arts

One more thing!

I realized there was one more point I wanted to add to my previous blog post:

You only need a fraction of the people to say yes to you.
In fundraising, one of my managers told me I make an average of 65 phone calls per hour. (Obviously, the only reason one can average that many phone calls is because most people don't pick up.) :) Out of all those phone calls, you're doing well if you get even just one gift that week. On the singing front, I recently saw an interview with the actress Bryce Dallas Howard--in it, she talks about how the average number of jobs an established actor gets, out of the number of auditions they do, is 1 out of 64. (I'm including a link to the interview here. The part I'm referring to starts at 13:56, though the whole interview is well worth-watching.) I know that that number of auditions or phone calls seems daunting, but there's something so liberating in knowing that all you need to fund a world-class arts organization, or be an established performer, is have a fraction of the people say yes to you. All it takes is one performance to be broadcast on national radio, or one audition to get hired by an opera house--but you have to do the other 63 or so auditions to get there.

Pledges, persistence, and the performing arts

Recently, I met with my former boss in arts fundraising, and he said that he believed every artist should work in fundraising sometime in their lives--the lessons you learn there teach you a lot about the resilience and perseverance you need to pursue a career in the arts. In my experience working in fundraising, I absolutely agree with him, and here are a few of the things I've learned that I'd like to pass on:

Rough periods come with the territory
One of my current bosses said to me that sometimes, even the most experienced agents (people who close over $1,000 in one phone call) can go for as long as three weeks without closing so much as a $5 token gift in that period. 
This is not for lack of fine tuning how you pitch, or how you work on your craft and branding as a singer. This is to say that even when those things are finely tuned, you'll still go through rough periods. There are many things that are in your control, such as what you offer in your audition package, or how you tailor your fundraising pitch. At the same time, there are still many factors that aren't in your control, such as the stock market--in the case of fundraising--, or whether you happen to be what the panelists are looking for--in the case of singing.
When you know periods like these come with the territory, you're able to be much more resilient, and far less likely to beat yourself up. I've been through those sale-less periods, and I know how disheartening they can be. I'd be told by my bosses and managers that nothing was wrong, and to just keep pitching until I finally close. The same has been true for singing. And all of that said...

Tides change
When you know your pitch, or audition, is strong, and you continue to fine tune them, then it's just a matter of time before the tides change. I've personally experienced this, in both these areas of my life. 
In fundraising, there was a period in which I went a full week without a single sale--then, I closed $3,600 in one phone call, and then $2,000 a couple of days after that. There wasn't much rhyme or reason as to what I did differently--I offered more or less the same pitch as I had done the entire week before. Other external factors had changed, and that's all that happened--those external factors weren't in my control, and I had to persist in pitching until those fell into place. 
Similarly, there was a period about a couple of years ago which looked quite bleak--I was about to produce one of my concerts, but I couldn't see far past that. Four days after I performed that concert, I got a phone call asking if I'd like to have that performance broadcast on national radio. That experience was my singing equivalent of going a full week without closing a single sale, and then closing $3,600, and then $2,000 in only two phone calls. 
That big "yes" could be right around the corner, but you can't necessarily see it yet. 

Celebrate every success along the way
Of course we all strive to close those big individual sales, or to get those big gigs (radio broadcast or otherwise). If you don't celebrate every success along the way, though--small and big--, you're all but guaranteed to burn out. In fundraising, every token gift matters. Celebrating even the most seemingly minor of token gifts is important as a validation of your ability to close sales--also, that token gift helped open the door to hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate grants, which are awarded to arts organizations on the basis of participation; besides, as one of my managers said, "That's five dollars the [arts organization] didn't have before!"* 
In singing, there is typically a prescreening round for an audition, and the live audition round which follows. Auditions are incredibly selective, and not everyone gets to the live audition round--there are far more talented singers than there are slots available for that round of auditions. The competition to get from that live round to being accepted for a job is even more selective. Even getting to the live audition round, or the next round of a competition, is an achievement, regardless of the outcome--it is a validation that you were strong enough to stand out among many other singers to make it to that next level. While singers continue to strive for the highest possible results, making the next audition round is absolutely a success, and one shouldn't lose sight of that. (Also, even if you don't get that particular audition, you will have sung for people who could possibly hire you in the future. That's another reason getting to that next round is something to be proud of!)

