Tag Archives: creatives

Damn sirens…

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.)

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Profile Friday Roundup

Greetings from San Francisco! (I bet that curtain weighs hundreds of pounds...)

As I try to acclimate myself to the west coast (it’s been three days and I’m finally waking up at 5:30am, rather than 4am. Progress!), I hope you’ll skim through the profiles that we’ve featured here over the last few months.

(Listed in order of appearance.)

Mark Bradley Miller

James Lynn

Melissa Collom

Joseph Craig

Jennifer Empie

Tonya McKinny

Sean McAuliffe

Kim Pensinger Witman

Tracy Cherpeski

Vic Muenzer

Stephen Brody

Annie Burridge

Tom Wright

Peter Zimmerman

Gia-Ninh Chuang

At the very least, there are some salient points to be taken from each of these journeys. At best – and that’s personally where I think these stories and intentions belong – they’re tales of discernment and courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gia-Ninh Chuang – From Singer-Pianist to Fitness Professional

Ok, Gia-Ninh. Let’s start at the very beginning (“…a very good place to start…” I think there might be a few musical theater asides in today’s profile. It’s just a hunch.)

Well, starting at the beginning does indeed start with a musical! The Sound of Music, to be exact. I was obsessed with that movie as a child, and went to elementary school knowing solfege! I attended a private elementary school affiliated with the Southern Baptist church in my town. My non-practicing Buddhist Mom and non-practicing Catholic father wanted me to be challenged, and even though it was a sacrifice for our family they opted out of the public school. I was a boy soprano – with super high notes – and no stage fright. I sang in the choir. I remember the first time that I realized that I enjoyed performing was during the Christmas pageant. I played the shepherd Jesse, the shepherd that was leading the 3 Wise Men to the baby Jesus.  It was the first time my entire family came to see me perform, and having that support and buy-in felt fantastic! (Full disclosure – some of my relatives didn’t really get the story… one uncle still calls me Jesse the King.) (Ed. -That will be a great WWF wrestling name someday. Keep it!)

When I reached middle school, I hit the opposite side of that fantastic performance coin:  my voice changed in the middle of a solo at the Regional Choir Concert. I pulled a total Peter Brady. It was traumatic! When the teacher suggested that I lip-sync for the rest of the school year, I was crushed and stopped singing. I had started piano lessons the year prior, and threw myself into practicing – hours a day, just because I enjoyed it so much.

When I hit high school, I got back into singing, and found a strong role model (more on her later) in my choir teacher. I accompanied people, started an a cappella group (back before Glee made it cool…we were called The Suspenders – get it??), made it into All-State. As I approached senior year and college I started thinking about being a choir teacher. I won a piano competition at the Peabody Conservatory, and it seemed like studying music was going to be my thing.

So, you went to school for music.

No.

You see, once I started preparing for scholarship competitions and such, I realized that it was going to have to be my livelihood. And that took much of the joy out of it for me. I was struggling a little bit at home, too… I was in the middle of my coming out process, and it was tough. So, I started my freshman year at the University of Maryland with a Psychology major, and a minor in Opera.

Well, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. But when did your path change?

A pal of mine from the UMD Chorale was teaching aerobics classes at the campus rec center, and pretty much dared me to take a class. It was SO MUCH FUN, and I was instantly hooked.  I thought, “Wait, I could get paid for having fun like this?” Within a month I was enrolled in instructor training.

It allowed me to perform – which was something I enjoyed immensely – but it also allowed me to communicate with people, to translate concepts in ways that they could understand and use (which used the linguistic training I learned as a music minor). Plus, I was surrounded by music – the pulse of my classes was set to music, and having a strong knowledge of musical forms allowed me to customize my spin classes and aerobic choreography in a finely-calibrated way. So I switched my major from Psychology to Kinesiology.

Cool. What happened next?

I dropped out of school.

What?

Well, I was teaching full-time, in addition to my classwork.  But my passion for teaching and helping with my students eclipsed my academic goals.  And I won this big competition – the first ever winner of the AAAI/ISMA Aerobics Star Search in 2002… think American Idol for instructors.  I also had success in fitness competitions as an athlete.  I was 23, and suddenly had all of this visibility and momentum, and I pretty much thought this was my path. Heck, I was on Oprah and ESPN in the same year – if that’s not making it, what is? I decided to stop taking classes and ride that train.

