As singers, we have many mental things to deal with and prepare for in everything we do. Each rehearsal, audition, performance for the public (regardless of the amount of payment), has a particular mindset depending on what we are doing. One thing singers of all levels hear, but especially in school and in the beginning of their careers, is to make big choices. Stage directors and teachers will say, "take it farther than you think it should go and I'll tell you whether it's too much." Spoiler alert - the percentage of times one is told their efforts were too much is on the same level as a dog actually catching its tail when chasing it. This principle can also be used in other parts of the career as well.
Since I'm towards the beginning of my career and still clawing my way through like everyone else, one thing I've learned is in order to have success in this business you've got to have, as everyone's "favorite" politician would say, "yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge" balls. Yes, every single one of those u's were needed. Learning how to be ballsy in your career takes time, is accompanied by some (maybe even a lot more than some) failure, but as you continue to grow, you find your way and purpose a lot faster than sitting around waiting for fortune to show up on your doorstep.
The audition is probably the place where your ballsiness is most often seen, because it takes a great amount of courage and grit to go in front of people who will judge every nit picky detail of you and your performance (even if you're not in great voice for any number of reasons), and compare you with the other 20 (if not more) people who are the same voice type. As a person and singer, you really got to have some gall and cojones to essentially say to them through your performance and how you conduct yourself, "look, I'm what you want. I'm perfect for the role. People will buy tickets because I'm singing in it. You'll be grateful to work with someone like me." Whether or not those things are actually true or just the story you put in your head to amp you up depends on a variety of factors, but the point is it takes guts to have that mindset.
In the last 24 hours two things happened that reiterated this principle to me. Whenever I have a performance I always try my best to be an adult. I went to bed at 10:30 the night before, did the usual melatonin routine, turned on some meaningless TV as per usual and fell asleep. Then around 1:00am my body says, "That's cute... Wakey Wakey" and wouldn't let me fall back asleep. Since the performance was on a Sunday, I also had two masses to sing in the morning, so when I showed up on just under 3 hours sleep you know how "fun" that was. Despite getting through the masses fine, I was stressing about the performance later though due to the highness of one of the arias I was singing. I thought, "whatever, it's fine. I'll take a nap when I get home then get up and run for an hour. It's fine. No really, it's fine." Pretty insane thinking, because in my experience, m0st naps lower my voice, even if the rest of my body feels better.
Fast forward after the non nap, run afternoon, to the performance with Opera on Tap Seattle. The first aria I sang was from Mark Adamo's Little Women entitled "Kennst du das Land", which unless you're a high baritone or can float your high notes well can be a little bit of a beast, but it's one of the most beautiful arias I've ever worked on. Mind you, I haven't sung this since 2014 and at that time only sang the English part of the aria (first part is in German). I could've said to the host I couldn't do it and could sing something else that I had mentioned in the planning process, but then I said to myself, "No, real professionals do this all the time. Rarely does anyone perform when they are 100%. Grow a pair, dude." So I did. I grew a pair and took a chance on me. Now the performance was not perfect. The big high note was definitely better all week before that, but it was passable and I proved to myself that I can "be a man" when it's needed. But this isn't where being ballsy ended that night.
Those who know me and have been to my recitals know I like to not only create interesting and fun programs, but whenever possible I like to make my recitals more palatable to the general public as a way to break down barriers and stereotypes that people have about classical music. One thing I love doing and have had great success with is bringing people onstage to do scenes with me. It's unconventional for the genre and has really a polar opposite potential result (either amazing or completely bomb), but so far I've lucked out. I was singing the infamous Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni where Leporello tells Elvira she is just a grain of sand in the ocean of people Giovanni has slept with. In the score she doesn't sing anything, but it's an aria that is much more convincing if you have someone else there to play with you.
So the audience member comes up to the stage not knowing what she's getting into, but from all accounts she did great. I also did the aria in English and had preset pictures in my phone to show the audience during the latter half of the aria. There was a lot of moving pieces in this, but I got up there with my ideas and said, "alright let's see how this goes" in front of a paying audience. Normally not having outside feedback prior to performing something is not how I like to roll, but that's what happened this time. The feedback was great and now I have things I can improve on now that it's been on it's feet.
