On health

So this week I am on tour with a group I sing for. We’re a small ensemble singing a slightly complicated programme which we have been touring around on and off for a few months and will continue to tour for the foreseeable future. The balance within the ensemble has been hard to achieve with a varied programme, but we have worked hard and each person is now pulling their own weight, supporting their colleagues and contributing to something beautiful. We are a well oiled, 12 person machine, each part as indispensable as the next.

I am ill.

This is a disaster. I think. Or a secret. Or a fact of life. How do I know how to deal with this?

From a purely professional point of view, the show must go on. Although I don’t feel great, I can still sing to a high enough standard to perform the show and not let my colleagues (and public…) down. I managed the show last night and am immensely grateful for a scheduled day off today for resting and the purely medicinal administering of detective dramas. The greater problem for me is how I interact with my colleagues.

As singers we all guard our health jealously, so is it appropriate for me to socialise with them, hang around in the dressing room, stand close in rehearsals? I’m not sneezing or coughing a lot, only occasionally, and I’m not sure I’m still contagious, but it’s just that, I’m not sure.

The reactions of my colleagues have been very interesting. The most caring offering sympathy and drugs, preferring to greet me with a hug despite my warnings and generally making me feel better and loved. Some didn’t notice I was ill. Perhaps I covered it well, didn’t allow it to affect my professional behaviour, held my dignity (and sneezing) in public places. Or perhaps they just don’t notice me?

The worst ones are the ‘fortress of health’ types. The ones who, on hearing a cough on a train promptly change carriage. The ones who carry hand gel to offer to colleagues who look a little pale. The ones who in a joking, but not joking way lean in and say, ‘if I get ill I will put a bomb in your room…’ (true story from yesterday…)

It’s a hard balance, I don’t know whether I should try to hide my illness, so that it doesn’t count as a black mark against my name, so that I can continue to enjoy the social perks of artistic life, so that I can avoid the snide remarks and black looks. Or should I just invest in a bell and move to the singers equivalent of a leper colony?

It seems to me that it’s hard to win, but I’ll be better tomorrow…

Reasons to love my job number 1 of millions.

You know what’s great? Today is chilly but sunny, half term, Monday, all the things that add up to a great day out with my friends and their kids. If I worked 9-5 I would have to stay in the office until dusk, when everything is closed and children are tired. As it is, I went out this morning with my friends, enjoyed this unexpected sunshine and shifted my work back to this afternoon and evening.

I’ve even taken advantage of my energy today to clean the kitchen floor.

Never let me say I don’t like being a singer.

Unexpected pleasures

There are a lot of simple pleasures to be had in life if we only take time to appreciate them. Singing exposes me to lots of them, for which I am very grateful.

Beautiful landscapes seen from train windows, e.g Oxfordshire, train rides here are gorgeous
Opportunities to see long distance friends at gigs in their towns
Discovering new tea/coffee shops near oratorio gigs
An hour in the charity shops in a choral society town between rehearsal and gig
The compensatory lie-in after a late gig

These are just a few of the non-career related reasons I love my career.

Being friends with singers- addendum- recommendations

Following on to my previous post about being friends with singers, I began thinking about making recommendations.

I said before that you should always choose the better singer over the better person. However, I do think a bit of balance is needed.

The most important thing to remember about your recommendation is that not only their reputation, but your reputation, hangs on their performance and behaviour.

To that end, I try to recommend the best singers I know for all work I can, but there are people I don’t recommend due to their attitude or behaviour. I think this is particularly important on the amateur/choral society circuit, since they are not paid to be there, they have paid to have this experience in their spare time. It is important to engage with them socially as well as musically, to smile and thank them and be interested in their music making. If I don’t feel my recommendation will behave well I won’t send them.

Being friends with singers.

Sometimes it is hard being friends with singers. Not just because we tend to be a bit loud, dramatic and attention hungry (I can, anyway), but because our career/instrument/calling or whatever you call it is inherently so very personal. I think this is because it’s something internal, invisible to the naked eye which we have to put part of ourselves into and present, naked, for others’ approval. Why ever it is, it can put a real strain on inter-singer friendships.

Singers largely fall into two categories for me, singers I like musically and singers I don’t. In the same way people in general fall into two categories, people I like socially and people I don’t.

So, we can see the problem: what if a great singer is mean or a good friend is not a good singer? The personal nature of singing can make this a really thorny issue, who do I recommend for work, the person I would enjoy working with socially or musically?

