Ooooooooouf. Phew. Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmpppphhhhhhh.
Sorry. I had to do those noises you make when you're doing yoga or exercising and you suddenly realize you've been holding your breath for the past 5 minutes and you have to let it out. Except instead of five minutes I've been holding my breath (and driving my boyfriend insane) for the past four weeks, and now I can finally exhale. I exaggerate a bit for comic affect, but it has been a rather harrowing but also rejuvenating experience entering and then finally winning (!!!) this Spring for Music Blogger Challenge.
In addition to the cash prize (which is always welcome when you are a freelancer and income is sporadic), I gained some interesting insights about myself and other people. First, I was utterly amazed by the support I got from the people in the operatic community, especially during the last round when I finally decided to actually campaign a bit and let people know what I was up to and ask them to vote for me. In the first three rounds I posted about the competition on facebook, and that was about it. By the last round, I had wised up and realized that quasi facebook campaigining wasn't enough, and I needed to be more proactive, so I sent out emails to people, I joined twitter and tried to rapidly gain as many followers as possible, and I asked people on facebook to help me get the word out. And unlike my unsucessful campaign for Student Body Activities Director in 11th grade (my campaign speech consisted of a tap dance - I cannot imagine why I didn't win), it seemed to work. But more than that, I was incredibly moved by the fact that people took a geniuine interest in helping me, and got really involved in campaigining, asking friends and relatives to vote, and making me feel an unbelievable amount of support and friendship from all over the world. I have said before that one of the absolute best parts about having chosen this job is the people I am lucky enough to meet and get to know, and this competition was real evidence of that. I had people from Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Russia, and all over the U.S, and Canada not only rooting for me, but sending me notes of encouragement, sharing the competition with their friends, and watching each day as the votes were counted. That sense of community, despite the fact that my friends are scattered around the world, was absolutely the best part of this whole experience.
And while all this was happening, I got contacted by the Huffington Post, asking whether I wanted to be a regular contributor to their Culture section. I said absolutely, sent them one of my articles, they chose it as their lead story the next day - and suddenly I had an even wider audience. This is actually a dream come true scenario for me because one of my passions is the idea of spreading understanding about the arts and culture, and opera in particular (since it's what I know) to a larger audience by showing them that it's not as difficult to understand and appreciate as they've been led to believe. I hope my articles in the Huffington Post will be able to accomplish that in some small measure - and I've already gotten ideas for many more articles based on the comments that have come in from my first article. I'm excited about this new chapter.
Another interesting by-product of this whole shebang was the things I was able to observe and learn about varying people's attitudes within this industry. First of all there was the whole idea for the competition, which I personally think was brilliant. It drove people in hordes to the Spring for Music website, and got bloggers all over talking about the competition. The fact that there were people bitterly complaining about the existence of this competition and it's merits is laughable to me. That kind of intellectual snobbery is exactly the kind of thing that keeps regular people from possibly gravitating towards these forms of art that might intimidate them already. My whole deal is that yes, there is certailnly a great deal of scholarship involved in the study of classical music and other "fine" art forms, and that is definitely an important element of what we all do. But as this now viral video reminds us, music engages so many different parts of the brain that even people who have become basically non responsive can literally reanimate their brains with the help of an ipod. And shutting people out and looking down on those that are deemed less scholarly is the perfect way to make the fine arts totally inaccessible to a huge swath of the poplulation - which keeps our industries from growing and keeps us from having jobs! How is that doing anyone any good? I really wanted to include some of the specific quotes and tweets complaining about how either the competition or more specifically I lacked "intellectual relevance," but Michael convinced me that it would be "churlish." True dat.
But the reason I even thought to include those comments and tweets is that, if I feel marginalized by these people, who obviously are worried that their art forms are being corrupted by people less intelligent and intelletual than they are (I mean - come on folks, I'm not Katherine Jenkins or Jackie Evancho - I did go to Juilliard for heaven's sake!), imagine how a regular person who doesn't know Beethoven from Rembrandt must feel! It just doesn't behoove us to shut people out and make this an exclusive club that you can only enter if you qualify for Mensa. It doesn't help our art forms grow and it certainly doesn't help us gain what we desperately need - a wider audience. I understand that you don't want things dumbed down - I don't want people to confuse what Jenkins and Evancho do with what I do either - but you can't expect everyone to know everything that you've had the privelege to learn. Shame on you, you artsy fartsy intellectuals. Don't shut the door on the rest of us - we need high culture just as much as you do - probably more.
But I would rather not end this post on a sour note, because the people that really matter to me - those of you that were kind enough to support me and encourage me not only during this competition, but since I began blogging - far outnumber the negatives. YOU are why I keep writing and you are what inspires me to keep coming up with new ideas. And you know what? There was one dude complaining about me that had one thing right - I should blog more often. So thank you to him and to you all. It's a great time to be an artist - we have so many challenges, but we therefore have so much purpose!
And one more thing; if you're in New York - please check out at least one of the Spring for Music concerts - the tickets are only 25 bucks and they've got some cool music programmed. See you there!