Of course, all of the above is on the condition that you're fine tuning what you do, and that you have people around you who will help you get better and also encourage you along the way. 
If you are, though, and you're still passionate about what you're doing, then keep persevering. Your own personal $3,600 sale, or radio broadcast, could be right around the corner, even if you can't see it yet.

*(On a separate-but-related note, if every person called gave even only $5 each, that arts organization would raise an enormous amount of money in no time!)

How to give like a Medici without going broke

There is a lot of debate about whether the arts are declining in society, particularly with the seemingly-perpetual need for funds for the arts. Here is my take on the topic:

The arts (performing, visual, etc.) are a fundamental human need. They are incredibly important, because they bring beauty and creativity to the world. They give us permission to feel deeply. For this reason, the arts will always be with us, whichever form they take, and no one expresses that idea better than Karl Paulnack, in his welcome speech at the Boston Conservatory. (Here is a link to it.

However, the same cannot be said of your beloved arts organization or artist--national, local, or otherwise. They may not survive without your support. The New York City Opera, the Baltimore Opera Company, and the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet are just a few of the organizations that have had to close recently because of lack of funding. 

The need for patronage and funding in the arts is nothing new. In fact, funding is such a fundamental need in the arts, that it's difficult to talk about the names of artists in history, without talking about the patrons who made their work possible. Examples include Monteverdi and the Gonzagas, Diego Velázquez and King Philip IV of Spain, Haydn and the Esterhazys.

Now, you don't have to be a European aristocrat to help the arts in your communities! (I'm certainly not!) ;) There are several ways to support the arts:

One way to do so is through donations. Another great way is through membership (if available), since you will also receive exclusive benefits to the very arts organizations you love and value, anything from unlimited museum entry for the year to getting to meet the stars in that particular field. For example, I got to skip the miles-long lines to see the special Matisse exhibit recently at MoMA because of a Global membership there--not to mention the unlimited entry I get to the museum the rest of the year! I also had a Parterre seat at Carnegie Hall for only $20(!) to Stephanie Blythe's recital this month, because I'm a part of Notable Preludes there (at a "whopping" $20 for the year!) Membership is a fantastic way to get these kinds of benefits, while also helping your arts organizations.  
For those of you interested in higher-level memberships, you can frequently do the payments in installments, with less financial burden on you, and a major positive impact on your arts organization!


Most websites have information as to ways you can support your arts in your community, whether on a national or local level. This is often on their websites under "Support" or "Membership." Often, there are also match grants, which means that a trustee is matching every dollar you give, doubling the impact of your donation. This is a very easy way to make a larger impact, with little effort on your part!

Also, a lot of arts organizations apply for grants, which are awarded on the basis of participation. This means they are awarded on the basis of how many people have given to that organization, not how much they gave. This means that even giving an arts organization the amount you would spend on a cup of coffee would help open the door to hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money. 

If you love the arts in your community, and want them to continue, please support them in any way you can. By doing so, you make sure that the specific art YOU love can continue. There is no amount so small that it wouldn't make a positive and significant impact. The arts help to bring the best of humanity, excellence, beauty, and vulnerability to the world. Please do what you can to help bring the arts in your life.

4 Realities about business and the arts

I recently started working for a world-renowned arts organization; I fundraise for it by calling its patrons.  I've been learning an immense amount by working for an established arts organization about how business and the arts intersect.  Here are just a few of the things I've learned, and some direct applications to singing.  (Spoiler alert:  I’ve found all the things I learned incredibly heartening!)

1.  The arts and business absolutely go together.
Arts organizations must have money for space, sets, artists’ salaries, and more.  Donors receive the satisfaction of keeping the arts alive, along with a huge number of benefits with membership, which could include anything from getting to skip long lines in museums, to meeting the stars in that field, and a multitude of other benefits. 
This brings me to one of the most important lessons I learned here, which is that being able to carve a future for and fund any art form begins with understanding its value both in dollar terms and on the spiritual level.  That is the jumping-off point for funding it, and bringing the arts to audiences.  Something happened recently at our offices that really reinforced this concept for me:  a few weeks ago, there was a performance given at the studios there.  The time the performance happened coincided with our work hours.  We were told we could go see the performance, and the time would be paid if we did.  The reason it would be paid was because loving and appreciating the performance would help make us better salespeople.  With that fundamental belief in place, I believe it's no accident that the organization is celebrating several decades of excellence.