But that certain path that I thought existed: win the competitions, teach great classes, give workshops at a conference, get a sponsorship, etc… well, that momentum started to slow down.  So in 2005 I went back to school. (Stay in school, kids…stay in school.)

When I was back in school, a pal told me that Equinox – a fitness company with a reputation for being the best in the industry – was opening its first location in the DC area. (Ed. – This is where I first met Gia-Ninh…I think it was a kettlebell class? I might’ve wept from the muscle soreness two days later, but I went back for more!) She suggested that I apply for the Group Fitness Manager position there. It was a great place to be – I taught, but I also used that psychology background to support and balance the diverse personalities of my instructors; I really felt that my job was to take care of my staff, so that they could do their best job.  And it taught me some valuable lessons about putting the success of my program and my instructors above feeding my own ego. It was both instructive and humbling.

So, from a boy soprano to a successful fitness professional…what skills or habits transferred?

You know, actually quite a number! A large part of singing well has to do with small, precise muscle coordination, and in fitness, you’re coordinating larger groups of muscles. Plus, both disciplines require a strong commitment to healthy living.  Both singers and fitness professionals ask their body to perform set skills on cue to do their job. Taking care of your body is taking care of your livelihood.

I referred to my high school choir director, Dr. Barbara Baker before, but I cannot overemphasize the influence she had on me, both professionally and personally.  There are several things that she said that have stuck with me through the years, the first being this:

  • The stronger your foundation (or, in musical terms, technique), the more you’ll be able to do, especially in less-than-optimum circumstances. Nerves, illness, they’re all things that performers have to work through… the key is to be able to do so without hurting oneself. I find that this particular message transfers tidily to my work in fitness, too – the better your form and technique, the more you can do and the faster you reach your goals without injury.
  • She also taught us humility, and to realize that we were just one part of a larger whole. No FIG JAM. (Ed. – Huh?) FIG JAM stands for “[expletive] I’m Good, Just Ask Me.”  Let your work speak for itself; everyone else will figure it out.
  • I was also constantly amazed at the ways in which she could ask us/inspire up to do more than we thought we were capable. Even as a fitness professional, my approach is about asking others to stretch themselves…don’t show them what you can do, show them what THEY can do.

What advice do you have?

Be nice. I’ve always wanted to be the guy who was amazingly good at his job, but that’s not enough; I want to also be the guy that people enjoy being around and is fun to work with.  When people want to work with you, countless opportunities to collaborate, learn, and gain exposure come your way.  Now, I’ve not always been 100% successful, but it’s something that I work towards constantly.

Protect your body. Being healthy and having a strong physical foundation in your discipline, lays the groundwork for making life easier and more enjoyable.

No FIG JAM. Don’t tell me how good you are, show me. No one wants to work with people who think they’re the better than everyone else.  It’s shorthand for staying humble and always thinking about how my decisions affect the people around me AND my own reputation.

Just do it. At this point in my career, I’ve taught over 15,000 classes. I take a huge amount of pride in the quality of my teaching, and also have found a deep confidence in that amount of experience.

Gia-Ninh has recently relocated to Idaho, where he is continuing his studies and maintaining a private fitness practice. For more information on him or his services, you can find him on the web at http://kineticedgefitnessconcepts.com/Home.html

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Thursday Link-O-Rama.

In a past blog life, I’d make lists of things that I stumbled across that were interesting and/or relevant. So, in that vein, I present The Inaugural Indirect Routes Link-O-Rama!

  • My fellow introverts? Proof that we know how to have a good time.
  • I tend to panic when I wake up (every night, ahem) at 2:30am, wide awake. This article says that maybe it’s not such a bad thing, and moreover, maybe I should leverage it for some real creativity.
  • The to-do list: more than an organization/procrastination exercise.
  • Creativity. Profanity. Beauty. Wayne White. Can’t wait to see it!
  • It might be heresy, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking of work along these lines more often?

