Category Archives: Music

Questions Won’t Kill Opera, Unless We Don’t Ask Them

16th July 2017

Every few months, there’s a new panic about the state of opera.

We ask a lot of questions. Is it dying? Have we killed it? We attempt to diagnose the problem. Who (or what) is responsible?

Aging donors? Often archaic, over-the-top, un-relatable plots of standard repertory? Overhead costs for lavish productions that might rival the Baroque in scope? Language barriers?

And I suppose these are relevant, important, timely questions. Obviously, people (myself included, duh) have a lot invested in the genre. Performers, directors, designers, creatives of all sorts want meaningful work. Businesspeople want meaningful profits. We care deeply about these things. We want our art form to proliferate, to be fruitful, to multiply.

We don’t just want opera to merely survive, but thrive.

Yeah. I said it. Thrive, even in the face of virtual reality headsets or big-budget Hollywood films. War for the Planet of the Apes (which I probably won’t be seeing in theaters, no shade really, just not my gig), for instance, had a production budget of $150 million.

The LEGO Batman Movie (much more my gig) had a budget of $80 million. It grossed around $310 million dollars worldwide in theaters. Some of that money was mine (you’re welcome, LEGO Batman). I was one of those theater-goers. I saw the LEGO Batman Movie. In 3D. I got to wear those goofy glasses. There was popcorn and Buncha Crunch. And it was good.

A disclaimer: I’m not good at math. I’m really, really bad at it. But I’m going to attempt to crunch some numbers here.

According to a May 2016 New York Times article, the Metropolitan Opera, the United States’ largest performing arts organization, had an operating budget of approximately $300 million dollars. It offered 225 performances of 25 different operas over the course of one particular season.

The gross earnings of the LEGO Batman Movie (in theaters for approximately 117 weeks) could pay for the entire Metropolitan Opera season. A single movie! One film!

And yet the Met projects to fill only 72% of its seats. So we ask more questions.

Over the past few days, there’s been some hullaballoo on Opera/Classical Music Twitter (yes, it’s a thing) with regard to the new Mason Bates opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, set to premiere within the next week at Santa Fe. Both Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera have signed on to give the work performances within the coming seasons.

Before I go any further. Let me be crystal clear: any new opera is worth attending. I do mean any. If I were in Santa Fe, you’d best believe my keister would be filling a seat to see the premiere.

You don’t know what’s going to become the next warhorse of the standard repertory. Two hundred years from now, if we haven’t demolished the planet by then, companies may mount the Steve Jobs opera like they put up La Bohème. It’s entirely possible. Plausible, even.

Barring some pretty substantial and rapid medical advance, though, all of us reading this will be dead, so I guess we’ll never truly know. Anyway.

Back to Twitter. So, a few folks started talking about the Steve Jobs opera. They asked some poignant questions. Questions with no easy answers (or maybe answers at all). Some of them made statements expressing sadness that yet another opera was being produced with the plot of “successful white man is successful.”

And some other folks got wind of the criticism and mused that perhaps these critics were telling composers what to write about.

They implied that criticism stifled the conversation by asking questions.

I’m not going to make this post about what I personally think re: the Steve Jobs opera. I haven’t heard any music from it. I don’t know much about it other than that it exists. I’ve read every piece of related content I can get my hands on about it, because I’m just that invested in opera. In new opera. In every opera. In the state of our art form. Where it’s going. What we’re doing to give it direction, to make it more of a purposeful journey rather than an aimless amble toward survival.

The thing I do know is this: we have to be willing to ask questions about opera.

“Beloved” works, like Turandot or Otello. New ones, like The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.

Without asking questions and critically engaging with the work, the future of opera looks a lot less promising.

You’re going to tell me, “But Georgeanne, are people really critically engaging with the LEGO Batman Movie?” I don’t know. Are they? Maybe there are. Can someone on the Internet verify? If you find someone, let me know. But I think that really isn’t the point.

