WORK ethic

Sunday, 19 August 2012

This month has been a bit crazy.  Going straight from speaking at The Singing Entrepreneur and Co-Opera in London at the beginning of the month into production rehearsals for Carmen at the Seefestspiele in Berlin has been manic!  In the run up to the show we were called almost every day for long days in a rather warm rehearsal room.  Then, rehearsing on the main stage (Hauptbühne) for the Klavierproben, Klavierhauptprobe 1 + 2, Generalprobe.  Exciting, and a great learning experience.  We are now into the performances (see the Premier screened here online on the ARTE website) and will be going until the 2nd September.

People are always asking me if I am getting to ‘do a role’ in the production.  Well, I have done Frasquita in opera excerpts recently and know the role, but I am proud to say that I am in the chorus.  For several reasons: firstly, it’s work, WIN.  Secondly, it’s paid, WIN.  Thirdly, the director and conductor and soloists are amazing.  Fourthly – and this is the most important – everyday we are on stage, learning our craft.  Getting to sing on a big stage to a big audience, with a professional orchestra and crew, is one of the best things that I think we could be doing as young singers.  Each day is a masterclass as we watch the soloists pacing themselves through roles, seeing how much they give emotionally and the limits they push themselves to as they act through the role.  We get to watch them play and in turn we get to play ourselves.  We are challenged to work as a group and make the experience as enjoyable and exciting as possible for the public.  How far can we go, what journey are we on, how much can we express – physically and vocally?  Of course we would do the same if we were soloists too, but this is all about baby steps, and this is a stepping stone to understanding and taking the plunge to doing something similar ourselves in the future.

It is great to be required to be at ‘work’ in the evening (to me it still feels too much like fun so calling it work is weird), but it has set me thinking about my work ethic in general.  It would be very, very easy to go along, have a good time, mess around backstage, stay after and have a few drinks, get up late etc etc etc…  BUT.  Please don’t call me a Nana, but I don’t want to do that.  I want a better work ethic.  I want to make the most of this opportunity and not become complacent just because I have some work.   So, I have regularly taken to sitting backstage (normally in front of a beautiful Wannsee sunset so no complaints) with the score to my next project.  This varies depending on mood from lieder to opera or books I’m reading as research, but it’s all relevant.  Perhaps I am some über-driven, hyper-motivated workaholic, but I think it’s important to manage time properly so that you can relax and have proper down time when it comes.

This leads me onto my next point.  I think time management/being intelligent with our time is just as important when it comes to practice as well as learning.  There is NO POINT in constantly singing.  No point.  I actually try to sing as little as possible.  My practice is mental, in my head, and magically my voice doesn’t tire.  At the same time I become more aware and conscious of the harmony and orchestration and the musical and character decisions I wish to make.  Then, when I do practice (i.e. the actual singing bit) I practice smart.  This is a phrase taught to me by the wonderful singer I learnt with in Turn, and what she means is, there is no point constantly singing, or singing at all really, if you are just repeating stuff or ‘singing things through’.   You have to practice smart.  And by that I mean, work things into the voice slowly, get the placement for each note, get the body conscious of that placement and use your emotional barometer to guide you.  Maybe everybody instinctively does this, or is a dutiful student and has been taught how to work diligently and slowly rather than just bashing through.  But I didn’t, and learning to practice smart has made the most wonderful difference.  Another thing I now LOVE to do (which I KNOW I was always told to do…) is learn the words first (inspired by another friend of mine who does the same – you know who you are!).  Translate the poetry, speak it, feel it.  I try not to even touch the music now until I have got the feel for the character’s journey through the text.

At The Singing Entrepreneur weekend, a beautiful, talented friend of mine gave a speech that was very close to my heart, about the moves we make from Student, to Singer, to Artist and on to Diversifying.  I found it wonderfully enlightening.  What she said struck me, as it occurred to me that there is no time scale for this journey – Student to Singer to Artist.  The speed you travel through need not be predetermined by your stepping stones through the training ladder.  The only person who can move you to the next level is you.  What do you ask of yourself?  Is it enough to approximate the text and get the music just-about-right?  Or is there more to be demanded?

What is the difference between the mentality of being a student, to being a professional singer, to being a bonafide artist?  An artist who is independently making his or her own decisions from a real depth of understanding of the text and the score?  Who challenges us to do that?  I don’t really have the answer to my own question I’m afraid, but my instinctive answer is that it is our own responsibility.

It all sounds a lot like hard work…  But no one ever said it was easy.  And…  It’s FUN!!!

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