Likewise, singers are far more likely to “sell” their performances to an audience or panel if they truly love and are emotionally invested in the pieces they are singing.  While they must sing pieces suited to their strengths and weaknesses, opera is unique in that it has an over-400-year-old music catalogue to choose from.  They can find arias that they love AND which suit them.  In turn, love of and belief in the material will shine through, which is necessary component to closing any sale.  If you believe in what you're bringing to people, then you stand a chance of making the sale and having a lasting impact.

2.  Everything one does in the arts helps bring them to more people.
People become members of an arts organization for a variety of reasons.  To give only two examples:  some buy a membership because they already love the art form, others because they are new to the art form and want to learn more about it.  Whatever the reason, reaching out to patrons helps to plant the seed of the arts, or to nurture it where it already exists.  This concept was made clear to me when I met with the Head of Membership at the offices for the first time.  He said to me that, along with fundraising, our goal is to inspire/encourage people to love the arts;  perhaps the people who come onboard as members at the entry level will become longtime patrons who will continue to love and support the arts for years to come.
Similarly, from a singer's point of view, someone may come to a performance of yours because they already love opera, or perhaps because they are new to it and want to learn more about it.  Regardless of why they came, each person who comes to that performance is exposed to opera and its power to heal.  This helps to build a community of people who experience that unique power and will nurture it for years to come.  Whether fundraising for the arts or performing operas and concerts, everything we do plays a role in building a future for the arts.

3.  Your best chance of success (sales or singing) is in being yourself.
One of the things we are constantly encouraged to do at the office is to give the fundraising sales pitch with our own voice.  Each agent takes a different approach from the others, yet we are all able to close big sales. Similarly, when I look back on my path as a singer, my biggest breakthroughs have come when I used, and was true to, my own voice, physically and metaphorically, regardless of whether or not it fit someone else’s preconception.

4.  What you do truly makes a difference.

In my first week at my job, one of my managers spoke on the phone with someone who was going through difficult medical treatment.  She told him that the time she spent in the theater was time in which she could keep her mind off her treatment.  Weeks later, we still talk about that phone call, and it puts things into perspective when we’re trying to convince someone to come onboard as a member.
Even though some people hang up on you in telefunding, and even though a singer gets rejections after auditions, what we do in the arts truly makes a meaningful difference in other people's lives.  People told me last summer that my concert in Tel Aviv helped them get their minds off the war that was taking place there at the same time.  (I blogged about that experience earlier.)  THIS is the difference we are capable of making in the lives of others through the arts, and these moments are major reminders that at the end of the day, performing really is not mainly about you. 
Ironically, though, that knowledge is what gives me new-found freedom to promote performances of mine and of my colleagues.  While it can sometimes feel uncomfortable "selling yourself" to an audience or panel of judges, I end up asking myself:  Is there anything more worthwhile to sell to people, than something which has made a profound and meaningful difference in people's lives, and continues to do so?

Arts and war

I wrote a few words I wanted to share with my audience at my concert tomorrow, to include in my program, and I realized I wanted to share them here as well:

I planned this program for a concert scheduled to take place at the beginning of this month in Tel Aviv, Israel. When I was planning it, there was no way I could know that I would perform it in the midst of a war.

During the nearly two-and-a-half-month period I was in Israel, sirens frequently sounded, warning all of us to seek shelter from the rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip. In fact, one of the missiles we took shelter from was intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket defense system right above the apartment building I was staying in, creating a loud explosion overhead.

There wasn't (and still isn't) anyone in Israel who isn't personally affected by the war. My cousin was drafted to active military service, as were the brother of one of my friends and the husband of another. Despite all this, many arts events of all kinds went on as scheduled in Israel, including my concert.

This raises the question: Why do we care about something so seemingly frivolous as the performing arts during a time in which our safety is threatened?

The answer is that we still care because the arts are not frivolous at all. Opera, the art form I have chosen to devote myself to as a profession, is unique in that it is the only one in which you get to experience the emotional and physical power of the unamplified human voice—whether you are singing yourself or whether you are sitting in the audience. Without anything to alter the voice—such as microphones and amplifiers—the singer is uniquely exposed and the audience deeply engaged.

During the war, we all were constantly exposed to the ways in which people could be at their most inhumane, both through hearing the booms of intercepted missiles and from watching the news on TV. During a time such that, it seemed more crucial than ever to experience the humanity we all share—in this instance, through the combination of the power and vulnerability of the human voice.

With all this in mind, we present tonight's concert to you in the hope that these masterpieces touch your heart and renew your spirit.