My point is that asking questions doesn’t lessen the impact of artistic work.

It doesn’t reduce its importance or worth. Questions aren’t a wet blanket. Asking questions about something isn’t going to stop me, personally, from seeing something. It’s not going to stop a composer from writing if that composer feels they have a story tell to tell and it’s that story.

Asking questions about something means just the opposite—that whatever we’re questioning is worthy, that it is alive, that it’s worth cultivating, saving, supporting.

Isn’t any conversation about opera worth having? Like I said before, we ask a lot of questions about the death of opera.

Shouldn’t we similarly be asking questions of what is bringing opera life in the 21st century?

I hope that you, dear reader, will continue to ask questions about everything you consume, opera or not. And more than that, I hope you go see an opera.

If you’re in Santa Fe? Go see The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. And tell me how it is. Maybe you’ll have some more questions after seeing it. Maybe you’ll have some answers, too.

That is how an art form doesn’t merely survive. That’s how it thrives.

PS. If you’re interested in writing an opera (and I hope you are), why not take a look at Four Historical Women Who Need Their Own Opera (because they do).

PPS. If you’re curious about #OperaTwitter, follow me @absolutment

Photo by Radek Grzybowski on Unsplash

This Holiday Season, Hug a Musician

24th December 2016

It’s Christmas Eve. At 8:30pm tonight, I’ll be singing downtown in a beautiful Christmas Eve service. There will be Christmas trees, there will be lights, there will be “O Come All Ye Faithful.” There will even be a party afterwards, complete with champagne.

But I won’t be home. I’m here in Kansas.

I’m a singer, and that’s part of my job.

My mom is in Arkansas. The rest of my (small but mighty) family is in Illinois. This is the second year I haven’t been home for Christmas, which seems like it’s Not a Big Deal, but.. it is.

Don’t misunderstand me. Being a singer is awesome. I love it more than anything in this world. I get to enrich people’s lives with music, enhance their worship experience.

Travel is pretty cool, too.

Being a forever tourist has its perks–for one thing, I can always claim “I’m not from here!” when people try to shoot me nasty looks while driving. I love seeing new places but not being tied down to them. I can stay in a place just long enough to get tired of it–then I’m off somewhere else.

Still, there’s something special about being in the place you call home, especially during this time of year.

For those of us who have devoted our lives to music and won’t be home for Christmas, this can be a tough time. It isn’t really sad, it’s just strange. And we make it work. We seek community and love from those around us. We build small families at our church jobs, our Messiah gigs, our concerts.

But friends?

If you happen to meet a musician today or tomorrow–ask if you can hug them. They very well may need it more than you know.

It may just feel a little more like home.

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

A Note Before Voice Juries

11th December 2016

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

Dear Me,

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

What are you so afraid of, anyway?

Singing a wrong note? Missing an entrance? Being out of tune?

So what if you do? So what if you are?
What happens then?

Does someone die?

Does the composer rise from the grave and materialize before you, cursing your name, your voice, your career?

Have you ruined art?


“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

You love singing. More than anything in this world.

Do you remember when you were little–before you knew what all those words in a foreign language and dots on the staff meant?

Do you remember how you used to go in the backyard, all alone, and you would sing about the leaves and the birds and the dirt and the bugs and the rocks and the pavement and the sun and the sky and the moon and the fence and the light and the water and the dog…

Do you remember that you didn’t care whether or not it sounded good?

Do you remember what you thought if someone heard?

Your first thought was to stop, giggle to yourself, and then carry on as if the possibility of being overheard wasn’t embarrassing but exciting?

Do you remember when you got a bit older, you used you to sit in your room, door shut tight, crouched over your choir music, studying and singing for hours on end?

It wasn’t easy to learn the part. But you weren’t concerned.

Do you remember that it wasn’t a matter of if you were ever good… you would practice until you got there.

“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

Then you went to school, and you learned what all those black dots on the staff meant. You learned the meaning of those strange words on the page.

And it was great to know things. It was good.

