Tag Archives: starting place

Audition Strategies for the Non-Singing Job Seeker

A FB friend posted a link to this article on Forbes.com. 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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“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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Profile Phriday: Jonah Nigh, Part 1

Jonah is a friend-of-a-friend, and joins me in the ranks of “reformed singers.” I recently read a thoughtful essay he wrote about his transition: the precipitating event and the aftermath. The article is focused through the lens of the liberal arts course of study he pursued (initially unwillingly!) as an undergraduate. I loved the article – it’s witty and touching. Next week Jonah and I will talk about the process of moving out of singing, transferrable skills, and his advice for folks who are questioning.

The article is here.

Some highlights:

I did not actually want a liberal arts education prior to coming to Lawrence. Like most teenagers, my definition of success was myopic in scope, and as an aspiring opera singer I could not fathom the need to study statistics, psychology, or any other subjects that were not immediately applicable to getting on a stage, singing loudly in a foreign language, and wearing a fabulous costume.

and

My story could easily be miscategorized as a cautionary tale for aspiring artists–as a warning to make a “Plan B” just in case a career in the arts doesn’t work out. On the contrary, a liberal arts education does not negate one’s unique capability or potential of being an artistic practitioner.

Many thanks to Jonah for allowing me to repost. Please join us next week for the continued conversation!

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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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Snow Days and Creativity

 

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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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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Opera-Nerd Camp!

I’ve been meaning to recap the experience that I had at the Opera America Leadership Intensive for several weeks now. It seemed daunting when I first got home, rehashing the intense experiences, the questioning, the warm community that formed. It seems even more daunting now that I’m several weeks removed from the experience… it was a beautifully rich experience, once that I’ll be reaping the benefits of for many years, I feel sure.

I can say the following with certainty: it is a true gift to be given the opportunity to examine one’s professional circumstances from an industry perspective, rather than from one’s position within an organization. (And honestly, after a certain point people will assume that you know enough to figure the important stuff out on your own, even if you’re convinced that you are not capable in the least). In the most well-connected places, I’d wager that one wouldn’t have the luxury of a high-powered study group assembled of the best and brightest from around the country.

(Let’s be honest, it was like an Opera-centric Hogwarts. And this Muggle is thrilled that she made it in!)

It was luxurious. Challenging. Thought-provoking, in all the best ways. To have the time to figure out what’s important? And to do so in a room full of experts and like-minded neophytes? Well, it was equal parts energizing and uplifting… but it wasn’t without big moments of self-searching and doubt.

It’s funny…one of the most transformative experiences that I had as an artist came after I had (mostly) given up that performance path. I remember sitting in an audition room at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, listening to a steady parade of singers sing their audition rep in a small black box theater. At some point during that, my first day on the “other side of the table”, I realized that 90% of the people who came through the door were just like me: they wanted to sing, they were working on their vocal issues, they were trying to figure it out. But when that one person came through the door who could really SING? Well, after that the whole situation made sense: the construct wasn’t made for the 90% of the worker bees, it was for the top 10 %, the 5%, or in our case that autumn, the top 3%. (There’s another post about the death of the working class of opera singers, of regional careers, and all kinds of related topics in my drafts folder…we’ll get to it sooner rather than later, I promise.)

But the time we had in New York? The grace of sitting around a table with whip-smart colleagues from all over the US, from Canada and Europe? Equally revolutionary…maybe moreso now that I realize how very special the opportunity was. Not only do I now have a network of people whom I trust, but I also realize that I might actually be able to have a seat at the table…I might actually be able to responsibly champion this crazy art form that I fell in love with.

(That last thought is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.)

Friends, I challenge you to ask some big questions about your art, your strengths, and what the perfect intersection of the two might look like.

(And naturally, I’d love to hear about those revelations and the ensuing questions.)

Happy Tuesday, y’all.

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A Virtual Toast to Transitions.

(Does this come in an IV drip?)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!

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Common Sense, Illustrated.

I’m a huge fan of  Jessica Hagy, the author of Indexed. She has a new graphic up at Forbes.com called 20 Ways to Find Your Calling. And, in her beautifully succinct manner she defines steps to becoming an adult. (My favorite is obviously #3. (“Say yes to odd opportunities.”)

(Isn’t that how I got myself into this mess in the first place? Indeed, I think, happily, it was.)

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