I beg your indulgence – I’m working on a writing project (one that’s unconnected to anything professional), and it’s taking a huge toll on my synapses. Even though progress is slow, I’m committed to having something I’m proud of when I’ve finished, so posting here may remain light. If there are things you’d like me to address, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
On a related note, if you’re a freelance performer who has another professional angle: plans events/makes soaps/files tax returns/writes program notes? Please send me a line – I’d be quite curious to run something by you!
On a tangentially related note: I made Brussels sprouts for the very first time tonight. And I ate almost all of them. Old dog? Meet new trick. It’s never too late, and the baby steps are the very most important.
I subscribe to a daily email from Box of Crayons, and this was today’s thought:
Ulysses asked his crew to tie him to the mast, so he couldn’t be tempted be the songs of the Sirens that would lure him to his death.
What structures might you put in place to stop you being tempted by that which doesn’t serve you?
I have a pretty comfortable daily routine.
I also have three large goals that I’d like to accomplish in the next 5 months.
Those two facts are in direct opposition.
So I’m rethinking my daily structure, considering the ways in which I might be able to make the path to accomplishing those three things a little easier. I’ll admit, there’s a part of my brain that is throwing a huge toddler tantrum about the whole thing. “But I neeeeeeed to decompress after work! And I don’t waaaaaaaant to get up any earlier! This is going to be tooooo haaaaaaarrrrrd. I hate this!”
But if I can actually get into a new routine? I might have something very cool to show for it.
And if I don’t? Well, the world will likely continue to turn, but I have a feeling that I’ll always wonder “what if?”
If you’ve restructured your day to great result, please share your advice! (I can use the help.)
I had a great conversation yesterday about giving up dreams.
(You’ve just finished your autumn auditions, and you’re thinking “How could that possibly be a great conversation?!” Bear with me…)
I’ve known this pal since my Carnegie Mellon days. Both of us knew, at some point, that we weren’t going to attain the performance level that we wanted to – it was a physical thing. The voice, in my case, was likely never going to be as large or as distinctive as I wanted it to be, which was going to influence the roles and repertoire in which I could be effectively cast. And, while I could strive to make it the best it could be? It was likely never going to be quite good enough. For him, the combination of a past injury and the pressure to be perfect -which created a tension that affected his performances – kept him from reaching the level he wanted.
We both got pretty close. And then? We stalled out. And we both struggled to figure out what life would look like after this singular focus was gone.
It was like a break up, an ugly break up. I remember telling myself that I was not a quitter, and wouldn’t give up. As I continued to pursue the dream, it seemed harder to give up, as I had spent so much time and energy (and, let’s be honest, cashola) on its pursuit. I was firmly caught in that sunk-cost fallacy, and changing direction would mean losing face, admitting I wasn’t good enough, dealing with the feelings of shame and inadequacy that were part and parcel. I postponed the decision until, really, I couldn’t anymore…until the cons outweighed the pros, and the feelings of insecurity that I felt at my position in the field were greater than those that I felt at the prospect of changing career paths.
I’ve cited Augusten Burrough’s Two Minute Memoir before, in which he talks about giving up his initial dream (acting) because he finds he’s not as good as it naturally as he’d want to be. And he found something better – which he wouldn’t have, had he not actually been give a realistic view of his skills. He had a mirror to look through – the recorder gave him an unvarnished view of his performance, and he recognized that he was missing that something that would allow him to make a career in theater.
As a teacher, I knew I had to tell the truth to my students – it wasn’t just a moral obligation, it was that they could smell falsity in the air. They knew if I wasn’t being 100% honest with them…most of the time. It gets harder to regulate your inner b-s monitor, however, when someone is telling you something you want very much to hear. And rather than surrounding myself with tough-love, I tended to surround my singer self with students and pals who thought I was amazing. (Good for the ego, terrible for the technique.)
Janine Shepherd gave a TED talk about her path to recovery after a horrible accident. She had self-identified as an athlete for all of her adult life, and her physical prowess was taken from her . The video is here, but let me share with you a quote that I found relevant to yesterday’s discussion:
The philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.” I now know that it wasn’t until I let go of who I thought I was that I was able to create a completely new life. It wasn’t until I let go of the life I thought I should have that I was able to embrace the life that was waiting for me.
All this to simply say that if it’s not working for you? It’s ok – something will. Don’t be afraid to look.
(And as a side note? The song that the title’s taken from. I didn’t know what this song was about for a long time, but I loved it because my name was in it.)
Posting will resume soon, but until then check this out: Butts in Seats has a great article about parlaying non-profit arts experience into the for-profit world. Would you leave the arts for the for-profit sector?
