Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Path of Least Persistence: Dog-racing for Singers

Run, Christine, Run!

If you’ve ever been to the dog races, you’ve seen the fervor and determination with which greyhounds chase their goal. Not looking right nor left, they run like mad around the track until crossing the finish line. The ‘winner’ is the first one to realize that what he’s been chasing all along is not a tasty rabbit, but a mechanical lure with a furry tail at best. But the dogs keep chasing this unfulfillable feast until going into a sad and miserable retirement. 
But that’s another story. It’s a dog eat dog world.
Chasing the operatic dream is not dissimilar to a dog race, except for the fact that the lure is real. But you have to chase a lot of false rabbits and bark up a bunch of wrong trees before capturing it. Obviously the greyhound isn’t aware that the rabbit is a fake. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that he would run so fast to catch it. The concept of ‘discouragement’ is foreign to a dog.
When I first set foot in the race to become an opera singer in Germany, I was running at the swift pace of a greyhound. I sent 70 letters to agents, opera houses and young artists’ programs, happily licking each stamp and not being bothered by the “No-thank-you” replies that came pouring in (in fact, I made a collage out of them -- I call it “Mit freundlichen Grüßen”). Of those 70 letters, I got one invitation to audition, flew out, sang for them and was immediately offered the job. I hit the ground running, so to speak.
Since I’ve been here, I honestly don’t think I’ve put as much effort into getting auditions as I did back then. Instead I concentrated my efforts on singing for agents so that they could do the footwork, and of course on the matter at hand -- my job. While you’re working, it’s easy to take your eye off the rabbit and forget that, even though you have work, you are still in the race. Plus, no matter how hard I try, other contenders still get ahead. Despite having sung for several agents who seem to like what I do, I often find out about auditions happening without me.
Just recently, I sang a formidable Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera, I also have Zerbinetta in my repertoire (and got a great review in Opernwelt for that performance), and I’m just about to play Mozart’s famous Queen of the Night. So when I read on another singer’s blog that she was getting ready to audition for exactly those three roles, I wonder why it is that I don’t even know about this audition, much less why I haven’t been invited. Or when I saw on yet another coloratura’s Facebook page that she’d only last week landed a fest contract in a smaller house in the east, again I am baffled as to why these auditions pass me by.
Things like this happen often enough to make me stop running so fast and instead take leisurely walk on my self-denominated Path of Least Persistence. This can be a very pleasant experience, just as I’m sure a greyhound dog enjoys haphazardly chasing a frisbee probably even more than frantically running after a wanna-be rabbit. On the Path of Least Persistence unexpected things come to you unexpectedly. Problem is, it’s not enough. While it can be fulfilling to sing Bach in a church with an amateur choir, or fun to improvise over electronic music on a boat as part of an art exhibition, it does not quite satisfy the urge to prove your worth and serve the duty of portraying a character through music on a stage with your peers -- and be able to pay the bills, to boot.
...ain't never caught a rabbit.
I hypothesize, however, that I may have gotten that very first audition back then had I sent only 20 letters instead of 70. That particular recipient probably would have been on my addressee list in both cases. So why should I bother with the rest? Now I know through experience that there are some trees I needn’t bother to bark up in the first place. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I probably could have done a bit more this season as far as promoting myself goes, although sometimes I wish it would suffice to be an über-talented and reliable musician who does her job well. At least I know that my competitors’ successes have nothing to do with my shortcomings -- especially if I wasn’t even there to be a contender.
Sure it’s discouraging to repeatedly face rejection, but we have to keep the greyhounds in mind.* What if they are perfectly aware that the lure they are chasing is not a real rabbit? Perhaps they’re in the race for the sheer joy of running. Maybe it’s time for me to shed all my discouragement and leave it behind on the Path of Least Persistence and get back into the race -- full speed, come what may -- if only for the sheer joy of licking stamps.
* By now, I hope you’ve figured out that this is only an analogy, and not a factual representation of the sometimes abusive practice of dog racing, which I do not purport to support (unless, of course, my dog wins).

No comments:

Post a Comment