Somewhere along the way, you became convinced that making a mistake meant something bigger than just.. making a mistake. You thought, all of a sudden, that your mistake was a statement on you. On your dedication, your preparation, your talent, your gift.

You forgot to just sing.

“Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.”

Are you really all that different from the little girl singing to herself in the backyard?

Two decades older, two academic degrees later.. a lot of knowledge and a lot of songs sung.

What has changed?


“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

This is my prayer for you tomorrow, when you walk into the room and sing your voice jury: that you remember that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to be good.

You don’t have to be anything at all, but the little girl in the backyard who loved to sing.

No, loves to sing.

She still does. And always will.

Now–go sing.

(poetry is Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”)

How I Changed My Life in 10 Minutes

29th April 2016

Change Your Life in Ten Minutes Have you ever wanted to be great at something?

Okay, maybe that’s a stupid question. Of course you have. Whether you’re a singer like me or an aspiring underwater basket-weaver, you probably have something you’ve wanted to get really, really good at doing. Something you love that you want to master.

In case you haven’t caught on by now (or this is your first time visiting my blog, in which case, my most sincere apologies and HOWDY AND WELCOME), I love singing. It’s not only my career but also my deepest passion. I want to become a great singer. I will settle for nothing less than greatness.

The thing that super-duper sucks, though? The process of becoming great at anything (singing included) is, well..  often not so great.

When I was in undergrad, I spent a lot of time in the practice room. I mean a lot of time. An ungodly amount of time. We’re talking four to five hours at a time.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Georgeanne! That’s great! What a blessing it is to sit in a practice room and just work on your craft! Didn’t Malcolm Gladwell say that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything? Think of all the time you put in!”.

And yeah, sure. I spent like, a lot of time in a practice room…. staring at the piano. Staring at my music. Singing through my music from beginning to end over and over and over. Avoiding singing because I hated the sounds that were coming out of my mouth. Hating myself. Hating that I couldn’t walk into that room with a new piece and come out two hours later with it learned and technically perfect. I wanted to be great.

I wanted to be great right now.

I started to dread going to practice. Which, if you’re a singer.. is not such a good thing.

This is the part of the blog where I skip ahead a few years and hit you with some magic wisdom. I graduated in 2013. It’s now 2016. Do the math (I’m really bad at math, but I think that’s three years).

I’ve stopped spending entire afternoons in practice rooms drowning in a delightful combination of self-loathing and desperation.  I don’t dread going to practice. I look forward to it.

I’ve started to take things ten minutes at a time. And I guarantee you I’m a better singer than I ever would be if I spent five hours stretches in the practice room.

I’ve learned over the last few years that no matter how overwhelming a task may be, what gets it done is small, small steps. Climbing a mountain is not achieved by reaching the pinnacle–it’s achieved by the how-ever-many-steps you took to get to the top.

When I walk into a practice room or sit down to practice in my apartment (what’s up upstairs neighbors, you’re welcome, I’m not charging), I set a timer for ten minutes. I also set my intention for those ten minutes: “okay, I’m going to work [these measures] of [this song].” “For ten minutes, I will really work on some agility exercises to strengthen my coloratura.”

No matter how tired, discouraged, or frustrated I am–no matter how overwhelming a task may be, I can always give ten minutes of focused, intentional effort. And then maybe I can give ten more minutes. And ten more minutes. And before I know it, an hour has gone by, I’ve sung through all my repertoire or sung some difficult technical exercises.

There’s not enough time in ten minutes to let fear take over. Ten minutes is a decidedly non-scary amount of time. It’s long enough to get something done, yet short enough to make things seem manageable. When that timer goes off, if I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I still can’t float that high Bb the way I want to.. I move on to something else.

Do I expect to become great in ten minutes? No. Not a chance! And that’s part of the magic. You can’t go from decent to great in ten minutes. But those ten minute chunks of practice add up. I see the ten minute blocks add up in my practice journal, day after day.

