Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Do I Sing? Part 3: And with Whom?

Sunday musings...

As you begin to truly discover your LIFE and thus, your artistry, with whom do you sing?

And I am not talking colleagues, I am talking teachers and coaches.

If you speak to anybody who has been in our industry for more than a minute (!) - singers, actors, directors, conductors, teachers and coaches - you will find that we have ALL survived a teacher or coach who did not have our best interests at heart.

The key word is survive.  If we do not survive, we are doomed.  Sadly, it happens.  I have seen the collateral damage of this business all too often and it disgusts me and saddens me.

The collateral damage of spirit and talent does not come from an innate flaw in the artist, but rather, a vulnerability that was taken advantage of in such a way that there was no repair.  To me, this is criminal.  No person or institution has the right to do this, yet we see it all the time.

So, how do we survive?

We must know what we are entering and with whom.  We cannot trust blindly.  Trust is earned. We must DARE to ask questions of ourselves - and be aware EVERY step of our journey.  We cannot assume because somebody calls themselves a teacher, a coach, a school of music, that they are about providing for the singer what that singer needs.

Survival, and then, the ability to thrive, has to do with the ability to SEE CLEARLY, and in spite of what is thrown at us, we can move through and forward.

A marvellous dramatic soprano with whom I have the honour of working, Kristine Dandavino, was telling me this morning how she is canning tomatoes out of her garden today (her garden is one of her many passions!) and how she was seeing so many links between how plants grow and how it relates to singing:  a plant will try to find a way to grow - if one way doesn't work, it will bend another in order to get what it needs!  And ironically, she was finding the best tomatoes in the less than ideal locations and the tomatoes she had planted in what seemed to be ideal locations, were actually not thriving.

Why do I share this with you?  To simply illustrate the point, that just because it seems the best place to be as a singer, isn't always the case.  That it is up to YOU to determine where you need to be and where you ARE and who you put your trust in.  Nobody can do that for you.  And if you misplace your trust, (welcome to the real world!) you must have to fortitude to recognize that, and walk away or run screaming - whatever is appropriate!

There are marvellous teachers and coaches everywhere.  Also lurking in plain sight are those that are not there for the best interest of the singer.  Be it in private practice or at an institution, our business attracts all of them.  You , the singer are not responsible for the sanctity of an institution - you are responsible for yourself and your education!  You, the singer are not responsible for the mental or emotional well-being, or ego, of a teacher or coach over your development as an artist!!

This has nothing to do with fairness, cause guess what? When was life fair?  This has to do with morality, ethic and ultimately the survival and growth and development of you, the artist.

Lack of experience, vulnerabilities, insecurities can all feed into the teacher or coach or institution that does not look out for the singer's best interests.  

We all have vulnerabilities and insecurities.  No matter our experience, we must be willing and able to recognize them as fully as possible in order for that not to be a liability in our development!  

We can get played; we can be taken advantage of; but we ultimately must be honest with ourselves in order to find that survival energy that removes us from that situation swiftly and cleanly in order to heal and move on.

As important as it is to discover these mentors through private work or within the walls of an institution, as is it also imperative that we as singers discover truth about ourselves ON OUR OWN!!!!  If we do not, we will continually fall into traps and potholes.  After awhile, the exhaustion of those falls can collapse us and make decisions for us.

No one decides your life but YOU!  Ultimately, your artistic path and your artistic choices are YOURS! You decide where and with whom.  YOU DECIDE.  With decision comes great personal RESPONSIBILITY.  With responsibility comes KNOWLEDGE.  Knowledge is power.  Delusion is easy.  Knowledge takes time, takes work, and it often means getting dirt under your nails and sweating a bit.  Delusion is a facade that is created in order to project falsely.  Knowledge and truth is rooted and grounded and will survive, and when given the conditions, will thrive!

Do not put your vulnerabilities in the hands of an institution or a human being that does not treat them with respect and care.  Your artistic life and growth is yours.  Take charge of it fully. See clearly, look carefully.  Recognize that not everything that seems to be there is actually there.  Dare to stare at it until the glamour disappears and the reality emerges.  Dare to take the time and energy to find the soil that will allow you survival.  

Where do you need to be as an artist?  NEED TO BE??? Not where do you want to be, or would like to be, or are told to be, but where DO YOU NEED TO BE?

Dare to be there.  Dare to be honest and tell the truth to yourself about yourself.  You  then have the power to survive.  If you do not learn to survive, you will not.


  1. "The collateral damage of spirit and talent does not come from an innate flaw in the artist, but rather, a vulnerability that was taken advantage of in such a way that there was no repair." FREAKING BRILLIANT. I love this b/c it's soooo true b/c no one is immune to being vulnerable in front of someone at some point in time.