I’ve let this project lag just a little bit (Ahem. I may exaggerate a little…), but it’s for a great reason. As part of the Opera America Leadership Intensive, I’ve been spending the last several days in a sunny conference room in New York with 13 colleagues from the US, Canada and Europe, talking about the future of the art form – our art form – and our place therein.
I won’t lie: it’s an extremely exciting time for yours truly. My colleagues are smart, warm, witty, and generous. It’s a little ridiculous, actually, how fantastic these folks are.The facilitators are knowledgable and gentle, even as they push us outside of our comfort zones (hello, public speaking!) and challenge our assumptions of ourselves and the field at large. I count myself amazingly lucky to be counted among this group of students.
We’re all asking a lot of questions, sharing volumes of information. And of course, being in New York there are things to do, friends to connect with, any number of millions of directions to explore. Even if I weren’t in season (WHICH I AM. How am I not in the office? And more importantly, have you picked up tickets for Rake’s Progress yet?), I’d find it slightly overwhelming. I have an awful lot to chew on, with more to think about and tackle in the days to come.
On Tuesday morning, we were all tasked to give our 5-minute personal history to the group. Five minutes to let the group know how you came to be sitting around that table, focused and passionate about an art form that many would describe as a hard sell.
And can I tell you, singers who are doubting whether a performance path is for you? Those of you who fell in love with drama and theater and music but who realize that you may not light up a stage? (Or want to light up a stage?) Can I simply tell you that the group of people around that table – like me, maybe like you – had those same doubts at one point. They parlayed their love of the art form, and the self-knowledge that footlights weren’t their thing, into leadership roles at major and influential opera companies around the country. They are Development Officers, Artistic Directors, Community Programs Directors…the list goes on.
Along the same lines as Wednesday’s post, here’s an article from the NYT about the new prevalence of online educational resources. Coursera, Khan Academy, heck even YouTube tutorials. There’s so much knowledge for the taking! Perhaps the hardest aspect of the whole process is choosing what to study…
There’s a lot of buzz out there about the creative class… those people, regardless of industry (and while I might take some serious flak for it, I am of the opinion that not every person pursuing a performance degree/career is, in fact, creative. But that’s a topic for another post.) are innovators. In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida states that “access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steel-making.”
That quote is 10 years old, my friends.
Adobe did a research study on UK workers, which showed that most people – fully two-thirds of those surveyed – felt that they were not living up to their potential. To quote Dylan Jones-Evans (WesternMail, 7.14.12)
“Four out of five believe that there is an increased pressure in work on being productive rather than creative. In addition, risk aversion is seen as a barrier with “playing it safe” being the strategy usually adopted by organisations which results in those who are innovative and entrepreneurial having their ideas stifled by those who are less creative. They also feel there was a lack of time to create new things and that they cannot afford to be creative.”
Hello, US Classical Music Market.
We’re seeing the big 10 operatic warhorses in heavy rotation. We’re seeing young artists inhabiting the roles usually given to established singers. We’re seeing a heck of a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms on chamber music programs. Companies are cutting back, scaling back, folding. Audiences are aging and shrinking. In terms of building a younger audience? We are the 98-pound-weakling trying to woo the quarterback’s girlfriend. (She’s mostly not giving us the time of day, but we’re not giving up yet.)
How much of that, I wonder, has to do with an art form in serious transition? In its heyday, having season tickets to the opera was akin to what having season football tickets are today. (singers/athletes; audiences; financial models and arenas…the sports analogies are really endless.) But that nostalgic glow is only attractive for a small margin of the population; those folks who are in a position to donate, to keep small companies afloat and to shore up the finances of larger ones.
It’s a difficult time to be an artist. (although, let’s be frank…has it ever been easy? I mean, we all know how Bohéme goes, right?)
In the current climate, it’s only natural to harbor some doubt… there’s some serious math to be done, weighing passion against sacrifice, talent and preparation against the national field. Personal preferences can take a backseat to financial necessity.
What if you’re the one playing it safe? With a desk job and a 401k and a nice apartment? And a constant headache and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and the tendency to self-medicate because you’re just somehow not feeling it?
The Harvard Business Review has some advice. As a former (reformed?) teacher, there’s something inherently less scary/more doable when imagining a career leap as a curriculum or night course…setting up an experiment, finding ways to gather more information, sticking to a timetable rather than experimenting endlessly. (That’s called ‘having hobbies.’)
What scares you the most about making that transition?
We hosted a small symposium this past weekend. Kim Pensinger Witman and I were fortunate enough to attend the Opera America Conference in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and were both inspired and challenged in the seminars which we attended. But oftentimes our artists are bypassed from these larger discussions, or they’re expected to listen but not participate actively…the general directors dictate the tone and flow of the conversation. (It’s not a criticism – the GD’s are the ones who deal with those overarching principles on a daily basis…they should be the folks to initiate the discussions about strategy and the state of our art.) We wanted to give our singers an opportunity to join the conversation.
