Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling: Do Opposites Really Attract?

A reminder to keep our sister, celebrated pedagogue, Susan Eichorn Young (SEY) and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Thomas Young in our prayers. They are both progressing toward what we all want to be a speedy and complete recovery, but there will be some challenges ahead I suspect.  I welcome you to express your positive energy on their prayer wall on Facebook. These posts will carry Susan's blog title, Once More With Feeling as long as she is recovering. Keep reading her blog.  There is so much wisdom there!



Do opposites attract? That is perhaps too simple a question. The question is rather do opposites attract in a positive manner? The example of electricity is often used to reinforce the notion that opposites attract. But the consequences are not often talked about. Simple discussions of electricity usually cite electrons as the opposites of protons because of their opposite charge that create a balance state. But protons are not the true opposites of electrons. Electrons are nearly two thousand times smaller than protons. I don't understand the subtleties of atomic structure, but I do know (because of a lifelong dose of Star Trek) that the true opposites of electrons are positrons, and they attract each other violently, causing each other's annihilation.

Indeed the attraction of opposites does not always have a positive yield. Nature is paradoxical.  Water molecules attract each other by way of weak hydrogen bonds between oxygen and hydrogen atoms. The H2O molecules are the same, but are attracted by the opposite charges of their dissimilar atoms. Paradox!

In pursuing anything, it is important to keep these basic laws in mind.  Similar things actually attract each other, when they have differences that keep their relationship interesting.  Opposites may cause dramatic experiences but not enough stability to promote a long-term relationship.  

Example:  My closest friends and I are very similar, in the sense that we find the Universe a fascinating thing to be explored and we enjoy discussing it.  Yet we do not always agree on our views of it.  The long-term nature of our relationships stems from the interest that we have in understanding the nature of the Universe. Interaction with someone who has the same interest but a somewhat contrarian viewpoint makes for interesting and friendly discussions.

Consider therefore how relationships in the Operatic business are developed! An authoritarian conductor who likes to feel superior to the singers he works with is not going to enjoy a singer who prides herself on her musicianship and musical independence.  This conductor will prefer a singer with a good voice and a basic musicianship (enough to learn notes and rhythms and text accurately) because this will give him the opportunity to be the authoritarian mentor.  The singer who is thus musically less sophisticated will enjoy the gems he might be able to mine from the fertile mind of such a mentor.

Ideally, symbiotic personalities would be correctly matched in a high-level professional situation.  However this is rarely the case.  Does the sophisticated singer lose out in a relationship with an authoritarian conductor?  Only if the singer displays an aura of musical authority!  A truly intelligent singer who is musically sophisticated will put down her ego.  She will exhibit musical accuracy but defer to the conductor's need for authority (e.g. by asking for guidance in a musical phrase).  The singer is not being false, but being conscious of what is necessary to create a good working environment.  In this way, the singer gains a reputation as a well-prepared, good colleague.

The same singer would certainly build a stronger bond with a conductor who likes to make music with an equally strong partner.  A successful career is made not by landing perfect situations every time but by the power of adaptability that helps a singer make the best of imperfect situations.  Adaptability, although a great virtue, is not enough for a satisfying career. Adapting can become tiring.  A truly satisfying career depends just as much on defining and seeking situations that are compatible to one's best qualities.  This includes doing roles that are conducive to one's vocal abilities, as well as those that help one to develop and refine incomplete qualities.  It is about balance; this includes choosing a supporting team of voice teacher, vocal coach, agent, etc, that foster an environment conducive to our natural long-term development and does not hinder our native talents, vocal and otherwise.

© 06/28/2011

2 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

This is fascinating, Jean-Ronald. I wonder whether there is any situation comparable in my profession. I am thinking not. When this sort of thing arises, are there ritualized approaches that singers tend to use until sure of the conductor's intention?

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Dear Pagan,

I don't think there are any set approaches. It is more like driving a car on an unknown road. One takes each turn carefully until the nature of the road begins to make sense. The only approach is to be professional and offer what is needed. Wait to be asked. Ask questions, but offer no opinions. Confident directors and conductors know that their ultimate success depends on the full participation of their worthy colleagues. There was a time when the famous singers dictated the course of a production. That was equally unbalanced. Particularly today, it is important that it be a real team effort, giving value to the skills and experiences of each member of a production team.