I’m in the thick of the annual talent search (a.k.a. the Dream-Crushing marathon), looking at student résumés and wishing that more of them were better proofreaders…I’m pretty forgiving, but the blatant typos are starting to wear on me. (I’m pretty sure Los Angels refers to the baseball team, and not the town…right?) Final passes for Cincinnati, Chicago, and Houston applications tomorrow, and screening for the home stand on Friday. But, most fun? (Boy, I wish sarcasm read better in print…) a big chunk of time spent trying to figure out exactly how many pennies we have for next summer and our best options for squeezing the most we can from them.

It’s easy work to do, until I try to do it thoughtfully and consistently…then it takes all of the time and brain cells I have. So, if you have brain cells to spare, or advice? I’ll take it!

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Peter Zimmerman – from Performer to Presenter

Peter Zimmerman is the Director of Programming for the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. He’s responsible for booking the majority of the 200+ shows that the Foundation presents each year in two vastly different spaces: a 7,000 seat outdoor amphitheater (The Filene Center) and a 375 seat rough-hewn jewel box (The Barns). Peter’s a colleague and friend, and we’ve talked often about his path…I’m excited to share his story with you today!

So, Peter; start at the beginning. When did you know that performing was your thing?

Back in the 3rd grade! I played the little drummer boy in my school Christmas pageant – I really wanted to play that drum! And I still vividly remember being on stage, the audience all looking at me… and thinking “I really like this!” I played instruments all through high school – was in the school symphony, played in the pit bands for the musicals, but I was really interested in playing in bands. I wasn’t really planning to go to college: I figured I’d gig for a few years and then be a rock star.

But you went to school – where, and why?

I went to Adams State in Colorado. I initially majored in French Horn performance – got a full scholarship through my H.S. orchestra teachers Craig Bailey and his younger brother Brent Bailey. I really explored everything I could in the arts, and found myself more drawn to the acting side of things. It got to the point where I lost my scholarship because I wasn’t participating in any of the ensembles – I was taking Shakespeare and acting classes (as well as the education requirements that my mom insisted on), and they became my priorities. I was awarded a B.A. in Theater Arts, Speech Communications, Secondary Education and Music. (Editor: Please tell me that it took you more than 4 years to do all that!) I did it in 4.5 years.

Incredible! So, then you’re out of school. What were the Seven Stages of Peter’s Career? (Ok, that riff on the Seven Ages of Man didn’t quite work…forgive me.)

Well, my first gig was as a gravedigger – an important first experience for any arts administrator. (Editor: Seriously? That explains a lot…) I taught for four years in public high schools in Colorado and took the summers to work on my own artistry. I was part of the IATSE crew for the Denver Theater Center, but also acted in the ensemble. (It was a repertory company – talk about learning how to multi-task and prioritize!) Eventually I moved to New York, mostly because I wanted more visibility in Denver, but was told I had to go to NYC to achieve that. I lived there for 2 years and acted – film, tv, stagework, touring -with some real success. But I had some hesitations. My physical type was really common, and I wasn’t a triple threat the way my competitors were; it was going to take a whole lot of work to get me to the next level. And I had a three-year old…the schedule was making it really difficult for me to be the kind of father that I wanted to be.

So, how did you make the jump from acting to presenting?

Remember this: never burn bridges. My student teaching supervisor from college, Ken Foster, and I kept in touch throughout my public school years and my sojourn in New York. That connection got me my first presenting gig, at Penn State, where Ken headed the department. I started a little bit at a time, at first throwing myself into implementing Ken’s vision, and eventually to bugging him for more responsibility. He let me create a children’s theater series – and actually witnessed one of my biggest flops…Peter and the Wolf…don’t ask. He gave me the freedom to succeed OR fail – he was both a safety net and a sounding board, but if I didn’t seek it, it wasn’t forced upon me. And, even after the Peter and the Wolf fiasco, he never chastized me – just asked me what I had learned from the experience.

I cherished his mentorship – I stayed at Penn State for 9 years. I found that I could still be involved in the theater, but could also have the stability I needed in order to have a family.

Heck, I can’t imagine leaving – what could’ve been better?