The other ballsy move was asking for money and advertising. I have my Murica recital this Friday and so I've been posting all over the Seattle classical music pages on Facebook to help get the word out. Last weekend on whim I sent a message to Second Inversion, which is affiliated with the classical music station in Seattle and focuses on new music, which there is a fair amount on my recital that is. Today I got a message from them saying they would post about it and if I would have contacted them sooner I could've been in their newsletter that goes out regularly. Exciting news for this weekend and good information for the future, and this was all because I took a chance on me and contacted someone who can help me with my career.
When in doubt everyone, growing a pair won't let you down. Believe in yourself and things will either work out or teach you a valuable lesson, like you can accomplish what you set out to do.
With it being Labor Day, which for many is the official end of the summer, it's a time to look ahead to the Fall and figure out how to finish 2016 strong. This fall I'll be preparing and rehearsing Cinderella en España with Seattle Opera starting in January, and my Cantor/Section Leader position at St. Mary Magdalen ramps back up this Thursday. I also will be debuting an All-American Recital at the end of this month, and have other potential performances after it. Just like my last post, I'm hoping for more, but am anxiously engaged in whatever I'm working on and happy with what I have.
In the arts world we had a little issue last week with a Wells Fargo ad we felt went over the line. Below is the infamous ad that sparked quite an outrage in our community. This issue needs a little unpacking, because perhaps we (the art community) overreacted.
First of all, artists of all kinds are passionate about their art to the point they will often live in poverty, give up many "normal things" of life in pursuit of it, and realize how important it is in every culture. Think about the following for a second if you are a non-arts person. Would you make a career of your 9-5 job knowing it brings constant judgement from both informed and uninformed people (many of which you've never met), a constant influx of income, almost never feeling you've "arrived" and can coast to the end, seeing people on popular talent competitions who haven't gone through the training/ups and downs you have make millions for a few years until they are used up by their agents, having to deal with unending amounts of competition and rejection in your field to the point that it's been said that if you get work from 10% of your auditions that's considered successful? Perspective is important in this issue.
We are often looked down upon, seen as weird, told we should get a real job, and that we should do our art for free because anyone can theoretically do it. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people having issues with the ad are those who went to college for the arts, and many of them going into decent amounts of debt to have advanced degrees in music, dance, theater, art, etc... Even with that experience and training, we are CONSTANTLY told to do things for free. Would you expect a doctor, dentist, chef, plumber, construction worker (especially one you just met since when we tell people what we do they always ask us to sing) etc... to just do things for free? Good luck with that.
So when we see ads like the one above we are reminded yet again how society doesn't value the arts like they should or at least we feel they should. This isn't the first time a major company does an ad campaign that either flat out or subtly says, "the arts aren't a real career choice, get a real job/back up job". Naturally, when this was discovered, our community took to the Twitterverse and Book of Faces and expressed our anger or at least disappointment at the lack of oversight. Not only that, but every time something like this happens there's the irony that an artist of some sort, whether collegiately trained or not, is the one who made the ad. The fact they didn't say anything might say more about job security as an artist than anything else.
Buuuuuuuuut..... was this the right reaction? At least the anger part? Last year, Wells Fargo contributed $93 Million towards the arts, culture, and education. Who knows what the percentages were between the three categories, but at least we can say there was a significant effort. Due to that, my thought is they weren't likely being malicious on purpose. They clearly are shelling out cash to us or organizations we associate with and we shouldn't bite the hand that helps feeds us, right? Perhaps our knee jerk reaction wasn't the right one.
Was it poorly worded? Yes. Should someone have seen the potential slam to us? Yes, and that's mostly because you have to assume there are artists working on it. Should we be outraged like some of the videos we see of the worldwide atrocities across the globe? I don't know. Is a very poorly worded ad that continues a stereotype that we are sick of dealing with on the same level as for example the human collateral damage of war/terrorism? How about childhood poverty? Or other social injustices? That's for you to decide. I understand everyone has their causes they care deeply about, but perspective is important.
In case you're wondering, Wells Fargo did change the ad and it's message could be seen somewhat the same way if you want to interpret it that way, but it not a slam to the arts at least. The effort was appreciated. Hopefully they and other companies will have better oversight in the future.