Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A look back, and a rare editorial on the arts in society

Last week was an interesting week - auditions for our Studio Artist Program, and then a Masterclass with high school students this past Sunday.

I am going to digress from talking about auditions per se, and instead talk about the wild disconnect that I believe exists today between"society's" perception of the arts, and the reality of it (the arts).

I had the opportunity of hearing some very talented young people, who are between conservatory training and a career. Meanwhile, I also heard some talented young high school students, most of whom are planning on pursuing careers in music, or some other branch of the performing arts.

What I find remarkable in this, is the fact that in today's world, these young people are fully aware of the fact that the arts are being devalued on many fronts - everything from the National Endowment for the Arts to Arts in the Schools are being seriously defunded. And if that weren't enough, anyone involved in the arts is, at worst, accused of having a political agenda, and at best, accused of being a non-productive leech on society.

Even if all of those factors weren't at play, there is no guarantee of riches and fame, by following this career path - indeed, it is sometimes quite the opposite.

BUT, in spite of all of that, these young people are still pursuing the dream of devoting their lives to artistic expression - because, as all of us who are involved in this know, when the spark is there, you have to follow it.

No amount of defunding, politicizing or devaluing will ever quench the need for humans to express the artistic impulse. And, if the rest of society is honest with itself, they know that.

How can I say this?

When we excavate ancient cultures, what do we look for? What do we display? What do we try to analyze? Beyond knowing how they survived, we look to know how they expressed themselves - everything from cave paintings to drums and flutes to earthen bowls - these are all the footprint of a society. And you cannot legislate that out of anyone!

Instead of being derided for following a path that doesn't offer a large financial portfolio, these young people deserve praise for the courage to pursue the dream of artistic expression. In a world where we spend a lot of time blowing each other up, attacking each other, poisoning the atmosphere, etc. etc., the last thing that should have to be defended is adding even a small phrase of beauty to the world.

And that, for today, is more important than any comment on posture, bad vowel formation, or publicity photos I could possibly make.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I have not posted for a bit, since we just closed The Italian Girl in Algiers, which went splendidly!

I'll be hearing two types of auditions this week:

First, we have auditions coming up for our Studio Artist program this week, and then on Sunday, we have our annual High School Masterclass, where I will work with some talented high school students on vocal and audition matters.

I look forward to reporting on my experiences this week!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Will "obscure" rep help you or hurt you?

This is a fascinating question, and one that has been debated since my student days (though interestingly, some of what was considered obscure when I first started auditioning, is now quite standard!!)

Here are the two opposing arguments:

Arguing for less known rep in an audition:

You will not be compared to well known singers who sing the particular arias you are doing; you will show musical, vocal, and linguistic range and skill; you will knock the cobwebs out of the ears of your auditioners who have listened to fifty Deh vieni non tardars that day.

Arguing against less known rep in audition:

What are you hiding? (this is the classic - your choice is based on trying to cover up a vocal, musical, dramatic, or linguistic deficiency; you will be perceived as not being grounded in the core rep of the operatic tradition; some less well versed auditioners will not have a point of reference for your performance, thus weakening your chances;

As with many things about auditioning, the answer is individual, but a couple of suggestions (based purely on my own biases, and those of some colleagues I've spoken with):

1. Mix it up - If you want to do a number from a fairly obscure work, pair it with something better known, so that you can show your "chops" on the standard canvas.
2. If you have audition rep that is more obscure, have an accompanying resume that explains that - in other words, if you have a number of credits doing off the beaten path rep, your audition choices will make sense.
3. Make sure that you are not choosing this rep to cover a weakness - make sure that it is a proactive choice.
4. Vett it - with colleagues, coaches and other professionals you respect - don't rely purely on your own judgement for this one!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The secret of what you share

We have begun rehearsals for L'Italiana in Algeri, and we are blessed with a cast boasts many examples of "that certain something" that makes them riveting as performers.

As always, I am trying to translate what I see and hear in my own experiences into tangibles that you may perhaps use on your own journey.

One way to try to get to the core of what gives certain performers an x factor that makes them successful is to try to break down their component parts objectively.

For instance: he/she sings with tonal intensity, and moves on stage with great fluidity, and always maintains eye contact with colleagues. While all of that may be true, I don't know if you really get to the answer of what makes a performer irresistible by breaking it down like this.

At the end of the day, I think really successful performers give the impression of showing you (audience, artistic director, etc.) just enough, so that you are pulled into wanting to know more.

Of course, every one has a different way of creating this allure, but I think however it is achieved, this quality plays a big part in being a successful performer.

I, of course, am not suggesting that this "quality" takes the place of technique, work ethic, musicality, etc, but when all is said and done, all of these things are purely the platform to put across what the artist wants to share.

In our coachings and lessons, I think we sometimes pursue the tools and forget the message!
The "message" is that unique spark that made you choose this art form in the first place.

Please, please, please, hold onto that, because it will play an important factor in doing successful auditions, and indeed, performances.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's times like this when it feels worth it.

We had our first music read through for our production of L'Italiana in Algeri yesterday, and hearing our wonderful cast, including three of our Studio Artists in important supporting roles, reminded me that these moments make it all worth it. But more importantly to our discussion here, I noted that two of our leading artists had gotten their starts in Young Artist Programs. While there are no guarantees, in a world where we are inundated by a lot of negative news, in a lot of different contexts, artists combining their talents to create something of beauty is something to be celebrated.