Category Archives: Thoughtful

“Failure is the best thing for some people.”

The Telegraph UK has an interesting article written by Hanna Furness; a short interview with Tim Rice (That’s Sir Tim Rice to you!), the librettist who might be most well-known (at least to folks of a certain age, ahem) as the librettist for Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Lion King.

He had planned to be a lawyer.

He was good at tests, and he figured he’d ace his exams.

He didn’t.

In fact, every time he re-took them, his scores went down.

“When I went to do law, I kind of drifted through that and thought I can pass these exams. And I didn’t – I failed three times and each time I did worse and failed by a bigger margin.

“And that taught me so much. I always worry today when I see everybody has to pass – there’s very little failure these days. I think failure is the best thing for some people.

“It tells you whether you’re in the right job or the wrong one. It’s a cliche, but most people are good at something and most people are good at what they’re enthusiastic about.”

Failing stinks. It makes us feel icky – it challenges our perception of ourselves and our relationship with the world.

But oftentimes it either makes us look around for other options, or challenges us to dig in more deeply.

(So maybe it’s a win, even if it doesn’t really feel like it?)

Rock on, Sir Tim.

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Reading List: Artistry, Discipline, and Measuring Success

I’ve found two articles that I think are worth reading – and they’re related, although not by intention.

The first is this, which talks about redefining musical success in areas other than winning competitions or selling hundreds of albums.

The other is this, written by this week’s Profile Phriday interviewee. We talked a bit about his devotion to a specific martial art (I learned about him initially through a mutual friend who is a fight choreographer), and though it didn’t make it into the final interview, it is a big part of who he is. With me, and in the attached article, he talks about the amount of time it takes to master an activity and makes a compelling argument for finding the art, the beauty, the discipline in all one does.

I’m considering this pairing my dose of inspiration for a long weekend.

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Opportunity: Leadership Intensive

OpAmOpera America is again offering a fantastic professional development course for Opera professionals. The application deadline for their Leadership Intensive is January 31st. As a member of the inaugural class, I can tell you that the experience changed my perspective on the business and my role within it profoundly, and that’s in large part due to the people I met and worked with there. Their advice, expertise, and support have been really invaluable – and the fact that they’re great fun makes our continuing connection something I look forward to greatly.

It’s a wonderful experience – I recommend it wholeheartedly!

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Addressing failure.

When I talk with people about leaving the performing life, there’s usually one common thread: a feeling of failure. We’re taught that to opt out of performing is to fail…how many times have we (meaning: me) heard “Those who can’t, teach.”? And, even though in our hearts we know that the choice we’ve made is the correct one for us, many of us still feel like we’re letting someone down by turning away from the stage.

In this article,Singer Brian Vander Ark (you know his tune “The Freshmen“, with the band The Verve Pipe.) talks with FailureLab founder Jordan O’Neill about his experience after the band’s sophmore release failed to catch fire. FailureLab’s core idea is to acknowledge mistakes, where things went wrong, and to find support in kindred spirits. Especially now, in our current climate of customized profiles and Facebook pages that only display happy/attractive/positive/self-promoting content, I would guess that the catharsis and camaraderie an event like this would foster would be a very powerful thing.

How could you take ownership of your “failure” and find a way to allow it to transform you?

Obstacles.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 10.56.46 PMWriting this from a hotel room several storeys above Houston’s sidewalks. Usually our Houston residencies are filled with cool weather, friendly faces, and ease. This year has been unusual. We still have some of my favorite friendly faces around, which is lovely. But the travel to Houston was long and tedious (hours on a plane with no ventilation, an aborted flight attempt, and an arrival late enough to miss all connecting flights, which warranted renting a car and driving from Austin to Houston in the black of night.), and the humidity has curled my hair and haloed the street lights. The view from the 17th floor is actually quite lovely…like my own private Lite-Brite.

I’m reminded, in sharp relief, how valuable time is. (Rough segue – bear with me.)

For the long travel day and the crazy hair and the swampiness? Well, it serves as karmic payment for several days of good singing, for reunions with pals and artists that I’m crazy about, for quality time in a city that I rather enjoy. I’m reminded that the same lunchtime deluge that drove my pals to hysterical laughter as we dodged raindrops and piled into a car was likely the straw that broke the camel’s backs for a singer who has driven/flown/bartered for a couch to sleep on/paid a coach or teacher for a 10 minute audition that can’t survive the logistical obstacles that preceded it. Now, this isn’t a reflection on the performances we heard today, it’s just me putting myself in their shoes and thinking “Whoa.”

But moreover, do I not owe those singers 100% of my time and attention?

I do.

So then I have to ask: why do I not give that same amount of attention to everyone who stands in front of me? When did I become able to skim faces and not take them in? When did cutting off sentences become acceptable behaviour?

We spent time in San Francisco with a young mother and her little boy. And, as tired as that little man was (and he was pooped), he still made eye contact – constantly – with all of us. Martha Stewart symbolizes unlimited free time – her creative crafting and meticulous planning appeal particularly to the chronically overscheduled. (Speaking from experience, natch.) But who is the patron saint of focused attention? Of listening until someone is truly finished talking?