Well, actually, there was something! I took a job as the CEO/Executive Director of the Colonial Theater in Keene,  New Hampshire. (Keene had been a big town during railroad heyday, but when I was there the population hung right around 60,000.) It was a beautiful small vaudeville theater with a lot of character, and interesting programming – The Kinks, Little Feat, the Smothers Brothers, all acts that I got to know when I was there. I LOVED it. It fit all of my skill sets: raising money, grant writing for 2 successful capital campaigns for theater and marquee renovations, presenting live acts and film. We increased our staff and our budget was in the black, so I think I was good for the theater, but the job was great for me, personally, as well.

OK, now I’m totally stymied: were you looking to leave the Colonial? How did you end up at Wolf Trap?

Actually, it was a personal ask from (Wolf Trap President & CEO) Terre Jones. Through some common acquaintances and a star-crossed raffle at APAP,  we got to know each other. It seemed like time to take a risk, to step up. And it was a good move – I’ve been here for almost 14 years.

What aspects of your current job/profession give you the greatest satisfaction?

I am a fan of the deal. There’s a price on my head for how much I have to book, how much money I need to make for the organization. Confirming a booking gets me jazzed – closing a deal and following through to completion is the best feeling. Speaking honestly, however, there are lots of amazing acts that get away – probably two for every one that actually takes the stage.

I also loved teaching – I feel that impacting young people is important, and I get a lot of professional satisfaction from mentoring. If I had to go back to teaching at this point, I think I’d love it!

And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting a bit of a rush from being one of the folks that has access to some of the best performers in the world. There’s a status that’s accorded the level of access that I have, and while it’s not the whole picture, I still feel pretty awesome when a performer that I respect calls my cell to say hi.

Indeed! I’d kill for a few of those numbers, myself! So, it’s advice time. What words of wisdom do you have for the next generation?

Make connections: there are geographical ramifications to this business, and it can be hard to advance in the same geographic/organization. Extend your network!

There’s weren’t any Master of Arts Management programs when I was starting out, so I’d recommend talking to a talent buyer who’s in their mid 30s-40s to get the lay of the land. And examine the differences between non-profit and for-profit companies – the cultures are very different, and the goals are as well.

Find out how your current skills overlap with the job you want. For example, I learned budgeting and marketing when I was gigging in college…from there it wasn’t so hard to parlay that into production schedules for my educational theater productions or to Penn State or the Colonial. I learned time management when I was working that rep/IATSE job at Denver Theater Center. It all transfers.

I’d also learn how to say no. In my business, ‘no’ is the 2nd best answer. (‘Yes’ is obviously the best!) Maybe is my least favorite word – decisiveness saves time and money.

As I said before, don’t burn bridges. No matter how crappily you’re treated, suck it up. I have a million stories from colleagues across the nation to back that maxim up, but it bears repeating. Show up early. Stay late. Make yourself indispensible to your superiors

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Clarity, of a professional persuasion

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a pal, and it made me realize that I should maybe clarify a few points about this little project of mine.

This space is, at its best, meant to be a place to share encouragement and tales of career-shifting for folks who started out their careers intending to pursue the arts.

There are lots of people who persevered in following their dream, and have attained that initial goal – I am continually in awe of those folks. (The aforementioned pal is a model of quiet focus and creativity, and has built a significant career on the strength of her artistic talents. She’s the bomb.)

I didn’t have that kind of clarity as a student. I wanted to be a Jack-of-all-Trades (but highly successful at everything I tried, naturally…ah, youth.), and college made me aware of a multitude of different goals rather than focusing my attention on a single goal.

But to all of you, my pals and acquaintances who are making lives as performers and art-makers, we’re proud of you – I’M proud of you. Your success in this crazy field, in this even-crazier economy is really something to crow about. And I know that many of you have been asked to talk about the how-to of your careers with students at the outsets of theirs – “How did you get from point A to point B? How much did you have to practice? How long did it take to get your first break? Is it all luck? Should I throw in the towel before I start?”

It was difficult for me to find people to whom I could ask those questions, mostly because it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up (Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure; but I’m pretty durn happy where I am.), and because I knew that I wasn’t going to be a performer long before I acknowledged it publicly.

So, through examining other folks’ winding career paths, I am hoping to acknowledge two things:

  1. That, even though I’m not performing, I consider myself a successful adult. It took me a while to figure it out, but I’m better for doing it, and ultimately happy.
  2. That my arts training – 80% of it – I still use, in various ways, every day. Organization, collaborative skills, public speaking…and in my case, a lot of the musical skills/knowledge, too.

