Paddle your own canoe

Back at the beginning of August I spoke at The Singing Entrepreneur forum. It was great, and I keep on referring back to the time there and considering what we were discussing. This next post is where my thoughts have been headed since the huge amount of information we heard went into my head… Particularly my thoughts on auditions – given how many of us are preparing for them in the busy autumn season.

I was at TSE to speak generally about my experiences, and the fact that my experience has accumulated outside of the traditional route through training. This doesn’t mean I don’t have any training, but it is perhaps more ad hoc in that I don’t have any specific guidance or a time-scale. This has upsides and downsides.

Firstly, what do we want from our training? I decided I wanted the following (one not being more or less important than any of the others):
Great teaching
Great coaching
To understand the system
To understand my voice – fach
Confidence/Stage experience

I have managed to acquire all of these things through my own tenacity (my Mum’s word!) and determination. I am lucky in that I have experienced more upsides than downsides and things have gone well for me. When telling people what I am up to I would never lie and say that is easy doing it ‘privat’, but nor would I say that it is impossible. We make our own opportunities. We cannot just take what is given to us, but we should seek our own future and make it happen.

It’s all very well and good me saying that from my little pedestal in Germany, but how does it actually happen?

I’m afraid that I don’t know!

But what I do know is that BEING HERE was the key. By being here I am doing something different. Taking a risk. Ok, nothing is guaranteed to come from it, but nothing is guaranteed anyway. Had I not come to Germany I would never have met the brilliant coaches I work with here. Had I not come to Germany I wouldn’t have been singing in the three productions I have performed in this summer, or be preparing to go to Israel in two weeks. Had I not come to Germany I would not have had the incredible teachers that I have worked with. Had I stayed at home….? I am not sure all of this would have happened. In fact I know that it wouldn’t have happened and instead I would have been taking what opportunities I could from my hometown and focusing on re-trying to audition for music college. In effect, I would not have been progressing in the same way.

I essentially moved to Germany (and then everything else that followed) because I wasn’t successful in some auditions last December. This doesn’t mean the auditions weren’t a success, but they became successful through what I did with the experience.

And from that, I learnt a rather important lesson: an audition is NOT a validation of whether or not you can sing.I repeat:


The fact that you can sing is actually a given. If you are auditioning at a high level, say postgraduate or opera school or professionally. Of course you can sing! The question then, is whether you suit the institution that you are auditioning for at that time. What skills do you bring to them that they need, and are they equipped to help you on your path? Do you suit each other?

What do we think classifies as a career? I personally do not think a career is validated by competition wins, or places at prestigious schools.  Thinking of a career as points based, where you get an A or a stamp for doing well isn’t actually preparing a young person for their career.  We should be grateful to be making music and communicating with our audiences, not thinking in terms of a defined ‘career path’. We have to paddle our own canoes (copyright Emma Grossmith!) and not worry about what everyone else is doing.  We are all different, all our voices are different, that’s what makes this so wonderful and fascinating.  We do not need to do the same thing.

As far as I see it, the actual path is unimportant – it’s what you make of it. Not everybody who follows the traditional route gets the same career.  And the light at the end of the tunnel (ie a contract or regular work) is actually where the hard work begins, then the challenge is to continue….! When it comes to auditions, don’t see it as a test of ability, see it as a chance to share your voice and musiciality with the others in the room. Enjoy it… And paddle your own canoe.

4 thoughts on “Paddle your own canoe

  1. Love this post! It’s so true. I spent a lot of time doing the traditional training route, and I was far too complacent. I didn’t paddle my own canoe, I waited for the current to take me somewhere, and then I got frustrated when it didn’t! And I used to totally believe that auditions were a validation of whether or not I could sing. So when an audition went badly, I reacted by putting myself down and thinking I was a crap singer. Both of these ways of thinking led me nowhere fast. It wasn’t until I started to really light a fire under myself and get out there to see what was off of the beaten path that I started to do well and feel better about myself.
    I also like what you said about the auditions being successful through what you did with the experience. It’s all about how you react to these things isn’t it? I didn’t get into a certain opera school – twice – because the director didn’t feel I was the type of actress he could work with. Oh well! The place I’m going will probably be much better-equipped to help me with my acting. I’m a big believer in things happening for the best, and I think people usually end up going where they need to be. But you have to look for opportunities yourself, not just expect them to land in your lap!
    I’m really trying to change my attitude now… it’s a long journey, I’m not quite there yet. But I have to say I’m always really impressed with your positive attitude and initiative, and I see them as an excellent example to follow!

  2. Some sage advice from a retired baritone: when climbing your ladder to success, you need to learn to step aside and let people pass you on the way up, and continue your steady climb at your own pace.

  3. I saw your web address on OperaTalk in Facebook. I’m glad I clicked into your page! My training has been outside of the traditional route until recently, and I can identify with the experiences you have faced on your blog.

    The greatest weakness in man is Doubt. And in this profession you will have your fair share of this!!! All we can do are perfecting our art and not to give up the dream. The only things that are guarenteed in life are Death and Taxes. I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to your progress…. 🙂

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