I submit that our largest obstacle is in distraction. (And by ‘our’ I mean ‘my.’)

So when you see me, tell me a story. Musical, personal; fact or fiction. I want to hear the whole thing. I may never be an ace, but I’m interested in at least trying to emulate that patron saint, whoever he or she is.

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Grey matters.

In light of the article that referenced business school advocating extroverts, I’d like to direct you to this article from the New York Times. It talks about confidence, and that fact that the human experience is so very… well, varied, that there are no clear parallels.

(I give the author huge props for not imposing his own perspective on the study’s results, and simply acknowledging that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Hurrah to complexity, to gray areas, to waiting until a conclusion can be drawn before drawing a conclusion. What a breath of fresh air!)

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Snow Days and Creativity

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My office is closed today, and I’m exceedingly grateful to have time to putter, write and read. Greg Sandow has a wonderful, thought-provoking article up at ArtsJournal today about music schools and the dearth of creativity found therein.

But how do we do this? How do we foster creativity — celebrate the students who already are creative, and encourage the others to be — without turning the school upside down?

When we hear auditions every fall, we hear hordes of singers who are doing everything right – intonation, articulation, dynamic variation, strong language skills, good dramatic arcs to their arias. And shamefully, afterwards I often struggle to remember their performances. Sure, some of my mental fog is due to the sheer volume of folks that we hear in a short time. But more often it’s because the performances we see are careful. They are note perfect and earnest but not very memorable. By memorable, I mean that the singer has demonstrated that they’re careful students and stewards of the repertoire, but they’ve left many of the most important questions unanswered: they leave the room and I find that I haven’t learned anything about them or their artistry, how the aria resonates with them personally. It’s like scanning a CGI crowd scene, looking for one true facial expression.

(Caution: there are those of you who are memorable, because you’ve put the passion into the performance but are not quite as careful as you should’ve been in the learning process. It’s a double-edged sword, I realize… but please know that the preceding paragraph is not for you – go practice!)

I’ll agree with Mr. Sandow – discipline is important. Strong choices are exciting. The two should not be as opposed as they seem to be. So I ask you – were you challenged in school to be creative? Who gave you the most support? Where did you struggle?

(The ArtsJournal article is one of a series. I hope you’re looking forward to the next installment as much as I am.)

 

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Casting about.

Dear friends,
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 indirectroutes@gmail.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.

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Taking stock, making plans.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately taking stock of where I am professionally – looking at the places where I’d like to improve, searching for new experiences and opportunities that will challenge me while allowing me to keep the best things about my position and lifestyle. As a teacher’s kid (mom taught English, dad was the French teacher and the football coach), the concept of being finished never really stuck – there were always more things to try, to learn, new experiences to seek out. And, yes, sometimes there were huge ugly messes to be made…but sometimes after a few of those messes something really wonderful rose from the ashes.

So, in that spirit, I’m wishing you a 2013 with a truly spectacular phoenix (or more – deny yourself nothing in a dream, right?) and as little mess to clean up as can possibly be managed. Here’s to invigorating newness, and digging down to do the work.

I’ll be back after the first of the year with more articles and profiles. Stay tuned! And thank you for stopping by this year – I appreciate it very much.

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I bet Moriarty was a multi-tasker…

Elementary, my dear Watson!I am a new convert to the BBC Series Sherlock. Being able to (correctly – there’s the rub) infer personality traits, circumstances, travels through observing someone? Well, that’s a superpower that I’d like very much to have.

So, when I ran across an article in the New York Times alluding to my guy Sherlock? It immediately caught my attention. The article challenges the concept of multitasking, and focuses on mindfulness. Author Maria Konnikova writes:

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.

Ack! The inactivity! Where is the knee-jerk response, the running out of the room, the mad dash to the crime scene? Sherlock slows – nay, stops – the clock and contemplates before he makes a move. (I find the concept thrilling, as it is so foreign to me.)

Ms. Konnikova goes on to talk about mindfulness having similarities to meditation – that its core principle is to drown out distractions and to focus attention. She cites studies that track mood boosts, greater relaxation during timed tasks, and improvement in memory and cognitive function.

My “a-ha!” moment: isn’t that what we were doing in the practice room??

We spent hours of focused attention, ignoring distraction (well, for the most part) to concentrate singularly on our craft. Afterwards, leaving the small space I remember my brain being exhausted, but feeling good about the work that I’d accomplished. (Again, for the most part.)

My job, while in the arts, is an administrative office gig… I am a slave to email and the phone and instant messenger. I need to drop things at a moment’s notice, and so I’ve become more adept with juggling several things shallowly than really digging into one task or problem.

I’m considering a more measured approach to 2013. One that might make me calmer, happier, and even a wee bit smarter. (Heck, I’ll take any help I can get!)

 

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