How often do we think about how our actions and words (or lack thereof) make others feel? It can be just one email, or one text message, or one inadvertent glance, but there can be far-reaching effects, many of them unknown or unintended. It doesn’t matter how old we are or what we do for a living–we all have incredible power to connect with others and lift them up, or to tear them down.
For those who have been involved in opera audition season (or as it was so aptly titled in an op-ed for Schmopera.com: “The Festival of Shattered Dreams”), they know it as a time of hope, fear, disappointment, sadness, jealousy, happiness...basically every emotion. There are so many layers to the interactions between singers and companies, whether in email correspondence or the coveted in-person audition. The timeliness of responses, the length of an email, the furious scratching of an auditioner’s pen, the furrowed brows as the panel pores over your resume, the unfurrowed brows when the panel doesn’t even look at your resume, the auditioner who gets up to look out the window or look at text message during your aria...the list goes on and on.
It’s a complicated business, but what it should boil down to is very simple. Every singer who applies to your program or company is a human being who has devoted a lot of time, money, and heart into their operatic training. Whether or not you want to hire them for a young artist program or leading role, you owe them all the same level of professional courtesy and care. I know it is absolutely exhausting to sit through a million auditions, but you owe these singers your attention in this moment. If there are singers who will be getting that first email saying “We’re sorry but you have not been selected for a live audition”, make sure that the tone of it is kind and professional, and the sooner you can get those (and any) rejections out, the better. Just remember that just as the job of holding auditions is very challenging, it is also incredibly difficult to be the singer who is auditioning for you, hoping to start or continue building a career.
The importance of mindful communication goes beyond just this, however. As we have all found through this pandemic, communication and connection are essential to our well-being as humans. When we reach out to one another, whether in professional or personal correspondence, are we just communicating information, or have we given any thought to how that information is presented? The old, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” adage comes to mind. Small gestures can carry huge weight. Checking in with remote-working employees to see how they are doing, or welcoming back employees to in-person events or interactions with a friendly memo or email can be huge steps toward making people feel like they are valued members of your organization or team. A quick message or check-in with friends could be just the thing to lift their spirits or remind them that they matter to someone. We all struggle with feeling lost and alone sometimes, so it’s good to remember that we always have the power to reach out and change that for someone else.
We have all missed performing for live audiences, and many have found ways to scratch the itch with virtual performances, recordings, creative collaborations, and the like. As we transition back to some of the “normal” routines, working with opera companies (both in choruses and as soloists), symphonies, and other entities, many of us have had time to reflect on how we feel about our work, and how we feel we are being respected (or not) by those entities. Whether it’s an opera chorus, a ballet company, a symphony, a community/church choir, or maybe even a barbershop quartet, it’s so easy to make the members feel valued. A quick “Welcome back, we are so excited to see you” email from the “powers-that-be” can be incredibly effective. It may seem trivial, and in the hectic scramble of life it is easy to forget these small touches, but they really do make a difference to how your employees, coworkers, and even bosses, feel.
The same goes for those of us running our own private voice studios. I always send a general “Welcome to a new semester in the Maus Vocal Studio” email once I get my schedule set up, but this fall semester it felt especially important, and I spent more time than usual writing and re-reading it. Never forget that all of our students want to feel like they belong and that they matter, and as teachers we have an incredible amount of power to tip that scale one way or the other (even if we don’t always feel that way). In fact, this has always been a part of my own general teaching philosophy. Yes, I have goals, and I want my students to build their skills and become self-sufficient and technically sound singers. But I also want my students to know that first and foremost, I care about them as human beings, and I am invested in helping them grow. I push them. I challenge them. I build their voices as best I can, but along the way I also want to build them up to be confident, kind, and supportive people who have a real love of music.
The people in your life, whether the relationship is professional or personal, should always feel like they matter. It takes so little effort to write that email, to send that text or Instagram/Facebook message, or to share that funny meme with the person who will just love it. It takes slightly more effort to call someone on the phone, but that too pays huge dividends, and is well worth your time. People seem to be almost mindless these days in their rush to write a nasty review, or tear someone down in a pointless online argument, or are in too much of a hurry to be friendly or polite. Everyone has value as a human being, and we are all fellow adventurers in this journey called Life. We owe it to ourselves to help others see their own worth as we do, and we owe it to others to let them know that they matter to us. CUE CAST ALBUM FOR WAITRESS–TRACK 15–YOU MATTER TO ME, and let the feelings commence.