Success According To You….

My last post took as assumed something that we all tend to do from very early in our lives: The equating of success with fame. I began from the standpoint of taking renown as the marker of success, and correspondingly, my choices of artists for comparison were illustrious performers of former and present eras. My intent was not to define success in this fashion, but merely to start where we all usually begin. And if you want to be a star, you must compare yourself to stars. Most of us are not nearly so modest as to begin with humble aspirations. We usually need to grow and learn in order to value the very real successes possible in this field that have nothing whatsoever to do with widespread fame.
Any teacher who has taught long enough has encountered this. Not only does one get the droves of younger folk desperately yearning to be the next Adele, Lady Gaga, Kristin Chenoweth, or Idina Menzel. They also get the moderately young people with classical aspirations all hoping to supplant the current, active generation of vocalists. But a teacher will also invariably come across the slightly older person who is coming to singing a bit later; one who had never believed themselves able to sing, and perhaps had even been discouraged along the way. They just hold a glimmer of hope that they might one day be accepted into a choir, or get the tiniest part in a local musical. And when that happens, the happiness that they report back is a really lovely thing to behold.
“But what does this have to do with me?”, asks the aspiring professional singer. Well, it may not resemble your story, but it is a starting point for a very important question. What is success? Clearly, success for this person is quite different from your own notion. But is your idea of success fully informed? Perhaps not. I will use myself as an example.
Many years ago, for a very brief period, I thought I wanted to be a professional classical singer. As a pastor’s son, I grew up singing in church choirs. Singing was as normal a thing as could be. When I began to take an interest classical vocal music, I thought I should formally study singing to learn how it was done, and so I did. And during this time I made an understandable mistake: I mistook my enthusiasm for the music as a desire to be a singer. I enjoyed singing, sure. I always had. But in the years that followed, I was very fortunate to become acquainted with a handful of professional singers. I was fortunate to have had this experience of the realities of a career in the business early. It did not take me long to realize that I was not cut out for that! The intense level of preparation, the maintenance of a certain consistent physical condition, and the temperament to routinely handle the stress of performing…. None of which sounded like me. I was just a dude who sang. I enjoyed it immensely. I loved the music. I had even grown to love the study of it; learning about singing, learning about how it’s done, and casually singing here and there. But being a professional singer is simply a different thing.
The ability to more fully defining success only comes with improved understanding; better understandings of the pressures and the sacrifices of careers at various levels. Certainly, there is the type of success that is measured in operating at the highest levels in the field. But for many people I have known, the realization of the ever greater pressure of ever higher profile engagements was only gently on their radar, and they simply came to the realization they didn’t want to work for that. The understanding of the impact that such a career can have on family dynamics is, for some, similarly off-putting once it comes down to making real life-choices about relationships and child-rearing.
Harder hearts may chalk this up to fear or giving up. But part of the reality of growing older is the process of reevaluation. All the facts aren’t in when you are younger. And many people find that their choice to alter their pursuits brings them a great deal more joy. THAT is also a type of success. To find a place where you are happy. A great many people I have known have managed to happily become a steady chorister at a good house, and have a stable family life, etc. Many Artist Managers and Administrators I have known have at one time been musicians of one kind or another who finally felt their place in the artistic world was not as a performer. And finally, many people I have known have chosen to pursue music avocationally only, and have become frequent recitalists and concert singers at very appreciative local venues. They have fed the part of them that wants to make music, and avoided the pressures and anxieties that might have robbed them of that joy.
This being a sort of addendum to the last blog, I wanted to be sure to make clear that I have faith in many of the singers who find themselves in the circumstances about which I previously spoke. Though they may still be in a part of their lives where they have elite aspirations, or picturing professional success as equivalent to the cover of Opera News, etc…… They aren’t stupid. That creeping concern, that fear that underscores every round of auditions and every birthday, is evidence that they know precisely what I described in that blog.
My concern is more with the rhetoric that allows or encourages young singers to lie to themselves, putting off important questions for far longer than is healthy. A singer needs to have a reasonable sense of what is expected of them for operating at certain tiers in this business, and hold themselves rigorously to that standard. Further, in the face of issues or impediments, to honestly address them and overcome them, or to finally sit and reevaluate. What will it take, and what are you willing to give?
For this reason, it is important to address the question of defining success and what that means for each person. And the best news is, there is more than one kind.

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