Earlier this week I had the privilege of returning to the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass to work with the Masters level voice students as they prepare for the holiday break.
I expected some serious burnout at this point in the semester, and I tiptoed into the topics, not knowing how the reaction would be. I asked, “How y’all doin?” and leaned on the desk as we got to know each other. It immediately became clear: far from burnt out, these singers were “amped up” and eager to get a plan in place. We were off and running on what was to be a very productive two hour session.
At Longy, they do something very smart — they require this Monday seminar for all of their graduate level singers, and it becomes a catch-all for guest artists, special presentations and collaboration. I think it really pays off that they have this time set aside to bring in folks like me. Then they don’t have to pull teeth or beat a drum to get the students excited and energized about these “special” topics. The field is tilled, the soil is ready to receive. I think this setup helps make my visits to Longy very productive.
We talked through some of the basic principles of maintaining an active, “living” document to serve as a business plan. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it doesn’t need to contain every last element fully fleshed out, it just needs to be alive and relevant and easy.
It also helps to drop a reminder into your calendar for the two or three times a year that you will revisit these topics. January and August are the best planning times for me, and it sounds like for many other singers. Some of the students at Longy also suggested that mid-semester can also be a great time to revisit your strengths & weaknesses list or to check in with a goals list.
While in Boston, I also had the chance to meet with a few colleagues at different schools, checking in with them and learning a bit more about how their work is progressing. When they asked about my sessions at Longy, I ended up mostly describing the one-on-one sessions that I did Monday afternoon.
I began these sessions a touch low on energy after scarfing down some delicious New England clam chowder, but I found myself basically bouncing off of the walls by 5:00 when I wrapped up. These students each had such unique stories and such profound passion for what they do. I was delighted and invigorated because I felt well equipped to address so many of their questions, and where I wasn’t sure, I confessed my ignorance and moved the topic along.
Among other things, I kept revisiting what has become somewhat of a mantra for me:
- If you want to be a professional singer, simply do one thing: build and sustain a lifestyle of singing.
It is completely within your control. Fear not! Those that ‘win’ at this game are those that can sustain the lifestyle the longest. That’s it. Talent helps, sure, as does getting a few good breaks. It is easier to sustain the lifestyle if you have the support of friends and family, of course. But it is completely up to you.
As Stephen Pressfield writes in his fantastic book about battling resistance and self-defeating behavior in the creative arts, The War of Art:
- “There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.”
If you don’t already have a copy, I highly suggest picking one up, especially if you want to get psyched up over a holiday break!