Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Qualität ist kein Zufall (Quality Is No Accident)

After having the honor of teaching a very successful mezzo-soprano the other day, I went to my favorite neighborhood bakery. I bought a caramel-cinnamon roll (I am addicted to cinnamon and I love caramel) and for the first time in the two years I have been visiting this bakery I noticed that the package said: "Qualität ist kein Zufall". It could not have happened at a better time. Right away my mind returned to this mezzo-soprano and it was clear that her success was no accident. A singer at that level, who works quite consistently, might be tempted to take her talent for granted. However, this singer might not have gotten to the level she has if that had been her way of thinking. There are certain qualities that lead to success particularly in the operatic field and she has them all.

If you remember I cited the principles that I believe lead to success in anything: Faith, Courage, Patience...Hard work is a given!

Faith can be translated in everyday life as confidence that things are right in the universe, that our individual role in the greater fabric makes sense to us, that we accept why we are here and understand our purpose. This mezzo knows that she is a singer no matter what happens. This is clear. I have known her to handle difficulties with keen awareness and a certain dispassion. She cares deeply about the quality of her work, and when something is not working quite right she has the vision to see beyond the moment to consider what she can learn from it.

A singer who gets to her level knows courage. She like many mezzos with a great top voice was mis-Fach-ed as a soprano early in her development. She overcame those early difficulties and became the wonderful mezzo she is. I am actually more impressed by the courage that makes her affirm: "Even though I am doing well, I can be better! There are little things that I can improve on!" She also has the type of courage that helps her learn from tough times and not dwell on them. The ability to go beyond tough times may be one of the most important attributes for success.

Her patience is clear. A singer with such a voice (and it is extraordinary) and her musicianship/musicality could easily think she is ready for the biggest roles in her repertoire now. Instead, she is able to focus on roles that she masters and slowly take on those new parts that she feels ready for. Any singer who sings "O don fatale" the way she does would be offering herself up as Eboli already. But she wants to master it first.

The details of her work habits is what I have found most impressive. When we have worked together, this successful singer who is busy internationally has a pencil in hand and takes copious notes on every issue of technique that we discuss. Most impressively, she never seemed disturbed by discovering an imbalance in her voice, but rather took notice and notes on the strategy that we agree upon to correct the imbalance.

The error that we singers often make is to be so obsessed about our voices that we are easily thrown by the difficulties that singing presents, or that we behave as if everything is honky-dory because we are afraid that if we acknowledge our weaknesses others might also and we might be seen as inadequate. This mezzo stares her challenges square in the face and makes a battle-plan to meet them.

If a voice was all that was necessary to make a career, I would take the homeless man who often sang after the concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra in my college days and make him a singer, for he had a remarkably powerful voice. What makes a successful singer is the secure knowledge that s/he is a singer, period. Armed with such faith, one develops the courage to face the many obstacles on the road and the patience to go around them or over them or indeed dismantle them.

The average singer who is disenchanted with the unfairness of the music world would think me delusional when I say I do not know the obstacle in this field that cannot be overcome and at 43 I am precisely where I should be in my career as a dramatic tenor. When I played soccer in high school, I was the center striker and scored 33 goals in three seasons. The number of goals is not the important thing but what they had in common. In every case, there was a split second when I saw the path I had to take to get the ball beyond the opposing goalkeeper and into the net.
Success requires vision and there is never a lack of opportunity if one seeks it. A singer must create a path to success and be ready for the moment when opportunity presents itself.

The average singer says: "I've tried everything and I still don't have a job!"

The successful singer says: "What weakness prevented me from getting that job?"

The average singer says: "I'm 30 and I have not done a Young Artists Program. I have no options ahead of me!"

The successful singer says: "I'm 30 and have not done a YAP. What other way can I make myself noticed in this field? Am I lacking something fundamental?"

The average singer is often a victim of circumstances. The successful singer is often a pioneer of new approaches. The average singer follows the path set out by others. The successful singer takes the road less-traveled and even creates his/her own new road.

Just like quality, success is not an accident. It is rather the product of a strategic approach to realizing a vision. Vision is a product of experience. Experience is a product of practice. Practice is hard work. Hard work is a given.

Erfolg ist kein Zufall (Success Is No Accident)!

© 10/29/2009

5 comments:

Erin said...

Spectacular. Well said. Thank you.

Jacob said...

As always, a fine post! I was particularly touched by the YAP comments. Our mutual friend Timothy Jones and I were chatting about YAPs the other day, and he said the funniest thing. "When I didn't advance in the Met auditions, they told me that I didn't need to be in the Met Young Artist Program. I thought, but wait - this could really help me! Years later I realized that they were right - I had a DMA, I didn't need someone telling me that two consonants next to this vowel make it open, I needed to be singing!"

I have recently come to this crossroads in my own career. Several people (most notably my wife!) have been telling me for years to stop singing for YAPs and just audition for mainstage, and I am finally listening! I remember a conversation with Arturo Chacon-Cruz in which he (two years younger than me!) told me to quit doing YAPs. He said that HGO had offered him a final year in their program and he turned them down. They thought he was making a huge mistake! I am sure when he left our Utah Festival Opera Production of Boheme to make his debut at Paris Opera before heading off to perform in Italy he really began to realize the "error" of his ways!

JL

Luigi said...

It's amazing how much of an effect attitude can have on singers' careers. I've really noticed it with those of us trained in America - we expect to have each successive step of career or vocal development handed to us on a silver platter. In the real world of course, it doesn't work that way - you have to get out there again and again and take a lot of knocks while you make a career. This is true in technique as well as in professional success.

One of the things that I've particularly noticed among successful singers is the willingness to work on their technique in their own time. 95% of my colleagues only think about technique during their one hour lesson each week. I am astonished that anyone thinks this is a way to become a great singer. Successful singers work on their own, in a practice room, countless extra hours between lessons. They are constantly challenging themselves with new information about how to sing well, playing, exploring, and trying new things on their own as well as with their teacher.

On the other hand, it's not easy to find the kind of resources you need to help your own technique improve. I have just started a website to help singers do this kind of work, a library of sorts to help people learn about great operatic technique. Dr. Lafond, you might find this site useful for students - and you can probably help a lot of people by poking your nose into the forum from time to time as well! The site is belcantoforum.com. I'd love it if you'd take a look. I think it's a resource that could help a lot of singers.

I'd be open to a link exchange as well, if you do that sort of thing. :)

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

thank you Erin.

Jacob, you are so right. Give Dr. Jones my best. Our time together in MI kept us tightly knit. We have a great deal of respect for each other as we constantly challenged each other to be better. He is a great artist.

I am glad the YAP commentary hit a nerve. I hear this from many singers.

Luigi,

None of us can do the work that needs to be done alone. I am very happy to do a link exchange once I figure out how to do it here.

Your commentary is on point and very welcome. Don't be a stranger. I will visit the belcantoforum.

Best,

jaadamgo said...

You're so right that success will almost never come to someone who considers themselves a victim of circumstance or of what other people do. While it can be very meaningful to think about and discuss the philosophy of free will and just how much control a person has over their own life, it's very clear that the people who succeed the most are the ones who believe themselves to be in control of their lives and who think and work constantly for their goal, knowing that eventually success will come.

It's certainly a good idea to think at this point, "Correlation does not imply causation. Maybe people who are just lucky or well-provided for gain a sense of control over their lives, not the other way around." But I've seen it happen. People realize that they aren't victims, that they can control their own happiness and their own lives. And suddenly, their lives get so much better, and they start getting what they want! It doesn't apply just to singing. It applies to life.