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

Saturday, 1 December 2012

So, what are your plans after college?

Last night I sang in a fund-raising concert in Abergavenny with some of my first-year colleagues from college. It was a great concert, with a responsive audience, a joy to perform, despite the church being freezing cold. Afterwards, we stayed for a glass of wine at the post-concert reception, where we had a chance to talk to the audience a bit. Apart from some heartfelt and heartwarming expressions of appreciation, quite a few of them displayed an interest in my future plans (I'm sure my colleagues got asked similar questions, most post-concert conversations tend to go along the same lines). It's a difficult one for singers to answer, at least when you're at the stage I'm at.

Does one take the optimistic route and say: well, hopefully I'll get into an opera studio next year and that'll be a spring-board into the profession, and before you know it I'll be the envy of all my friends... Personally, I don't tend to take that route, not because I don't think I'm good enough to get into an opera studio, or to get work, but because I know that once you reach a certain level it's not about being 'good enough' any more, it's about being who they want or need. And since I can only ever be myself, albeit the best I can be at any given time, I have to be ready for the fact that I may not be the one They (in the conspiratorial sense) want. A phrase to describe the attitude I try to take is: hopeful, but not expectant.

Thankfully, there's a straightforward and truthful answer I can give when asked about what's next. I can say I have work lined up for the Summer, which is very exciting, and go on to explain what that is, all the while keeping my fingers crossed behind my back that they don't ask about what happens after that. I was lucky with a few people, but then got pressed into revealing the truth:

There is only one plan, and it's a vague and scary one: audition as much as I can, and hope for success. At the BYO Anniversary Concert, Rosemary Joshua (world-class soprano) told us that for every 10 auditions she did as a young singer, she got only 1 offer. It seems the best approach in this case is to maximise your chances by lining up as many auditions as possible. There are however limiting factors, the most obvious of which is money (you'd have though that the tuition fees would be the end of it).

I see the twitter feed of one of my friends, who graduated this July, and since graduating she seems to have flown to New York 2 or 3 times, been to Germany even more times and still found time to visit Italy and Austria. All of this just for auditions (for companies, agents and competitions). Good for her! Except that not everyone... hardly anyone, in fact, can afford to do that. I haven't done the math properly, but it seems to be an expenditure of thousands of pounds pursuing contracts and prizes worth less than these travel costs.

Of course, success breeds more success, so I'm sure that once her travels pay off, there will be more work out of it afterwards, and it'll get easier to recoup the initial investment. Luckily she doesn't have to worry about it too much, but I know some people take out a loan to do what she does, and that is scary.

OK, I'm sounding a bit pessimistic now, and I've been getting complaints from readers ;) Guys, it's not all bad. There are plenty of opportunities locally, so we don't have to go jet-setting around the globe. And Rosemary Joshua said that yes, it's tough, and you have to learn not to take rejection personally, but performing more than makes up for it, because what we do is fantastic: we get to live and breathe music every day, we get to create worlds for others to escape to for a few hours. I've said it before, I can't see myself doing anything else. Whatever scale I end up working at, I love what I do and I will be happy doing it.

There's no point taking rejection personally (got one the other day as a matter of fact), because when you think about it, you aren't the only one they've not chosen. It's not personal! You're one of dozens, sometimes hundreds. What you can take personally is acceptance. I was given a vote of confidence by an opera festival to cover for them and sing chorus, and they obviously believe I can do it. This time last year I had just finished a contract with Scottish Opera, who also placed their confidence in me. I'm not saying this to big myself up, but to put things in perspective. I have successes to be proud of, which validate my continued pursuit of this career. I'm a better singer now than last year, and even the singer I was then was getting work. Surely it's not all doom and gloom, then.

So what are my plans after college? Auditions and patience.

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