Monday, October 14, 2013

How I feel about Opera.

I began working on my application for Doctoral studies, I thought really hard about what I actually want in life and it began pouring out of me...

    I often visit the local public and charter high schools when I am able to go home to California. While I cannot consider myself a full-fledged opera professional, I know many of these students have never heard an aria, so performing for them is something I can personally offer to the local music teachers (who gave me my first introduction to singing and the theater). The local choir and drama teachers of these schools lack any kind of significant funding or parental support for their programs and often struggle to simply buy sheet music for their chorus, let alone hire any kind of outside performances from an opera company. The majority of these high school students had never heard an aria outside of a spaghetti commercial, so for them, hearing music making at this level was a glimpse into a world of music they never knew existed.
    In all of my studies performing and studying pedagogy, I find my heart lies in education of these students. Despite this amazing wealth of new resources for voice and choir teachers, there is a continuing discrepancy of music literacy and familiarity with the arts in public education. Private and Preparatory schools in the United States are able to offer their students choir and orchestral programs, music and art history courses, and curricular and after-school drama and musical programs. Many of the public schools are not able to offer these. I am an advocate for incorporating arts into the academic curriculum of multiple disciplines and someday hope to work with academic outreach programs to bring professional-level opera, theater, and classical music performances to children whose families would otherwise not be able to attend such performances. If I were to have some kind of access to funding and some singers willing to participate, I would be the first in line to work on some kind of reduced-length opera outreach program (English versions or opera vignettes) to travel to schools. Not only could such a program offer opportunities to schools and at-risk students,  who would likely never be able to afford to go to an opera house, but also give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to study roles, learn arias, incorporate staging and acting into their singing, and provide student accompanists with excellent repertoire to add to their resume. Many conservatories already participate in such a program, and with the right backing and support from the university, could be an excellent tool to recruit new students who may have never considered a career in music prior to such an experience. – To see the look on the face of even one student in the class who realizes that they may have found their new favorite type of music? It is the most rewarding feeling in the world.
    Throughout performing in school, learning voice pedagogy, and through the application of teaching I have learned much about myself and where I belong. While I enjoy the art of singing, and the presentation of characters on stage, what is most rewarding for me is bringing music to people who truly appreciate it. The value of art in our society is constantly diminishing into the world of digital downloads and low quality internet videos, but there’s no intrinsic reward in having a YouTube video with 10,000 views. Does anyone really care? I want to promote live performance to kids who couldn't otherwise go see shows at the Metropolitan. San Francisco Opera offers free and open dress rehearsals to schools. They give tours of the large opera houses and many family performances in English. This is wonderful, but the theater isn't full of students (usually it is full of bank partners and investors who got comp tickets for their company by the company donating $1 million to the house to hire miss $5000 per night soprano-whats-her-butt). But the bankers and the investors don't necessarily want kids in the theater (Now, they may say that they are ALL FOR Arts Education, but they think that kids will put gum on seats, talk during the opera, kick the backs of chairs - and they're right they probably will... they're KIDS: BUT HOW DO WE TEACH THEM HOW TO ACT IF WE NEVER TAKE THEM OUT TO THE OPERA IN THE FIRST PLACE??? Let them hear a well-done, show-stopping aria. I guarantee you FIRST HAND they will shut up).
    I want the 16 year olds taking lessons now to hear someone who started at their age singing live in an opera production, at a recital, in the theater... I want these kids to see what advanced music making can look like when they spend time focusing on it. I see videos of children in the dirtiest, poorest third-world countries building orchestras out of recycled instruments, I see conductors like Gustavo Dudamel reaching out to the youth of that country, where parents cannot afford to take private lessons, but yet they have found a way for their orchestra to tour the United States. I was able to sing with Westminster Symphonic Choir when this orchestra came here and performed in Carnegie Hall. Where were the American teenagers (and I apologize to the perhaps 10 American teens who came with their music-loving parents to the concert)? Did they come to watch? Do teenagers in this country even know how many kids in the world want what they are given for free here? (And if not free, for relatively little cost to them). Likely, the teenagers in the local high school marching band were texting their friends and watching Modern Family or some such.
    With all the money that the aspiring opera singers in the United States spend on their pay-to-sing summer programs, their coaches, their teachers, their audition fees - usually $50 each (most auditioning for at LEAST 5 programs) - the train or plane tickets to get to New York City, WHAT COULD THAT MONEY DO IF IT WAS PUT TOWARDS ARTS EDUCATION?
    In this country we UNDERVALUE the arts in our society. When I see what all these other programs (in places so much more in need) do for the kids, for the families, and for the betterment of their own society and culture, I realize that what we do here - as performers - is selfish. It's not that we want to be selfish, we are not looking to take away opportunities from others. We WANT to better our society with promoting and performing "higher" art. We WANT to help kids get off the street and bring them into this little nest we call "OPERA" or "Classical Music" - but how can we? We are all broke and have to ask YOU out there for money to pay for (see above) .... yada, yada, yada.
    I raised money for CoOperative. I did (what I perceived to be) some great singing and coaching with some people who gave me a lot of insight into the world of professional opera performance. But with what I paid for that program? I could have been teaching a children's choir. I could have gone back to my hometown and offered free voice lessons to students I KNOW would have been eager to take them. I could have organized a community opera performance to a community I think would appreciate it.
    I don't want to sing at the Met. I don't care about YAPs. I don't want to sign an album contract. I want people to hear music. I want to touch people's souls. I want to bring a part of HUMAN HISTORY to PEOPLE. Because THAT'S what it's about.Singers, performers - I beg you: Go somewhere that you can share your art, no matter what level you are. Offer it for free (or very low cost, or free-will donations - if you have to pay the venue and of course the pianist) PIANISTS, do the same thing. Find an hour or two to go visit an elementary school or middle school and practice that sonata or that aria or that Schubert piece in front of THAT audience before you do it at your recital. It's like doing FREE ADVERTISING! Why wouldn't you want to do that?! It's not about making $5000 per show. It's not about flying to Milan or Paris or New York City every week. It's about sharing YOUR MUSIC with the WORLD.

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