Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

Fight Your Way Through It

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This bit of wisdom has been making the rounds. If you haven’t already seen it, click and listen.

Seriously, do it. It’s one minute and 55 seconds long.

Not surprising, any of it. But how easily we tamp down this truth to a place where we can’t see it.

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule also drives home the idea that mere humans have to plug away in obscurity for a long time before the quality of their work can crystallize and rise above the fray. But the thing that Ira nailed is the acknowledgement that for any of us who are working through an apprenticeship period as self-examining adults, the biggest dissonance comes from the fact that we know what the goal is, and we are most definitely not there yet. We daily fall short, and we know it.

This is a particularly useful concept for professional singers. Other musicians have a monstrously beneficial head start. Violinists, pianists – anyone who plays an instrument that doesn’t live inside his own body – they all begin to hone their craft at an age when they aren’t yet fully aware of what constitutes true greatness. The best teenage instrumentalists are well on their way; they are prodigiously talented and aware of  the pinnacles of their profession, but that whole existential thing hasn’t kicked in yet. Singers wait through their 20′s (and longer) for their instruments to mature and settle down. And cranking out those first few years of work that is necessary but simply isn’t great yet while you know how short you are falling… well, that can be your own personal circle of hell.

I’m a huge Ira Glass fan (which was amplified by learning that he is Phillip Glass’s cousin). And if you think it’s hard to explain to people that your life’s work is that of an opera singer, well, it must take terrific courage to persist in a career as a storyteller. (Here’s the original interview from 2009 from which the above clips are taken.)

I’ve spent a chunk of my January judging Met (MONC) auditions, and I am newly struck by the courage it takes to be a beginner as an adult. Your friends are working their way up the ladders at law firms and tech companies, and you’re still literally saving pennies to pay for lessons and get cheap flights to competitions. Foolhardy, some clearer heads might say, and although I would argue, there’s a kernel of truth. Very few of the brave and beautiful things in our lives come from people who play it safe. And perhaps part of what will make your career vivid, varied and long-lived is the formative and exhausting experience of spending your young adulthood taking nothing for granted.

Ramble done. Back to clawing my way to the top of a mountain of work leading up to our season announcement on February 2 and this concert on February 15. Later, friends.

4 Comments

  1. I needed this today. Thanks!

  2. Beautiful. :)

  3. Kim, this is splendid, and so resonant with so many people I know right now. The link will be in their inboxes shortly. Thank you for your insights!

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