We called our two-day event Recitative: Plain Talk About Opera, recognizing that what we wanted to do wasn’t glamorous or sparkly…not aria-like in the least. We wanted to raise the questions that the singers/directors/artistic admins were pondering, but maybe hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss. And we asked a group of people who understood our demographic to help us with these discussions.
(Have I mentioned that, by and large, opera people are generous and helpful and agreeable? The colleagues who assisted with these discussions – artistic administrators and general directors and singers and conductors, from companies in our own market to Left Coast-ers, and even a representative from the Continent! – surely were… we are indebted to them for their time, their thoughtfulness, their candor. Opera people are indeed pretty cool.)
It was a fantastic, provoking, sometimes heated two-day discussion. I was struck very early on with two observations: firstly, that there was such a passionate feeling towards both the art form and the collaborative structure of the art form. (not a surprise, certainly, but it was a wonderful realization of the intensity of feeling.) Secondly, that there were so many people who had started as singers who were now deeply involved – as artistic administrators, casting directors, general directors – in a non-performance aspect of the art. Do they contribute to the discussion as administrators? Most certainly. Do their words hold a different weight because they know firsthand what it’s like to biff a high note in public or trample over an overture in rehearsal with a respected conductor? I think that they might. They know what it feels like to perform at the top of their game. They’ve been moved by an exceptional performance, whether as an onstage colleague or an audience member. It’s invaluable information…and sure, a lot of it can be learned. But maybe not all of it.
It’s not an unusual path, for sure…transitioning from singer or actor to artistic or general director. I’m glad that there are so many people leading companies who, at one point, made the noise…stood in the spotlight…took the curtain call…and ultimately realized that they were meant to support the art form in a different way. Raising a virtual toast to transitions!
The Opera America conference was a whirlwind of faces and topics and information that was, quite frankly, a lot to digest. I’m still processing most of it, I have to admit. But spending several days talking about Creative Resurgence and the ways in which people and industries reinvent themselves has my mental hamster on the ol’ exercise wheel in a significant way.
The model for opera in the US is changing – not many would dispute that. Companies are folding, chamber opera is being championed (a lovely thing for my own venue) to an extraordinary degree, and there’s a serious push towards adding to the American operatic canon…all these are part of the changing landscape. But I’d argue that there’s a huge swath of singers that are struggling with these changes…there’s a group of fantastically talenter singers who aren’t young artists, but who also aren’t Terfel or DiDonato or one of the handful of singers with name recognition, who are being squeezed out by economics. (In a related comic turn, a baritone for whom I have a great deal of respect and adoration – and who falls squarely in the Working category – has a black biography on his website…in beautiful marketing-speak, and in his case belying his significant career.)
The big take-away that I find from many of these discussions is that our educational institutions must find a way (and I realize, budgets and time hardly allow for the learning as it currently stands) to not only help students discern their skills outside of vocalism but also help them figure out how they might leverage said skills into careers…onstage or off. As the field becomes more entrepreneurial, so must both the artists and the institutions that train them.
Specific reflections on the conference coming soon, as well as thoughts on the role of higher education in the process… this topic warrants many (happy) returns.
Now, I’m not usually a highlighter of books: when I find something interesting, I’ll either stick a piece of paper (gas receipt, junk mail, business cards…even twist-ties and rubber band serve on occasion) in the pages of a hardcover, or, if the book is mine and a paperback, I’ll dog-ear the page. (Book purists, I apologize.) So I took the book to the gym, to motor through some reading while on the elliptical.
Here’s what the poor, poor book looked like after an hour:
You can tell that I’m finding a lot of value in this particular tome. I’m tempted to just copy all of the bits and pieces that ring true to me, but we’d be here all bloomin’ day.
The most liberating takeaway is one that flies in direct opposition to what many of us have been taught: the concept that we don’t actually need to specialize for a lifetime in one discipline and ignore everything else that we enjoy in order to find success. For some people there are parallel tracks; others commit to a discipline for a number of months/years, and then either leverage that knowledge or skill set into a different career or turn that single-minded focus towards another discipline that they’re interested in. But all of the permutations are valid, and frankly very interesting. And it’s not much of a surprise to see a high number of artists and musicians’ stories represented within the pages.
There are strategies for finding your ‘slash’ (or, rather ‘slashes’ – why stop at one?), interspersed with real-life case studies of folks who have successfully explored both parallel and sequential tracks.
It’s worth the read, I promise! (And thanks, Claire, for the recommendation!)