ll redeem myself over the summer months. If you’re interested as to what I’m doing, please check my colleague’s blog here.

Looking forward to getting back into the swing of things this September. Enjoy your summers!

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