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  • Scott Carlton

WHY STUDY WHEN PERFORMANCE OPPORTUNITIES ARE AT A STANDSTILL DUE TO COVID?


"Fortune favors the brave” is a familiar saying; its corollary is “FORTUNE FAVORS THE

PREPARED."


Performance opportunities for the classical singer, indeed for all professional and aspiring

performing artists, were hard to come by before the current pandemic struck, now they are rarer

than proverbial “hen’s teeth”. Working professionals have in many cases lost all of their

performing income. With unemployment at record levels, opportunities for supplementing

income are harder and harder to come by.


It is easy to despair, to remain stuck in what my esteemed colleague Elizabeth de Trejo calls the

“boo-hoo” phase.


The intent of this post is not psychological counseling, it is to outline


(a) the importance of being prepared for upcoming performance opportunities; and

(b) what those opportunities may look like.


The psyche of the true artist can simply not tolerate a state of inertia. Inaction breeds inaction,

and soon the artistic capacities of the performer begin to shrivel. It cannot be stressed strongly

enough that daily practice is indispensable. It does not matter if that daily practice takes the form

of 20 minutes of scales in your living room. Notice the improvement in your state of mind after

practice – you should feel connected and grounded. An inner alertness awakens and you more

easily envision an artistic future for yourself even in this time of plague.


It is very important for the singer to become accustomed to singing repertory a capella. This is

not just because it is difficult to find accompaniments to sing with. It is so because singing

without the support of a piano or orchestra focuses the singer’s awareness entirely on what he or

she is doing, technically and artistically. It is like singing in a very dry hall. Your consciousness

of your body energies and vocal mechanism is placed under a microscope of your own creation.

If you listen to yourself, notice how you become tighter and tighter, whereas if you focus on

what you’re doing, your breath, tension release and artistic delivery, what you hear or do not

hear is irrelevant. This alone underscores the importance of daily practice


Now the $46,000 dollar question: “Where can I sing for pay now and in the post-COVID

era?”


An internationally known Heldentenor, a household name especially among Wagnerians, told me

that he felt a radical shift was coming in casting in the European houses, especially in Germany.

He said that “guesting” will become increasingly a thing of the past, and fixed contract or “fest”

ensembles, with younger singers and smaller salaries, will become the model of the future. We cannot foresee what this will mean in terms of the singer's working environment. Singers may be required to be "all things to all people" and sing large swaths of repertory, some not

necessarily ideal for the material to which the singer is naturally suited. This is obviously a

double-edged sword and will require superb preparation on the part of the singer and rock-

solid technique.


But what about the young singer who has not yet launched and may not be in a position to

audition in Europe?


There are no easy answers here. The most obvious is performance on virtual platforms like Zoom.

Google “Quire of Cheahs” and you’ll see an amazing example of a choral singer singing all parts to sacred motets.


Even pre-COVID, the onus of creating performance opportunities was increasingly falling on

performers and their teachers. Some organizations are hosting masterclasses and so forth.


I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest: if you are not yet an established "name", get a canned accompaniment and go to a safe public place and put your hat down for tips. I can hear the blowback now: “How undignified!” “This is beneath the worth of a serious artist!” and “How demeaning”. “What about when winter arrives!?”


I make it a practice to walk in Central Park at least 3 times a week for five or six miles. I am

encountering wonderful talent of every sort: jazz, jazz standards, even a bassoon quartet and

above all: some wonderful opera singing by very talented and courageous young singers using

canned accompaniment. One young soprano, in particular, sang a very moving Mimi at the

Belvedere Fountain and listeners were captivated. Last winter, I heard an extremely talented

baritone sing “Eri Tu” and his breath could be seen in the cold. Only 2 out of 10 or 15

passersby stopped to listen, but those who did were transfixed.


Is this easy? No. Does it require incredible courage? Yes.


For the rest, we will have to wait and see. Ensembles are opening up in Europe and Canada, and we

may hope that the same will be the case here in 2021 or 2022. Do you have what it takes

to ride out 6 to 12 months, months for which the phrase "dry spell" is an incredible understatement?

.

The singers with brass and inner motivation will make it; others will fall by the wayside.


©2020 Scott Carlton

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