I think the obvious answer is clearly the musically more qualified person, however, a small part of me sometimes sighs when I recommend someone very grating for a gig I’ll be at.

The way I deal with this is to try really hard to clearly separate each person I know into two parts, one social and one professional. This means, in theory, I never have to recommend a friend, I only recommend colleagues. In practice it is very difficult, but I still try.

Subjective escapism

I had a funny little thought which I thought I’d share on here.

I work quite a lot abroad, mostly in Europe, occasionally beyond. As a result I take loads of photos and put them on Facebook, mostly for my other half and mum to track me, but also cos seeing the world is great. I wondered if people I went to school with, i.e. non-singers, look at my photos and sigh, thinking, ‘how wonderful, I wish I could live like that…’

I only had this thought because I realised that my version of this is to look at their Facebook from my empty hotel room, after dinner alone, and see them coming home from work at 5.30pm, seeing their kids, walking the dog, having a Saturday day trip to the seaside, I feel just the same and sigh, ‘I wish I could live like that…’

I’m sure neither of us would swap given the chance, but it is funny how the grass truly is always greener.

On working for free.

On working for free…

I know this is a really thorny issue, but here are my thoughts.

Sometimes payment is not monetary. Occasionally, even more than occasionally, I do a gig for the experience, to learn the rĂ´le, to sing in front of someone who will be there, to add something to my cv, to repay a favour, to help a charity, in short, I speculate to accumulate. All of these outcomes can help me to get more work in the future. In an ideal world we would never be asked to sing for free, as a favour, pro bono, but this world is less than ideal so I choose to see my fee always arriving into my life but not always into my bank account.

On the other hand, if someone has money to spare but is just being tight or unrealistic, say no. To sing for people who can afford to pay you, for instance if they are paying someone else but not you, undermines your status as a professional.

This is so tough for us all, but we have to evaluate on a project by project basis. Some things I might say yes to, others would say no to and vice versa. You must be your own police on this issue, striking a balance between missing out on opportunities and becoming classified as an amateur.

Talk it up.

Just a little thoughtlet, I must try not to be the junior in conversations with colleagues. We are just that, equal colleagues, not student and master. The way we talk affects our opinion of ourselves deeply. If we continue to call ourselves ‘young singers’, ‘recently graduated’, ‘starting out’ we undermine our progress. We are singers, just as those who’ve been at it for 40 years are. Yes, we’re less experienced, no we’re not worth any less.

If in doubt, talk yourself up, not down.

Why this blog, then?

So, one of the main problems I have as a singer is a lack of personal confidence. This translates into the way I sing, stand, walk, audition etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not crippling, but to be the best singer I can, I need to ditch it.

I think a big part of this for all of us is how we view other singers. When I read my friends’ statuses on Facebook, when I see performers biogs at shows, when I chat to my friends in the pub, I hear about this fantastic contract, that concert in that great hall, the other amazing opportunity. It begins to seem that everyone we know is working all the time on projects we’d love to be in or with people we want to meet, or worse, with people we have met. In contrast to our own lives which we can view as a sporadic string of gigs strung together with days or weeks of unemployment, hours of teaching (which is great, but personally not my end goal) and interminable emailing sessions in our pyjamas.

This must change.

The only reason your friends’ and colleagues’ lives sound better? You’re getting the edited highlights. When was the last time you chatted to a colleague and they asked you, “so what have you got coming up?” and you replied, “meh, not much this week, might just sit around in my pjs doing practice and admin and not getting paid, you?”

Never!

This became very apparent to me when I chatted to a friend about her career. I felt very envious (and proud) that she had worked for several opera companies and seemed to be making such a good living, working all the time, away on long contracts, posting photos of cast parties and the like. It turns out she felt just the same way about me. We had both given the other, through Facebook, chatting and friends, the edited highlights of our lives and each was envious of the other. Equally, we’d both left out the parts where we’d struggled for rent between contracts or sung that underpaid gig for that terrible choral society.

I need to change how I see people’s careers. But I will also take their highlights as inspiration to try harder and be better.

I hope I can also help someone else with the same issue, so I’m going to try to be super honest on here about the ups and downs of being a young singer. I’ll rejoice when I get a great gig but I’ll also try to let you in on the other times. I want this to be a realistic representation of life after music college. I hope it’s ok.