A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


Day 34 - Saturday

This morning we had a meeting of all the participants and staff to sum up the program. I'll write my own take on this when it's actually over (on Monday or maybe Tuesday, watch this space), in any case the Post-Mortem (their words, not mine) turned into more of a discussion about the business, rather than the program itself.

Kelly opened with a quote from Calvin Coolidge (30th President of the US):
'Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.'

Other words that resonated with me:
- 'There's nothing else I can do.' I can't see myself being anything but an artist, hopefully a singer.
- 'You're never going to be in control of your career.' Sad, but true, the decisions are almost always made by other people, all we can do is try to ride out whatever comes our way. Unless you're an entrepreneur and are willing to risk it.
- 'The world doesn't owe you anything.' David Agler pointed out that as a generation, we seem to be fooling ourselves that we're entitled to something, having gone to college, forked out cash for lessons and coachings, but ultimately, nothing comes easy, especially not in this business. The hard work never stops.
- 'Keep trying to reinvent yourself.' There's nothing worse for an artist than to stop growing. Finding a niche and work is one thing, but every now and again it's good to take a look at what you're doing and find things to tweak or even change, in our attitude, our repertoire, our habits, or just to find something completely different to do, to make coming back to our niche exciting again. It also makes us more employable if we're interesting people, because interesting people are interesting on stage.

A new perspective, same view, different viewpoint
(really it's the only picture I took today, and I felt you deserved a break from all this text)

David Agler also quoted Judith Forst's recipe for success:
1. Know your music.
2. Arrive to rehearsals 5 minutes early.
3. Be nice to your colleagues.
So simple, and yet so often not the case. If you're not doing all 3, time to reinvent yourself.

We also talked at length about auditions, how they're not the be all and end all (work ethic is, much more than auditions), but as they are a big part of what we do, here are some tips from the conductors, directors and repetiteurs we had here:
- maintain a level of formality, no one will hold it against you if you dress up and address the panel formally, but they may be put off if you don't
- don't ask for feedback, they're busy people, you won't get it
- don't get offended by the panel cutting you off, seemingly ignoring you, etc, it probably has nothing to do with you anyway
- make sure to present who you are now, not who you hope to be in 5 years (repertoire choice!)
- the result may have nothing to do with talent, you may just not be 'the most right one', and that doesn't reflect badly on you, you haven't failed, you just weren't who they were looking for
- be yourself, don't act (apart from getting into character when singing)
- don't necessarily sing from the opera they're casting for (you may not deliver what the conductor wants, while someone else does, so you lose), but offer things in the same style
- don't sing if you're not well
- give clean copies of the music to the panel and the accompanist (only include markings that tell them how you perform it, but don't crowd the page)
- no handshakes unless the panel offer their hands!
That last one is something I've discussed a lot with British singers, some of whom say it breaks the ice. Some things Kelly said today should convince everyone that it's generally a bad idea. These people sit there for hours on end, a handshake wastes half a minute or so of their time, if there's a queue of 200 singers, that's a lot of time wasted. Furthermore, you're stressed, do you really want their first impression of you to be your sweaty palm? And the clincher: disease. They don't want to risk catching a cold or worse. Besides, I've been brought up to view it as rude, it's up to the higher status person to choose whether or not they want to shake hands, and you never know, maybe the panel were brought up that way too. You can be friendly without it.

The faculty also stressed how small a world we operate in. Auditions are a small part of our lives, and just one of the ways we can get work. How we conduct ourselves in our work, our school, programs like this, with our colleagues, all that gets passed on. The decision makers talk, they all know each other (or know someone, who knows someone...) and they comment. And no news spreads faster than bad news, a bad reputation is very easy to get, but very difficult to shake off.

Anyway, 2nd and final show of Lillian Alling tonight...

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