As someone who has a stiletto firmly planted on both sides of the tracks (!!) in opera and music theatre, I get to see the extreme stereotypes and everything in between in both businesses.
Do not let it fool you - these businesses are VERY different, but can learn from each other!!
My musings today are about the extremes of what I see in the cultures and share them with you to see where you see yourself. If you see yourself in these extremes, or even close to it - perhaps it is time (just a suggestion of course!) to come back from the ledge and re-evaluate why you are there and what you are doing it for! The stereotypes/extremes are there for a reason - and can allow for more positive possibilities for you the singer instead of falling into the stereotype too easily!
One extreme seen is this: In opera, a singer relinquishing their own thought and activities to the mercy of the "guru/teacher": they can't pee without permission and must ask permission for EVERYTHING they do from this teacher; The other extreme, in music theatre is the singer who doesn't think they need a teacher at all!!!!
The extreme: In opera, becoming so wound up in the "perfection of voce" that it ties your ability to perform in knots! In music theatre, believing that "it's good enough" when it's not good at all!!
The extreme: In opera, where technique leads and we see nothing else! In music theatre, where technique doesn't exist!!
The extreme: In opera, investing in study/coaching/languages and never allowing it to breathe and become artistry; In music theatre, never learning how to invest - that is it always "good enough" even when the voice isn't built, the music not really learned...
These are just some extremes...there are MANY in both businesses!!!
Singers in both businesses need to recognize the culture they are in, and challenge it! How? By challenging oneself first!!!!
Learning how to be honest with self is probably the most difficult thing. Denial is part of stress management. We need that to survive at times. However, self-delusion is something else.
You are not a power to be reckoned with if you've never carried a show yet or can't book a job! Calling yourself that does not make you that! This is delusion.
You are not useless just because you haven't booked that job yet! That is also delusion!
Where should a singer be in the extreme stereotypes? Obviously not at the extremes!!!
Opera singers could learn some things from music theatre singers, and most definitely vice versa!
In a perfect world, in MY mind, this is what I would like to see:
Singers in both cultures learn to trust themselves with the guide of teachers and coaches and not the enabling of teachers and coaches. (and also know the DIFFERENCES between teachers and coaches - worse in the music theatre world - a teacher is not the same as a coach!!!!)
Your teachers and coaches are your guides - and a place to bounce ideas off of and a place to explore and discover. They are not a place to be fearful of nor a place to answer to. They are NEEDED for the right reasons!!!
Even the great talents of our worlds still study!!!! They might not study with a teacher every week, or work with a coach regularly - but they have the knowledge to see the truth and know when they need the workout!!!
If you cannot summon your talent at will - you still need a teacher! It's that simple. And with that study you need to practice (!!!!) to develop the muscular balance in order for the voice to function so you CAN begin to summon that talent at will!
Your teacher and your coaches cannot do that work for you, but you need their guidance to get you on the path of that self-discovery and development!
Singers in both cultures need to find a balance between VOICE and THEATRE. Both are needed in both cultures but often one is sacrificed for the other. Again - craft cannot be one-dimensional or it is false. All aspects of theatre - voice, language, musicality, physicality, characterization, breath, movement - must be respected and learned.
"Good enough" is NOT. This can happen in both cultures. In opera I have seen "well the voice is so beautiful that if she can't act it's good enough" and in music theatre I have seen "well, the notes are always right and the rhythms are approximate, so it's good enough" - and I say, uhm, NO IT'S NOT!!!! Approximate rhythms does not equal back-phrasing in music theatre - it's just wrong!!! Ignoring an important aspect of theatre in opera to just showcase a voice is selling it out.
Why wouldn't we want to discover and develop OUR BEST SELVES???? Why would we want to pretend? To develop only parts of our craft? To make excuses instead of just work hard to achieve more? Why would we settle for "good enough" if we could really claim our ability and lead with it?
We must learn to trust ourselves. But the only way to trust self is to KNOW. And the only way to know is to LEARN. And the only way to learn is to COMMIT.
If you are too close to the extremes of stereotype - perhaps it's time to revamp your position. If you don't think you need any outside ears, perhaps it's time to shake your head. If you think you are a powerhouse then find out if that is in your own mind, or if it has a reality within the context of the culture you say you exist in.
The responsibility for the development of YOU - is you. If you need to sit down and take inventory, then do it. If you need to get off your butt and DO something, then do it. If you need to make changes, make them. If you think you need a wake up call, a new direction, a new possibility, then grab it!
Don't settle for the stereotype. Don't settle for good enough. Go get the BEST of you!
Susan Eichhorn Young
Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking.
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