Necessary Artistic Distance: Avoiding Codependence Between the Art and Business of Classical Singing

In recent decades, the education of classical singers seemed to have shifted drastically in the direction of career management.  Although business savvy is of indisputable importance in managing a career in classical singing, the balance between artistic development and career management has become so tilted in favor of business, that one must wonder whether the farmer has forgotten to load his vegetables on the cart he is taking to market.

In the 1970s and 1980s, before the internet dominated our lives with easy access to videos and self-promotion on social media, it was healthy to discuss business savvy in the field of classical singing.  The field had become markedly international and singers had to learn how to make the best use of the market, particularly between the United States and Western Europe. It was a given then that talents must be viable before they could even be competitive in professional singing venues.

The Convenience Generation, schooled in fast food, online-shopping, a sense of entitlement and immediate gratification, in large part, does not understand the term Discipline, particularly when it pertains to the development of musical competency, vocal resilience and artistic preparation.  Some would spend several hours editing their most recent video, but will not spend the time in the practice room to learn an aria (let alone a role) without the use of Spotify or Youtube.  How is a singer going to develop a personal interpretation of a piece of music if s/he is not able to read the language of music?  In too many cases we are left with poorer copies of what other artists took the time to develop.  

The saturation of singers in the field  of classical singing is reminiscent of a Zombie Apocalypse.  It feels like an army of the undead climbing over one another aimlessly, seeking only to infect others with that same sense of emptiness.  Within that sea of aimlessness, there are often mindful artists who despite the carnage around them chose to go to their practice rooms and do the diligent, soul-searching work of the artist.  They develop!  They get better! They become musicians and singing actors!  They are on a lifelong path of development and refinement.  But they are too often surrounded by that army of the dead of nay-sayers, that would encourage them to take the easy way out.  This reminds me of those changing a light-bulb jokes:

How many tenors does it take to change a light-bulb?

One!  Plus an army of onlookers saying: “Wouldn’t it be better if you sang high baritone, dear?
The punchline is really: “Isn’t that a little high for you, dear?”  But I hope the point is clear.  Developing high competence in anything requires time, patience, resilience, tears.  Athletes know that.  Great singers know this.  But the educational system is too often about getting students through a program that is too short and too limited in scope to train viable candidates for the classical singing world.  Hence, an army of zombies!
Singers at all levels should develop an inner sense of when they are truly competent and ready for market.  Yes they need knowledgeable people who know the realities of the market who can advise them as to when they have the physical, vocal, musical and emotional wherewithal to confront the professional market.

At every level, singers should be encourage to spend private time learning how to create art!  We should all follow the principle espoused in Friedrich Rückert’s wonderful short poem, “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder…”  Take private time to create fine art!  Then offer it like a precious gift to the audience!

In a music business environment that is bent on pushing singers onstage as soon as they can make an inoffensive sound and look attractive on camera, singers owe it to themselves to be more honest judges of their own talents and take appropriate distance from a business that does not have their best interest in mind.
© September 9 2017

One thought on “Necessary Artistic Distance: Avoiding Codependence Between the Art and Business of Classical Singing

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  1. I love your Posts and have been reading them for a while.

    I am having a bit of a vocal fach crisis and maybe I shouldn't at this particular age but It's just that I love Opera so much and have been singing things that my supposed Lyric Baritone voice shouldn't be able to sing.

    I'm 19 years old (I know very young) and am currently in my sophomore year of undergrad work.

    I have been classified as a lyric Baritone and I totally understand that because the lyric Baritone rep suits me well right now and doesn't push my voice to any extremes.

    I have found over the last year thought that my voice has gotten higher with much less weight as I havent tried to overdarken my sound. My passagio points are around C/C# and F/F# and I have been able to increasingly sing tenor arias in my practice and vocalize all the way up to a Eb on a good day (although its not pretty).

    I know that I'm not a lyric tenor anything I just feel like it's getting harder and harder to sing Baritone rep and I know that at such a young age one shouldn't classify their voice type. My question is based what I've told you, is there any chance that I could become a Tenor or dramatic Tenor one day? What would be your advice? Keep singing high Baritone rep or maybe try some low Tenor art songs? How long does a voice take to mature into what it will become? I appreciate any advice you can give to me at such a young age in this life long process that I'm about to go through.

    Thanks again


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