People say the dumbest things to opera singers.
“Don’t you just LOVE Josh Groban/Andrea Bocelli/the latest six-year-old cherub being exploited on national tv?”
“Why don’t you go on America’s Got Talent?”
“Do you sing at the Met? Oh. Well, keep trying.”
People ask the dumbest things of opera singers.
“Oh my gawd, you’re an OPERA SINGER? Sing something!”
“Can you sing something from Phantom of the Opera?”
“So what do you do, teach?”
We’ve all got a million of those stories, and they’re annoying. It’s really tiresome to constantly be put on the spot and expected to defend what you do for a living. It’s not something that often happens to accountants and car repairmen and pharmacists. Furthermore, it’s frequently done by total strangers; or worse, a family member or friend --- someone who should know better, and somehow just doesn’t. For them, you’ve suddenly become a novelty, a passing moment of trivial entertainment, like a clickbait story about a rescued puppy. SHE LOOKED LIKE A HOMELESS PERSON BUT WHEN SHE OPENED HER MOUTH, I COULDN’T BELIEVE WHAT CAME OUT.
This sort of thing can make you want to slap Mother Theresa with a dead baby harp seal, all right. But let us not endanger our immortal souls any more than absolutely necessary. Let’s all take a nice relaxing sip of our beverage of choice, inhale deeply, and enjoy a refreshing bit of perspective.
As artists, we wear an awful lot of hats, and one of them is always going to be educator --- or as I prefer to think of it, Ambassador. We are ambassadors for our art. Opera as a genre is not familiar to most people, and what they do know of it comes from limited, often inferior sources: reality TV, beauty pageants, bad commercials. (If they’re very lucky, what they know about opera comes from Bugs Bunny.) There’s no point in getting mad at people for being fed bad information. And if in the palace of your mind you get to be an AMBASSADOR, complete with a shiny satin sash and a big buttoniere and maybe (just maybe) a tiara or silk top hat, perhaps you can find it in yourself to be a little less annoyed by innocent though ignorant queries, and allow yourself to partake in what my favorite high school teacher (Hi, Ma Hilsabeck!) used to refer to as a “teachable moment”. If the query isn’t so innocent; if it’s, say, from your prune-faced Great Aunt Felicia or your fart-joke loving yahoo of a brother-in-law and they’re just trying to get a rise out of you, AMBASSADOR YOU STILL WINS. You win by using your impressive lung power and endurance to wax enthusiastic allegrissimo and at length, complete with da capo and ornamentation, hanging on the miscreant’s sleeve, until you have just educated all the sass out of them.
And there’s more good news: after you’ve ambassadored the heck out of either situation, you can go in for the kill. Being an Ambassador for your art also means being an ambassador for your very own career, so why not make the most of these all-too-frequent encounters and use them to invite people to your shows, visit your website, or sign up for your newsletter? Networking is a vital part of our business, and you never know where the next great contact is going to come from or what it might gain you.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. One of the reasons this sort of situation is so very annoying is because it usually happens when you’re just minding your own business, being a regular human person, not at all in diva mode; or else at one of those glitter-bosom parties where you are supposed to be in diva mode but you end up standing around with a sweating drink in your hand, feeling like a trained monkey. What to do, what to do?
I don’t usually use this blog as a platform for advertising, but because February 1 is a special day, just this once I’m-a gonna do it. In celebration of my Business of Singing website relaunch, I’m giving a free short webinar entitled How To Create a One Minute Demo, designed to help singers answer those awkward and annoying questions with ease and confidence, and more importantly, how to turn them into an opportunity to network and advertise for yourself --- to be a great ambassador for your art and your career.
The webinar takes place on Saturday, February 6 from 11:00-11:30 a.m. EST. If you’d like to join, send an email to Info@TheBusinessOfSinging.com with WEBINAR in the subject line, and make sure you’ve registered to receive the newsletter (don’t worry, it’ll have good stuff in it, I promise).
Whether or not you make it to the webinar, remember this. Promoting opera and classical music as an art form, and promoting yourself as an artist, is in your best interests. It may also be helpful to think of it as a part of your job --- because it is. When we sign on to be performers, we sign on to be in the public eye and subject to public comment. We do have some control over how much of that we accept, but we must accept some. Nobody enjoys doing all of their job all of the time, but look at it this way --- answering silly, annoying, and yes, ignorant questions is part the price we pay for having one of the coolest jobs in the world. It’s part of the price we pay for being ambassadors for art.