After having the honor of teaching a very successful mezzo-soprano the other day, I went to my favorite neighborhood bakery. I bought a caramel-cinnamon roll (I am addicted to cinnamon and I love caramel) and for the first time in the two years I have been visiting this bakery I noticed that the package said: “Qualität ist kein Zufall”. It could not have happened at a better time. Right away my mind returned to this mezzo-soprano and it was clear that her success was no accident. A singer at that level, who works quite consistently, might be tempted to take her talent for granted. However, this singer might not have gotten to the level she has if that had been her way of thinking. There are certain qualities that lead to success particularly in the operatic field and she has them all.
If you remember I cited the principles that I believe lead to success in anything: Faith, Courage, Patience…Hard work is a given!
Faith can be translated in everyday life as confidence that things are right in the universe, that our individual role in the greater fabric makes sense to us, that we accept why we are here and understand our purpose. This mezzo knows that she is a singer no matter what happens. This is clear. I have known her to handle difficulties with keen awareness and a certain dispassion. She cares deeply about the quality of her work, and when something is not working quite right she has the vision to see beyond the moment to consider what she can learn from it.
A singer who gets to her level knows courage. She like many mezzos with a great top voice was mis-Fach-ed as a soprano early in her development. She overcame those early difficulties and became the wonderful mezzo she is. I am actually more impressed by the courage that makes her affirm: “Even though I am doing well, I can be better! There are little things that I can improve on!” She also has the type of courage that helps her learn from tough times and not dwell on them. The ability to go beyond tough times may be one of the most important attributes for success.
Her patience is clear. A singer with such a voice (and it is extraordinary) and her musicianship/musicality could easily think she is ready for the biggest roles in her repertoire now. Instead, she is able to focus on roles that she masters and slowly take on those new parts that she feels ready for. Any singer who sings “O don fatale” the way she does would be offering herself up as Eboli already. But she wants to master it first.
The details of her work habits is what I have found most impressive. When we have worked together, this successful singer who is busy internationally has a pencil in hand and takes copious notes on every issue of technique that we discuss. Most impressively, she never seemed disturbed by discovering an imbalance in her voice, but rather took notice and notes on the strategy that we agree upon to correct the imbalance.
The error that we singers often make is to be so obsessed about our voices that we are easily thrown by the difficulties that singing presents, or that we behave as if everything is honky-dory because we are afraid that if we acknowledge our weaknesses others might also and we might be seen as inadequate. This mezzo stares her challenges square in the face and makes a battle-plan to meet them.
If a voice was all that was necessary to make a career, I would take the homeless man who often sang after the concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra in my college days and make him a singer, for he had a remarkably powerful voice. What makes a successful singer is the secure knowledge that s/he is a singer, period. Armed with such faith, one develops the courage to face the many obstacles on the road and the patience to go around them or over them or indeed dismantle them.
The average singer who is disenchanted with the unfairness of the music world would think me delusional when I say I do not know the obstacle in this field that cannot be overcome and at 43 I am precisely where I should be in my career as a dramatic tenor. When I played soccer in high school, I was the center striker and scored 33 goals in three seasons. The number of goals is not the important thing but what they had in common. In every case, there was a split second when I saw the path I had to take to get the ball beyond the opposing goalkeeper and into the net.
Success requires vision and there is never a lack of opportunity if one seeks it. A singer must create a path to success and be ready for the moment when opportunity presents itself.
The average singer says: “I’ve tried everything and I still don’t have a job!”
The successful singer says: “What weakness prevented me from getting that job?”
The average singer says: “I’m 30 and I have not done a Young Artists Program. I have no options ahead of me!”
The successful singer says: “I’m 30 and have not done a YAP. What other way can I make myself noticed in this field? Am I lacking something fundamental?”
The average singer is often a victim of circumstances. The successful singer is often a pioneer of new approaches. The average singer follows the path set out by others. The successful singer takes the road less-traveled and even creates his/her own new road.
Just like quality, success is not an accident. It is rather the product of a strategic approach to realizing a vision. Vision is a product of experience. Experience is a product of practice. Practice is hard work. Hard work is a given.
Erfolg ist kein Zufall (Success Is No Accident)!