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!


Audition Strategies for the Non-Singing Job Seeker

A FB friend posted a link to this article on The author is an HR professional, and sang opera on the side. She compares the two types of job search – the audition and the traditional interview – and recommends trying the singer strategy of preparing for the audition/interview, and then letting it go once you’re done. She quotes her teacher :


“You have no idea what they want.

They may have a conception of the role already. If they want Corn Flakes and you’re Raisin Bran, you’re not going to get the role, but that’s okay. Your job is not to try to figure out what they want. Go sing the best version of you that there is at this minute, and forget about everyone else.”


It’s a difficult lesson for singers to learn, but arguably even more difficult for the average job-seeker, who isn’t used to trying to cram three interviews into each day for a week while couch-surfing in NYC.


And it made me think: if we are better at framing this process in a positive way, what other ways might the singer/musician/artist mindset be beneficial to those seeking employment or hiring managers? More on that thread to come.

I am off to Glimmerglass today, for a few days of auditions and opera performances. It’s embarrassing that I’ve not yet been, but I’m very much looking forward to remedying that by day’s end!


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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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Checking in.

I’m furiously prepping for the summer season (won’t you join us?), and am popping in briefly to say:

  • Stay tuned – I have some wonderful profiles to share with you before the summer hits!
  • Read this: a lovely reminder of the necessity of redefining success multiple times across one’s career.

And, as a means of a sorry excuse, here’s the reason posting has been sparse this spring:


(Here’s to warmer weather, speedy housebreaking, and more profiles and articles to come!)

Growing pains.

There are a lot of growing pains in the operatic world today. San Diego Opera’s closing has elicited strong opinions from administrators and singers. My Facebook feed is full of commentary: some productive, some vent-tastic.

We’re accustomed to companies closing because of crushing debt; mismanagement. But when a seemingly healthy company like SDO chooses to close to go out on a high note, there are questions. Why? What are they doing with their assets?

The larger, unasked question, is “Is this a fool’s errand?”

We know that, measuring the answer solely by dollars, the answer is yes.

We also know that, measuring the answer by lives touched, the answer is no.

We struggle to maintain a high standard of performance, despite the growing costs and dwindling resources. We ask so much of our singers. Often, we ask even more of our administrators, stage managers, shop staffs, ushers.

We are losing. Losing audiences. Losing administrators. Losing artists.

We could chalk this up to the inevitable backlash of the expansion of the 90s, sure. But that’s a glib, too-tidy answer.

My two-penny thoughts, for what they’re worth. (maybe not even two pennies, actually.)

  • We need more collaboration, less ego. We can make more with less, but only if we work together. Across departments, across organizations. These partnerships are always messy at first, but they can grow in tandem into beautiful things.
  • Artistic standards must be impeccable. Every time you sing, it’s someone’s 1st time in the opera house. As an artist, it’s not enough to sing – it’s a ministry, and to ensure the continuation of the art form you need to convert the newly baptized. A singer a friend voiced on FB that we’ve all seen mediocre or poor performances: the ante is much higher now, and phoning it in means empty seats. (I’d extrapolate that this ties in to every kind of venue and performance opportunity…but I have a feeling you understand what I’m saying.)
  • We, as a community, don’t get to decide when one of our members walk away. We know a very small sliver of the story, and to prescribe action for a company with which we’re unfamiliar isn’t wise or helpful. (We can’t know what goes on behind closed doors: it goes for families and marriages and most likely opera companies, too.)

This news comes as I’m in the middle of a several-day spate of internship interviews. While the rest of the nation may be decrying the work ethic and writing skills of these Millenials, I’m finding these several days rewarding and frustrating, in equal measure. Rewarding, because these young people love opera, love the art form, want to gain experience and knowledge in this wacky, wonderful artistic medium. Frustrating, because their opportunities are shrinking.

We’ve been a niche for a long time, we opera folks. And part of me wishfully hopes that, someday, we’ll be cool again – like bluegrass and mandolin, like using Bach in techno samples. I think it can happen, but I also think that it will take a highly individualized, community approach.

So y’all? Bring a pal to the opera this season. Just one.

You’ll be glad you did. And we will be, too.

“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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Inspiration via a Homework Assignment.

Often I feel like things don’t count unless other people know about it. (Teh Interwebs make it a little too easy to be out there – twitter, instagram, tumblr, foursquare, facebook…all of it.)

But this article reminds me that it’s the act of creating that’s important.

The sharing is ancillary.

Homework that splits the difference:

Make something.

If you’re brave, comment with your initials. (I don’t want to know what you did…just that you did something.)

Let’s make Monday beautiful.Kurt Vonnegut

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