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!)

A different kind of Throwback Thursday!

The first time I did a competition inside List Hall this year, I was super nervous. (For those of you who don't know, List Hall is an auditorium inside the Met.) 

Walking into the Met to get to List Hall is a thrilling experience, as you often do so by going backstage to get to the hall. You are immediately struck by the grand scale of the Met, the awe of being there, and the feeling of "Holey moley! I'm at the Met!" While it's all absolutely thrilling, I believe it is safe to say that going to List Hall to audition is not the most relaxing experience one could have! Even though I've done a few competitions there by now, that feeling of awe, mixed with nerves, never goes away.

While I was preparing myself for the audition, I ran across this quote:

I believe this was one of those moments of the right advice coming at the right time. It is so easy in a circumstance like this to get in the mindset of "Holy crap! This is a really important audition! I'd better get every little minuscule thing right! (*Cue the scary music!*). Taking this advice to heart helped relieve that to a large degree.

Of course, doing the best I can at what I do is important to me--I love what I do, and I absolutely believe it is worth it to do what I can (in my own small way) to keep bringing the unique vulnerability that only be expressed through opera.  

However, it's times like these in which it's great to be reminded that it's what I doIt isn't who I amEven if something were to go terribly wrong in the audition, for whatever reason, the world would keep on turning, I would still be able to keep on singing the next day, and the day after that. Also, I would be able to count on the support of my loved ones to be there for me, in my best and worst moments. (THAT is the most important thing of all!)

(P.S. The audition went well!)

Concurso Caballé

I had an absolutely wonderful time in my first international voice competition in Spain, and I have to thank the Caballés and everyone there for that. When I arrived on the day of the competition, Isabel Caballé came up to me with kisses on both cheeks, and said to me "Welcome to Zaragoza!"  She also said my name correctly(!), even though it's an unusual name.  She truly went above and beyond in making me feel welcome there, as did the whole staff. Then, when I walked in for my rehearsal with the pianist, Ricardo Estrada, I was greeted with a big smile and "good morning!"  We chatted a little bit about how that particular day, September 11, was a particularly charged one, both for Americans and Catalans.  We then proceeded to rehearse Caro nome, and although I was nervous for the competition, I also knew that Ricardo would be there with me, which helped put my mind at ease.

I'm happy with how I did in the competition--I did exactly what I set out to do when I left for Spain, which was to fully show up and be seen.  Any performance can be improved, but I also recognize that it was a huge achievement to have sung my first international singing competition.  I didn't make the semis or finals, but I learned a lot by watching them (so much so, I'm only processing and writing down everything now!)  Everything that I learned and that happened has set me up to put my best foot forward in the next competition I sing.  I also got wonderful feedback while I was there, with both new and longtime colleagues praising my performance in the first round.  The first round was also open to the audience, and the audience in Zaragoza is very warm and welcoming.  I will always treasure the woman who stopped me on the tram on the way back to my hotel, who told me that my Caro nome was wonderful, kissing her fingers in appreciation.  I will also treasure the colleague who, though she was taking several photos throughout the whole competition, told me she didn't want to take photos during my aria because the pianissimi were so quiet and controlled she didn't want to break the moment.  

In a competition with 304 competitors from 58 countries, I think it is incredibly special that 2 of the 48 semifinalists were from Israel.  Bravas to Tali Ketzef and Shahar Lavi!  Also, a huge bravo to my friend César Torruella for making it to the semifinals as well!

At the final of the competition, Caballé herself came to watch.  As soon as she entered the auditorium, the Sala Mozart at the Auditorio Palacio de Congresos, she received a standing ovation from the audience.  She had an entrance the way I imagine the Queen of England to have--dignified and grand, and deservedly so.  She then went on to sit in a special part of the hall, to listen to the finalists sing.

I had the privilege of seeing one of her public master classes as well, once the competition was over.  I enjoyed the whole masterclass, and there are two moments in particular which stand out in my mind, which solidify for me how great Caballé is.  The first was that she had all the students there do breathing exercises, holding their breath as long as they could while having weights on their abdomens.  Most of them got to around 40 seconds.  She then said that 40 seconds was nothing(!), and they should be able to hold it for two minutes.  (She then cited Verdi's Simon Boccanegra as an example of an opera for which you need that kind of breath control.)

Wow.  *Consider me humbled.*

Another moment which stood out to me was when she helped one of the singers there, the soprano Ioana Mitu.  She asked Caballé about something--I couldn't hear what it was, and I suspect the rest of the audience couldn't either, but it was something she wanted her advice with.  She went on to sing a glorious Jewel Song (from Gounod's Faust), and afterwards Caballé gave her reassurance, and embraced her in a motherly way.  I was touched by her caring.

I not only found the competition and masterclass to be illuminating, but my trip to Spain, in general, as well!  Next blog post coming up! :)

Daring greatly

I'm absolutely excited and thrilled to bits (and a tad nervous, I admit!) about flying to Spain this weekend for the Concurso Caballé(!)  Besides the fact it's the competition of the iconic-and-amazing Montserrat Caballé herself, it's also making me think more about my upcoming audition and competition season in general.

I've been intensely preparing my audition repertoire, and I gained experience performing these arias in public several times, as we singers typically do.  I'm realizing, though, that my biggest goal for the upcoming audition season is far less about checking off a to-do list of things to prepare, than it is about a simpler, but in-my-opinion more difficult goal:  that of simply showing up fully and being seen.  As simple as this may sound, it takes a lot to fully expose yourself in front of an audience, even in the best of circumstances.  I think that if I can go out and do that, then there is no bigger success than that.  I know there's a 100% likelihood that I will think about the things that could have gone better in a performance I gave, and will surely be working on them continuously (eg "That note was a bit flat," "the high note wasn't as good today as it usually is," "I closed that 'e' vowel too much," etc etc etc.).  However, going out and daring greatly is a victory that I want to make sure I never lose sight of.  (Brené Brown moment, anyone?!)**  I think if one does that, then you put your best foot forward in an audition.  I don't mean all of this as treacly-sweet-"you-get-a-pat-on-the-head-and-a-gold-star" talk.  I mean, I want to make it a point to remind myself of why I think opera singing is so special---it's a chance to vulnerably and transparently share a lot of who you are with people, and by doing so dare greatly.  This is my main value, and no matter what happens in this audition season, I know I'll be able to find my way home (so to speak) by reminding myself of that.

Now, ¡Vámonos!  :)


**P.S. I realize that Brene Brown is talking about romantic love in this video, but I think her point about daring greatly is very pertinent to this blog post.  :)