The point is to reframe how those of us who are not primarily performing/art making define success, how we keep our hand in, and to celebrate the haphazard paths that make our lives richer for the detours.

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Many happy returns

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.

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Stephen Brody: Scheduling Solutions

Since my head is still very much wrapped around Marci Alboher’s book and the concept of “slash careers”, today’s profile is of a singer/web designer. I met Brody in a pal’s office at the University of Maryland several years ago, and he approached us a few years later with a great idea for a scheduling program that’s in beta testing now and will undoubtably make my former administrative interns weep at the thought of all of their lost hours, proofing excel spreadsheets for typos and double-bookings. Here’s his story:

Where did you go to school?
I received a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Loyola University of New Orleans and a Master of Music degree in Opera Performance from the University of Maryland Opera Studio.

Did you want always want to be an opera singer when you grew up?
I grew up wanting to work for NASA. It was my dream as a kid to become an astronaut, and as I grew older I wanted to work in design and development for NASA in Houston, TX – where I grew up.  I was accepted into the College of Engineering at Texas A&M.

Huh! How did you get to opera from there?
In February of 2003, a week after I had been accepted to A&M, my voice teacher called me and my parents into her office. She wanted me to take a year to study music and recommended a baritone named Philip Frohnmayer  who was on the faculty at Loyola University of New Orleans. I was very hesitant and uneasy about the idea – after all, I had spent my entire life wanting to study Aerospace and Mechanical engineering at Texas A&M and actually got in! Texas A&M allowed me to defer a year and my parents convinced me to head down a few weeks later to audition. I figured taking a year off to sing and live in New Orleans would be fun! A month or so later I was accepted as a Vocal Performance major and in the fall I made my way down to the Crescent City to begin my music studies.

The second defining moment came the summer between my junior and senior year in undergrad. I remember the moment precisely; I was sitting in a rehearsal for Il barbiere di Siviglia at Opera in the Ozarks in 2006. I was double cast as Basilio and we were rehearsing the Act 1 finale. I was sitting in the audience studying my score as I watched my colleagues on stage and it was at that moment, that I realized I wanted to be an opera singer for the rest of my life. I loved the rehearsal process, the people, the travel and the craziness & hard work involved in bringing a character to life.

What is your current profession?
I am an opera singer by profession and a web consultant by trade. I think a better title would be ‘operapreneur.’

How does the web consultant piece fit into your operatic path?
I have never stopped performing but over the past five years or so I have embarked on two career paths simultaneously – both dependent on each other. My web design business grew out of friends and colleagues needing websites for themselves, the luxury for me was that everywhere I performed, I was introduced to new prospective clients! Web design became the perfect opportunity for me to fund my opera career without having to get a “real job.”

It has been a very gradual process. I knew even as a student at Loyola that, if I was going to be an opera singer, I was going to need a website to market myself. I didn’t have the money for a custom site and I hated the idea of cheap “cookie cutter” websites – so I set out to build my own.  I am almost entirely self taught as a designer and developer. Everything that I have learned about web design, development and marketing has come through trial & error.

I haven’t opted out of singing, but there have been some major positives and negatives along the way. In 2010, I took most of the year off to concentrate on my finances. I had been hired by a web agency in Bethesda, MD as a web designer with a nice salary, benefits and the like. They were a fantastic company, I learned an immense amount about the web business while I was there and they even let me leave for over a month to perform with Opera Fairbanks in Alaska that summer. While I was working full time, I realized that I was not cut out for a normal 9-5 job; the creativity that I thrived on was stifled by managers and stubborn, “old-school” developers unwilling to embrace new technology and design styles. I longed for my weekly voice lessons and time spent in rehearsals. I hadn’t learned any new music (aside from Masetto for Opera Fairbanks) and found it was increasingly difficult to concentrate on musical matters. A few weeks before the New York audition season began, we decided to part ways.

