Because I split my time between my studios in New York and in Europe (Berlin-based) I always meditate upon the previous month while I fly some eight hours over the Atlantic. The last week (particularly in New York) is always full of emotion for me as I try to tie loose ends in the hope that my students have a concrete idea of how they need to work their voices in my absence for the next month. The month usually ends up being crystalized by a word or a concept or a specific technical detail. The word this month is Patience, the third principle of Kashudo.
The opera singer’s experience is froth with all kinds of uncertainty. There are great divides between school training and professional readiness, between work and reward, between reasonable expectations and harsh reality. It is not unusual that even the singer with strongest spiritual fiber ends up with periods of despair. Today, more than any other period in operatic history, the outside view of the operatic discipline is hugely opaque. The singers especially have little idea of how the motors of the power structure work. They respond to the obvious:
You are not hired because you are not tall enough
You are not hired because you can’t sing piano
You are not hired because you are not Caucasian
You are not hired because you are not gay
You are not hired because you are gay
You are not hired because you are not skinny enough
You are not hired because you are not loud enough
You are not hired because you don’t have reliable high notes
You are not hired because you don’t have big low notes
You are not hired because your diction is not crisp enough
The singer’s response in those moments is usually:
How fast can I get high notes?
How quickly can I sing louder?
What trick can I use to appear taller?
What dress can I wear to appear skinnier?
What hair product can I find to make me “pass” for Caucasian?
What muscle can I use to get low notes quickly?
What’s the best language CD to get native-like diction right away?
So it is no wonder that the internet is filled with ludicrous advertisements like:
“Gain an octave in two voice lessons: full-proof technique”
“Lose twenty pounds in two weeks!”
“Become fluent in 10 languages by listening to this CD in your car on the way to work!”
And Chris Rock lampoons the two billion dollar industry that supports hair products for black people wishing to have “good hair.”
What I noticed this month gives me greater hope than ever about the future of this field and encourages me to remain always truthful with students about where they are and why they may not yet see their own success.
I remember always wishing that my students would embrace patience. That they would wake up one morning and say: Enough with the short cuts! Let us face reality and really fix what needs to be fixed and then present myself as good as I truly am!
Well, they say: Be careful what you wish for! I for one am glad that I wished for patience for my students. I woke up one morning and saw my most driven student, aware of the fact that she is getting up in age, singing some amazingly difficult arias easily and she said: I got tired of forcing it and chasing it! I know it will come to me when I am truly ready.
I looked at that brilliant woman (that was a few months ago), with all her magnificent talent and a baby in her belly and I realized she had learn the most important lesson I hoped I could teach her (maybe it was her baby that spoke with her. He is now a feisty, fun, little tike. This was not a defeatist reaction, but rather one of incredible empowerment. She and her wonderful husband, who also study with me have made concrete plans for their career development.
It was as if she was the catalyst that began a movement in the studio. I noticed one singer after another saying to me: It will take the time it takes! The important thing is I am a singer and I realize that more than any job, it is a need to know that I can do this at the highest level.
What do you think gets you the job?
The greatest teaching is being an example. In that regard at least, patience, I know I have been a good teacher. Nevertheless it was surprising and humbling to hear my own secret mantras to myself come out of my students mouthes. And guess what? The improvements are palpable. The concentration in their eyes (Pavarotti’s shark eyes) is born of determination and a sudden realization that their mindset plays as much a role in their growth as the many hours of practice that they put in. They seem empowered by their own sudden awareness that they have the power to transform into who they truly are.
The true self is the only worthwhile self. It is what is singular and it is what interests the listener, whether the fan who pays for a ticket or the casting director who hires. One has to have ceased the rat race to get to that peaceful place where the highest quality of self can be reached. The very quality that may guarantee being hired. For many of us, myself very much included, we don’t believe people when they say we should be patient. Because we are so passionate and driven, we believe that the power of our will is enough to get us there. The power of will is important. Will is the future tense, the determinant of our destiny. We must however be in a state to craft our future properly in order to yield the results we intend. When we are in a hurry, we do shoddy work.
Worthwhile work yields a foreseeable future. When I hear one of my ex-baritone tenors sing a high B with such ease that it shocks him into a peaceful smile of satisfaction, I realize I was there some months ago and I know he sees himself as within striking distance of his coveted high C. I also hear suddenly that he does not sound like a baritone anymore. He has truly transformed.
The truly patient student rejoices in little victories because s/he suddenly has the vision to see that little victory as one necessary step in the right direction. The impatient student is only aware of how far from arrival s/he is and completely misses out on the pleasure of the little victories.
I thank my New York students for a terrific month of Novermber/early December and I congratulate them on all their victories, both little and big.