Friday, September 3, 2010

Get the Fall Rolling

If you want everything, give everything up.
Tao Te Ching, chapter 22 
(Let’s be honest, I heard it in a Bird York song)
Mere hours after I turned 40 (I hereby decide not to lie about my age, apparently), the weather in Frankfurt turned from a very ambitious ‘trying-to-be-summer’ to ‘ah-fuck-it-let’s-do-fall’. Coincidence? I think not. Luckily for me, although it takes a while to get used to the sudden drop in temperature, Autumn is my favorite time of year. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I start the season with a new age (number, that is, not esoteric belief system or ambient music), and things like new school year, new school clothes, new theater Spielzeit (season) are emblazoned in my mind as autumnal opportunities for a fresh start.
Facing my third season (Spielzeit) without a permanent position (Festvertrag) in a theater, I get to conveniently discard all the missteps and shortcomings of the past year like leaves falling from the trees. I get to start from scratch and trust that, like Düsseldorf and Mönchengladbach in the past two years, respectively, some theater somewhere will call me when they need me. Unfortunately for me, along with the sudden drop in temperature comes a sudden drop of optimism.
Just as I was about to get the Fall rolling (already two concerts and one small theater production in the works), a phone call with an especially pessimistic agent took the spring out my step. He basically tried to tell me I shouldn’t get my hopes up about getting auditions (or ever getting hired) at any of the major theaters. I’m baffled at this since most people who have seen me perform are surprised that I’m not working at one already. Besides, I was just named Nachwuchssängerin des Jahres (budding singer of the year).
When is a blossom still a bud and when is it pushin’ up daisies?
I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret being called “up and coming.” Did that mean I did all right for such a young, inexperienced singer? (Did I mention I am 40 and have 12 years of professional experience?) After thanking the music critic who gave me this title, he assured me that it was indeed my youthful glow that made him categorize me amongst the up and coming and that he was very impressed with my remarkable performance. I hope that implies I’ve got a long way to go and I am not done just yet.
Still, despite the support of family, friends, colleagues and music critics, I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to throwing in the towel as I was today. Of all the things one could do for a living, why choose the one career that the vast majority of the world does not understand, that subjects you to so much criticism, that has such an arbitrary hiring process, and that offers so few chances for success? Perhaps the biggest fear of giving up is then having the choice - what the fuck do I do now? 
Words of Wisdom
In the midst of contemplating giving up, two things happened. First of all, I remembered some things I had said to a colleague of mine who collects tidbits of wisdom from me on occasion. Seven years ago, we worked together for the first time in Don Giovanni. He asked me, “You sing so well. How do you do that?” And I answered, “I just don’t think about it.” Although it had quite an impact on Jürgen, who still quotes me to this day, this is one of the reasons I don’t want to necessarily become a voice teacher. Lessons with me would not last for more than a minute, and my hourly wage would have to be pretty high to make it worthwhile. And I suppose students would leave my studio rather perplexed. 
Since that production, Jürgen and I have worked in three more shows together, and our fifth collaboration is coming up next month. The most recent moment of enlightenment occurred while he and I were putting our make-up on before the show, discussing, among other things, the job hunt. While I prefer to take a more aggressive approach -- writing to agents, keeping them abreast of my performances and ‘best up and coming singer’ awards, maintaining contact with former employers and colleagues, updating my website, etc. -- Jürgen likes to sit back and let the world discover him. He said, “I trust that we will get the jobs that we need.” I peered over at him from underneath the mascara brush and said, “...or the jobs that need us.”
Jürgen got that look on his face - that delightful smirk of awe, as if his perspective had once again been shifted to shed a whole new light on the conundrum that is being a singer - that look that gives me the reassurance that even if I don’t know where my path is leading me, I’m well aware that I am on it. In other words, we shouldn’t go out seeking careers which do not befit us just for the sake of having one. We may have to muddle through a job or two to get by, but your niche will find you before you find it.
The second thing that happened today was that I finally received the birthday gift from my sister which had been delayed in the mail. On today of all days it finally arrived. It was a towel. Even if I had thrown in the proverbial towel today, I was sent a new one for a fresh start. A new towel, for a new season, for a new outlook. One could argue, since it was a yoga mat towel, that I’m meant to give up on singing and become a Bikram yoga teacher. But that’s another story ... .

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. Don't throw in the towel!! If you can afford to continue on with your singing, you should! And 40 is young! If I had started seriously singing at 40 instead of 54 (I "fooled around" with singing in my late 20s, mostly with what's laughingly referred to as the "New York Opera Underground") I might have had a chance.

    Did you really mean that comment about "not thinking about it"? or was that a joke? I can sometimes "not think about it" if I'm singing a church solo or some aria with no high notes (like the Habanera) otherwise I have to think every second about what I'm doing or I will be sunk.

    And the bit about getting a towel for a present was totally hilarious.