But you said that you were a web consultant by trade – are you still working in tech at all?
I am! Today, I am the CEO & Co-founder of Schedule Arts LLC. Andrew Lunsford (a tenor whom I met while we were singing with Opera New Jersey) is the President & Co-founder, and together we have developed a web based production scheduling application for arts companies. Our program reduces the time and money required for an arts organization to create and distribute their daily, weekly and monthly production schedules by 50% or more. We provide sophisticated conflict detection to prevent inadvertent double bookings, individual schedules so artists and staff don’t have to search through a maze of rehearsals to figure out their schedule, online request forms to easily organize & manage releases, coachings and rehearsals, along with many more features to reduce the time and stress associated with the production schedule. And it all came out of our mutual frustration with being double-booked for coachings and staging rehearsals!

Did your musical training come in handy in managing your two (very different) career paths?
My careers as both an opera singer and web consultant go hand in hand. My ability to communicate on stage has helped me better communicate with my clients offstage. I am able to calmly work with all sorts of people and create designs that break the mold from the “classical singer” website.

Was there a certain person who directly or indirectly influenced your decision?
Laura Lee Everett has been my cornerstone these past couple of  years. From day one at the Maryland Opera Studio, she worked hard to support me on stage and off. Laura Lee has helped guide both of my careers; providing me with constant advice, testing out my ideas, keeping me focused, and introducing me to invaluable colleagues and contacts. She convinced me to exhibit as a web consultant at the Opera America Convention in 2009 which opened the door for me as an operapreneur and has been an incredible influence with Schedule Arts.

Any advice to share?
My voice teacher in undergrad, Philip Frohnmayer, gave me the best advice; he said, “Brody, the most important thing in this industry is perseverance, to continue on regardless of how hard it gets.” I have never forgotten those words. They have helped me make it through countless 100+ hour work weeks, times where I thought I wouldn’t be hired for any opera, and the hardest times when I’m torn between leaving opera behind or pushing forward. My advice is to always try everything at least once and keep pushing forward – If I hadn’t, I’d probably be back in Texas at Johnson Space Center living a “normal” life. It sounds cliche, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure I would like to have been more prepared for some of my rehearsals or to concentrate a little more on my opera career. My path has been a roller coaster and the random twists and turns have led me to a very bright future – I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Brody will be at the Opera America Conference in Philadelphia next week, unveiling a beta version of the Schedule Arts scheduling program. I hope you’ll join me in checking it out!

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Monday Inspiration

Hugh says it best.

 

Hope your Monday is a creatively wonderful mess!

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The Prestige Pitfall

It’s funny – I had the opportunity to sing last week for a retirement concert for a mentor. It was a tune I knew, with several colleagues whose company I enjoy, to celebrate a teacher who has made a large impact on my career.

And I politely declined.

I have two degrees in vocal performance. As a student, I loved the study and the collaboration, but what I really wanted was the applause, the fancy costumes, the name on the poster, the roses after the show. The singing was, sadly, secondary to all of the other noise surrounding the act of performing.

Now, I sing all the time. (Ask the manicurist who called me out yesterday for humming along with Shania Twain.) But I don’t sing “for real” anymore…and that’s a very good thing. Singing for other people made me feel insecure in a fundamental way, and in a pervasive manner that was unlike anything else…most likely because it wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but it was the only way in which I could figure out how to be close to the performers and the performances, both of which I enjoyed. And I enjoyed being the center of attention…but more for saying something witty or profound, rather than making a beautiful noise.

I’m happy speaking in front of a crowd, especially when the words are my own. I had the opportunity to address several thousand folks last summer, and several hundred for this retirement concert last week…and found both experiences totally enjoyable. But singing? It’s off the table…happily so, in my particular case.

There are articles upon articles that proclaim that the key to success is Doing What You Love. No dispute, there. But I personally had a difficult time distilling those things that I loved into a career.

Paul Graham wrote a great article called “How To Do What You Love.” And let me tell you, I wish that I had read (and internalized) this in high school. Among one of the personally salient points he makes? (Besides the truth that work should be mostly something that you enjoy?) Is that doing something for prestige (say, for the sound of cacophonous applause after your big aria, or for a sterling review) is in fact doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? [4]

This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. [5] Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like. (emphasis added by the editor)

That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Brilliant, right? And an infinitely more sustainable approach than trying to enjoy something that fundamentally doesn’t appeal to you.

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