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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Advice to a soprano on not kicking the goldfish,
from Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Oh Alice --

I have just discovered your website on a very gloomy night indeed. I am a 37-year old soprano participating in an opera workshop in the States for which I have paid quite a bit, rearranged schedules, etc. The rather renowned director of this workshop seems to have made a mistake and, unlike the other 28 participants in this program (some of them better singers than I and some of them not) I was -- whoops! -- not assigned a solo role. I am basically twiddling my thumbs throughout this week, and am meant, I suppose, to entertain and educate myself by watching endless rehearsals for scenes for which I have not been given any music, and which is difficult to obtain under the best of circumstances.

Mr Famous Director has not apologized directly for this glaring oversight, but has mentioned it in passing to another faculty member, indicating, at best, mild remorse on his part. Hmm. Of course it's a short week and thus too late to remedy the situation, but I'm feeling bitter, cheated and generally rather uncharacteristically pissy about the whole thing.

Add to this the fact that I am a former-violinist-turned-physician-turned-aspiring soprano, and you have a case for major neurosis. My usual 'get over it' strategy is remarkably useless -- I am quite definitely undone by this, and have begun to travel to that dangerous Land of Generalizations -- 'they are all younger than you, it's more significant than just a simple mistake that they passed you over, you should go back to your office and take care of people's illnesses, take up knitting,' etc.

So to get down to brass tacks, here are the big questions:

  1. Do I let the director of the workshop know how deeply disappointed I am? (thus unburdening my heart, but, let's be honest, making a perhaps unwise political move vis-a-vis the ability to work with this man in the future)
  2. Any general recommendations for Setback Recovery? You know, the kind of setback that lends itself to quiet weeping in the bathroom, feelings of general cursedness that for one reason or another, one has this terrible need to work at and perform music at a professional level, deeply impractical as that is?

My sense of humor, usually in pretty good shape, has eluded me at last. I am trusting that, if nothing else, you'll give me a good reason to reclaim it.

With kindest regards --
Trying (Hard) to be Graceful

Dear Trying (Hard) to be Graceful,

First of all, I believe you have been treated appallingly, and have every right to yell, scream, kick the goldfish, and demand a partial refund.
Secondly (as your letter shows) you have already realised you must do NONE OF THESE THINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You have two remaining choices because, should you let the director know how you really feel you will probably make him feel so guilty he'll never wish to SEE you again, let alone work with you. They are:

  1. to ask the director whether he might possibly find time in his incredibly busy schedule to hear you at some point privately, as you've been so impressed with his work this week (please note the buttering-up aspect, the 'no blame attached' tone, and the light casualness with which you suggest it or
  2. to stay schtum and pretend nothing has happened. After all, no one will remember, a year from now, whether you got to sing a solo role or not, and the course will still look good on your cv.

I think your choice here really depends on where you are with your voice at the moment. If you are just (just!!!) feeling furious at having laid out cash and rearranged your life for no solo coaching but don't really feel ready to start auditioning seriously (and this is NOT an age thing: some voices, especially big ones, take years to get ready) then it's not such a big deal (though it is at the moment psychologically) as if you ARE. And if you are, you'd be mad not to take the chance (with such an unspoken emotional blackmail opportunity) not to get at least an hour's free coaching/advice out of this director person (unnamed).

In terms of the rest of it, I am convinced that this was a genuine oversight. You could indeed have been the sort of person (the stupid sort of person, or the sort who's chucking it in and no longer gives a damn) who stormed in and demanding refunds, for a start, and secondly, it's in nobody's best interest for it to happen. I also feel that it will not be glaringly obvious to anyone else on the course what has happened, partly because (since it didn't actually happen to THEM) nobody is that bothered and partly because they might assume that you REQUESTED not to be given a solo, but to simply be allowed to sit at their feet (you know what singers are like!!!!!)

As for getting back on your psychological feet, I actually have no doubt of THAT at all. You are, by your own admission, a violinist-turned-doctor-turned-singer. That argues an enormous innate resilience and determination and brain-power in itself. Thirty-seven is nothing. You've got what it takes, and you will bounce back from this, as you've bounced back from so much else in your life.

I'm pulling for YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Copyright © 19 August 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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