I'm finishing up my year by gearing up to sing a concert with a slight case of laryngitis. I guess it's not technically laryngitis, it's just swollen vocal cords resulting from singing and talking too much with a cold that was lodged in my throat, but it's still singing while hoarse. Yippee! The concert isn't until tomorrow, so I'm hoping I'll wake up and miraculously be cured. If not, that's why god invented drugs.
Looking back on this year, I think it's been pretty fantastic. I've written over 100 blog entries, so I even have a record of all the times - from fabulous to crappy -and it's easy for me to notice what I've learned this year. So here goes - my list of lessons from 2008.
1. Attitude isn't everything, but it's not nothing either.
This is a lesson that I'm continually learning, but it came into even sharper focus this year. And if I were going to teach a class to aspiring opera singers about things to know about this crazy biz, I would definitely have to stress the fact that your attitude and general demeanor in professional situations is pretty much as important as your talent and abilities. People that are genuinely caring and generous with their colleagues are rehired (and the genuine part is important - it doesn't seem to work with phonies). The second, and somewhat complimentary part of this equation is being cautious and careful of what you say and who you say it to AT ALL TIMES in professional situations. True, it becomes exhausting. But when you're somebody like me who tends to blurt out whatever comes into her head at the moment it appears, it's a lesson I have to keep reminding myself of every day. I can think of so many instances in the past year (some of which are recounted on this blog) where I spoke before I thunk, to less than stellar consequences. 2009 is my year to be more aware of not only what I say, but my general attitude in all professional rehearsals. I don't want every emotion to read as easily as a trashy novel on my face, and I want to stop blurting out all my faults and insecurities to anybody who will listen (except of course on the blog, where I will continue to make fun of myself until it gets boring). Seriously - I really think that the attitude you present in rehearsals is AS IMPORTANT as the other obvious requirements like ability and preparedness. Sometimes extreme talent can overcome personality (think about some of the stories about the misbehavior of certain stars) but why risk it? Being kind and considerate and careful can be a job just like learning notes and rhythms, and if it doesn't come naturally, don't forget, neither does warbling in an operatic voice. It takes years of repetition and practice, but the results are what getcha hired.
2. Success is somewhat arbitrary
This one is either very liberating or very frustrating depending on how you choose to think about it. But for me, this realization has been somewhat liberating. I finished a book not long ago called "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell ( I mentioned it in an earlier post before I'd actually read it.) Gladwell's assertion is that extremely successful people are talented and smart, but they're not the MOST talented or the smartest people, they are merely the people whose circumstances were extraordinary enough to allow them to succeed. He talks in the first chapter about the Canadian Hockey League, and points out that a very high percentage of the professional players are born in either January, February or March. Why? Because during the time of year that the hockey scouts recruit the best 6 year old players to go on to the advanced track, the ones born in the first three months are simply bigger than the rest of the kids. That's it! The key to being a successful hockey player in Canada is having the skill, plus being born in the right month! It's so easy to apply this to opera singing, when the fact that being in the right place at the right time a few times in a row (and having the talent to back it up) is what leads to successes on all different levels. And realizing that I don't have control over these extenuating circumstances, makes me realize how idiotic it is to convince myself that this or that milestone that I haven't yet reached is because I'm just not good enough. This doesn't mean I don't continue to push myself to be the best artist I can be - it just means that when I don't get chosen for something, or get hired by a company, I don't have to beat myself up for "not being good enough". I just have to accept that the circumstances weren't in my favor that time and move on. This is almost as obvious as the "being nice works" one, but somehow I really understood it this year, and I feel lighter and happier because of the realization.
3. I like this job
As I've discussed on this blog a few times, I went through a tortuous period of extreme stage fright for a couple of years, and during that time, I was constantly questioning if maybe I should think about another career. But 2008 has probably been the most fulfilling year of work so far (well, it actually started for me in the fall of 2007) and I've actually been enjoying myself tremendously again, and realizing that I'm dreadfully lucky to have this for my job. 2008 started out with Elmer Gantry, which is the first time I've actually "created" a brand new role for a world premiere, and not only did I enjoy the hell out of singing the role of Sister Sharon, I made some life long friends in the creators of that piece, and I got to play a really meaty character that went through a big transformation and died a fiery death! I had my first experience working in Italy / Europe, which is chronicled in great detail on the blog, so I don't need to go into detail. But in a nutshell, it was so fabulous it pretty much changed my life. I sang a soprano role in Colombia, and even though I probably won't revisit Musetta, I was really genuinely happy to get to be in a La Boheme at least once in my life. And I ended the year by finally feeling like I understand and enjoy playing Rosina, and the role is one I'm actually looking forward to doing again instead of worrying about it or dreading it like I once did. There were lessons about acting and taking direction, musicality and vocalism, and style and language that were invaluable and all encompassing. And I made more friends - real, true, dear friends - this year, than in any year in recent memory. All in all, the year was quite amazing, and I'm sorta sorry to see it go.
But I'm entering 2009 with an unusually optimistic attitude, and more of a zest for life than I'm used to experiencing. I'll take it.
And as my final post for 2008 comes to an end, I'd like to ask for your comments. I have no idea how many people read this blog, what they're getting from it, and what else they'd like to know. So please comment - tell me what you think and who you are and if you have any requests. Happy New Year - I raise my electronic glass to whatever happiness may be just around all of our corners.