It seems like a lot of my blog entries lately are directed towards younger singers, or at least people trying to make their way in this career. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to speaking to that demographic - I guess I just figure when you spend a certain amount of time making enough mistakes, you hope there is somebody out there - besides yourself, of course, who can learn and benefit from all those little trips and stumbles.
I've been thinking this week about how we define our job as opera singers. There is the obvious; become as good as you can at singing opera (and all that goes along with it - acting, languages, etc), show up to rehearsal on time, be a good colleague, and work hard. There is also the less obvious, but becoming more and more important aspect in today's market; self promotion, being in good shape, looking good, and all that. But one thing that I think people neglect to realize is that it is also their job to keep in touch with people within the industry. There seem to be two schools of thought on this subject. One is the people who are incredible schmoozers (and I mean that in the best way), who are excellent at keeping in touch with and keeping tabs on every single person they've met, people who send out email updates on what they're up to and where they're singing to a huge list of recepients, and who write thank you notes at every possible turn. (If you're one of those people, you can probably stop reading now.) Then there are those of us (I generally fall into this second category) who are so afraid of coming off as phony, insincere, or as pests, that we basically never correspond with anyone except our families and a few close friends. And a thought dawned on me this week - perhaps there is some happy medium to this situation - what if we considered it part of OUR JOB to keep in touch with people, but instead of just feeling pressure to connect with every single person that could ever potentially help us in some way - what if we just kept in touch with people we have come into contact with that we geniunely liked and connected with, and had something interesting to say to?
The reason this came up for me this week was that a few weeks ago I ran into the amazing Marilyn Horne at a Music Academy of the West alumni reception. Marilyn Horne is absolutely one of the people I most admire most in the world, and it's not just because she was such an incomparable artist. It's also because she really is a great lady who spends the bulk of her time now that she has retired from singing helping other people. I'll never forget a concert at Music Academy one summer (which is the summer program in Santa Barbara where she heads the vocal program), when she was still singing, and gave a recital for the Santa Barbara public. The 20 voice students from the program were seated on the stage behind her while she sang her recital. When it came time for her to sing an encore, she turned her back to the paying public, and dedicated and sang the entire song to the 20 of us. The gesture made me weep to the point that my boyfriend at the time had to nudge me and tell me to quit being such a baby. And that moment perfectly describes what she is like as a person, and how she is so generous with sharing her gifts.
But I digress. The point is, I ran into her at this function, and she mentioned that she hadn't heard from me in a long time and would love to know how I was doing. I not only attended the Music Academy, but Marilyn acutally attended my Master's recital at Juilliard, and asked me to participate in her "On Wings of Song" Foundation which I did for years. We used to comminicate somewhat regularly, but as time went on, I began to feel like I was probably just bugging her if I emailed her - not becuase of anything she said, mind you, just because that's how I am. After seeing her the other night, I promised to email her soon and get back in touch. I went home, weeks passed, and I did nothing. Why? Because a) I didn't want to bother her, and b) I didn't want to seem like I wanted something from her. But hang on - she asked me to email her, it's not like as soon as she saw me she went zipping in the other direction. And I genuinely adore her - I don't have any expectations for her. Then I started to think about other people in the business who I genuinely had relationships with, but who I had lapsed in keeping in contact with. People who yes, possibly could have recommended me for something here or there, but who I wouldn't be keeping in touch with for that reason, but because I really liked them.
There are a lot of fields for which keeping a large updated rolodex is very important for your business. But many people don't tend to consider singing one of those businesses. We imagine it's important for our agents, and certainly for our publicists (I'm using the royal "Our" since I obviously don't have a publicist), but the art of singing itself is pretty complicated, so many of imagine that as long as we're good at that, we should leave the rest to the professionals. But not even staying in touch with the people you've met who you really have a connection with is actually, sorry to say, slacking off. Not only do you kind of owe it to people who've helped you along the way to keep them aprised of your accomplishments, but you owe it to yourself to maintain relationships with people who not only care about you, but who are in the same business as you and who can help you - if not with jobs or recommendations, then with advice, support, and perhaps words of encouragement. It is not your job to kiss people's asses, but it is your job to remain connected to the people who have been integral to your development in some way, or who have shown an interest in you as an artist and as a person. Ask yourself this question - do I have something interesting to tell this person? If you do, I think it's okay to email them - as long as it's not just some kind of blatant self promotion (I personally think that sort of thing can backfire).
I'm thinking this list of things that are part of the job will continue to grow (and believe me - I'm teaching these things to myself as we go) - but for now, item number one is: Stay connected to people you like.
And by the way, I finally did email Marilyn, and she wrote me back right away. And now that we're back in touch, I feel more free to ask her advice about things. And who on earth is a better expert for me - an american mezzo - to consult with than the greatest one of all time? I also wrote to a couple more people in the business who I really like and haven't spoken to in too long, to congratulate them on recent successes they've had. I wanted to communicate with them, and I actually had something to say. I didn't let my own considerations get in the way. It felt right. I'm very glad I took my own advice.