Count your blessings...
Thanksgiving. A holiday all about food, family, and (hopefully) being mindful of all of the blessings we have in life. Because we all have blessings, whether they are immediately obvious or not. Sometimes we just need to shift our perspective a bit, and we might actually find that we have a great deal to be thankful for. I’ve talked about the struggles of being an artist, of the challenges faced, the sacrifices made. But there are also some incredible gifts that we should never forget.
1. The thrilling sensation of singing (or playing music in general). When I am singing well, and everything is lining up, it is a feeling that is like nothing else. The idea of a “performance high” is a real thing. That’s not to say that I am carried away in an ocean of euphoric bliss, but it does feel pretty great. What in incredible gift it is to be able to sing and express through music. It’s the best kind of cathartic experience, and no matter how frustrated I may be with the process, I hope I never forget how much I enjoy it, and how blessed I am to have the talent.
2. The amazing wealth of music in the world that we get to learn and perform. There are several centuries of music in the operatic repertoire alone, but when you add in to that all the other music I sing, ranging from Gregorian chant to contemporary repertoire, it’s A LOT. How wonderful it is to live in a time when we not only have access to so much repertoire, but also how easy it is to listen to it and to find out about it. My last post was about the difficulty of choosing repertoire–never forget that it is also an incredible gift to have so many options.
3. The magic of collaborating with other musicians to create art. Rehearsals are hard, scheduling can be a nightmare, and we are often overworked and underpaid. But we get together with other musicians to perform an opera or a choir concert or some such...it really is magical. We are all unique, and we all bring our unique talents to bear, and then we join those talents together in service of a single artistic vision. That is something that I didn’t even realize was so important until the pandemic happened and we suddenly were unable to do it.
There are so many more things I have to be thankful for, both as a musician AND as a regular old human being, but these are three essentials for any creative, I feel. We should never take our art for granted, and we should never let ourselves become too jaded to be open to the joy and power of music. Always remember that being an artist is a gift and a privilege, and we have an incredible opportunity to change lives with what we do–for ourselves and for others. So as we head into this hectic holiday season, let’s remember to count our own blessings, and also let us also BE a blessing in someone else’s life.
Choosing new projects
For creative folks, whatever their particular brand of art, choosing a new project is hard. Especially as a singer, our projects are so often determined by the next gig. But how do we choose what to do in between gigs? As we all know, it can be hard to be motivated to keep working on projects (or choose new ones) if there is no pressure of a hard start date or concert performance. On the one hand, you definitely feel the pressure to create SOMETHING, but on the other hand, you don’t have a specific purpose for it yet, so why not just keep on binging that show on Netflix?
First you have to wade through a sea of options. Do you start working on a song cycle for possible recitals? Do you crack open that opera score that has been staring at you for months and have a go at a new role? Do you dive headlong into research to find some undiscovered gem? Do you focus on revamping and refining your audition package with some new arias? There are so many choices, and there is only so much time in the day to get the work done.
You also have to deal with setting your own goals with no external push. This will help determine (in part) what you work on, but even once you’ve made a choice it’s still there, looming. Should you focus on exploring work of an unknown composer and creating a recital based around that? Should you only choose music that speaks to you on a personal level–the whole “does this spark joy” approach? Should you be focusing on refining a role you’ve sung before, or should you work on adding a new role to your repertoire? In that aria package, what are you trying to showcase about your voice and your “brand” as a singer?
Obviously there is much to unpack and consider, and there isn’t one right answer here. I’m actually in a bit of that quandary myself–I find myself wanting to choose something new to work on, but I have not really committed to a new project yet. I’m still in the limbo phase where anything is possible because no choices have been made. The trouble is, if I’m not careful, I’ll just stay right here, and never make a choice. It’s so easy for any of us to get overwhelmed by the choices available, so we choose instead to do nothing.
So how do you go about choosing?
I tend to start with projects that I know I HAVE to do, such as an upcoming performance job or some other event. Those are the ones that are easy, because you have a deadline, responsibilities, and someone else is generally in charge. So that hardly counts for our purposes here.
Once I make it through those, I just start listening to music. Whether it’s in a voice lesson when I am helping my own students choose repertoire, unwinding after a workday with some Youtube listening, or even just listening on the classical radio station. I encounter a composer, or a piece, or sometime both, that really gets to me. And then I start a quick internet search to find out more about the composer (if it’s an unknown one), and start to build out from there. You never know what sort of wonderful music you can uncover if you just stop to listen. I’m currently in the listening phase myself - hopefully some concrete ideas will rise to the top!
Basically, find some music that speaks to you, and go from there. If you choose music based on what you WANT to sing, rather than what is “expected” of you for auditions, you’ll generally show better in auditions because you actually like what you are presenting. There is no magic formula that works for everyone. We all have to do the work ourselves to discover who we are as artists. This in turn can help guide us toward the kind of music we want to perform or the type of art we want to create. Unless you are preparing for an audition or competition that is asking for specific repertoire, the world really is your oyster in terms of song selection.
Rather than thinking of project selection as something you HAVE to do, think of it as something you GET to do. If you think about the situation in a positive mentality, then you can perhaps even enjoy the phases of the project when you have no idea what’s going on yet! It should be noted: this largely listening-based approach is what tends to help me as a classical singer. If your creative output doesn’t involve wading through centuries of music, your approach to project selection could be very different. The bottom line is, try to enjoy the freedom of the process as you cast about for a new project. Accept inspiration as it comes, and never limit yourself by what you think you “should” do. Taking ownership of all of the stages of your own creative process is the key to finding fulfillment in your ongoing artistic journey.