How do I know it’s working? My teachers, coaches, and peers can tell. I can tell when I listen to my recordings. I haven’t become Maria Callas overnight (if and when I figure that out, I am certainly not telling y’all that little secret), but I’m definitely ten minutes closer to greatness.

Those ten minute chunks remind me that I’m taking steps every day to the top of the mountain.

So, dear reader, tell me.

What could you spend ten minutes doing today? What’s something you want to get good at doing? Can you set a timer and work for ten minutes on that thing?

I bet you can. You’ll come away from those ten minutes knowing your life has changed just a little bit.

Start the timer. The clock is ticking.

Once your work session is up, take a well-deserved break with a time-themed playlist!

Fairport Convention – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Rolling Stones – Time Is On My Side
Chicago – Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella – Ten Minutes Ago
Ke$ha – TiK ToK
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years – The Next Ten Minutes

Do What You Can

19th May 2015

Southern Fried Soprano - Piano

Sometimes, practicing singing sucks. It may be my number one frustration as a singer.

Yes. I love singing. I really do. I love it entirely too much. I love it so much that occasionally, I never want to sing again, because what I’m doing or feeling is so mind-numbingly painful or unpleasant that I would rather cease making music for a day or a week or forever than continue to do something I dislike.

Singers: practicing is not always easy.

Anyone who said that you were going to go skipping to the practice room (or, in my case, a 20 year old electric keyboard [real classy, Georgeanne]) 100% of the times you’re going to have to go practice is lying to you.

But. I feel guilty when I don’t want to practice.

I think about the number of singers out there–the competition is fierce. How many of them are practicing when I’m sitting here with my dog, poking around gardening forums or watching a Cops marathon? I think about the sacrifices my mom has made–I think about the sacrifices I’ve made–for me to study music.

It seems almost like an act of rebellion to avoid practicing.

But, y’all. Not wanting to practice is okay. It’s okay. I am here to tell you it’s okay.

Maybe you’ve worked an eight hour (or more) day at the survival job you’re working to afford YAP auditions. Maybe you’ve had a fight with your mom and you just don’t feel up to anything. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night because you were up working on a paper (or you were up late the previous night practicing).

What do you do in this situation? You do what you can.

Sometimes, “what you can” is small. That’s alright. If you’ve only got it in you to work on one measure, work on that one measure and then call it a day. Something is infinitely better than nothing.

Set a timer for twenty minutes. Work for those 20 minutes and then stop. Don’t judge yourself for working those 20 minutes. Don’t think about the people who worked 30 minutes or the people who worked for hours. Those people? They’re not you and they’re not feeling what you’re feeling right now. Their circumstances are different. They’re in a different place. They might as well be a world away from you.

What matters is that you’ve done what you can.

I promise you: you will get done what you need to get done. You will learn the music you need to learn by the time you need to learn it. Will you learn it all tonight? Probably not.

Tomorrow, or maybe the day after, your “what I can” will look very different than what you’re feeling right now. … But tonight?

Start somewhere. Do what you can. 

Southern Fried Soprano

Feeling Questioned

13th April 2015

Southern Fried Soprano

I’m a singer with a great support system.

When I write my memoirs, there won’t be a chapter addressing all the people who told me I would fail.

I can’t think of a single person that has actively discouraged me in my pursuit of singing. I count that a blessing. 

The thing that sucks about having so many supportive people in my life, though, is that quite a bit of the time, I don’t know how to answer their questions.

So when are you going to hear back about X audition?

How did Y audition go?

How could you not get Z role/opportunity/audition? Why wouldn’t they want someone like you?

These are all very well-intentioned questions. They indicate interest. People care about what I do as a singer, as a developing artist. That’s comforting. It’s good to know that you have an army, however small, backing you. 

But I truly struggle with answering these questions. How much information do I give them?

“Well, audition Y went pretty well.. except when I totally botched the first high note in my aria and spent the next three measures thinking about aforementioned botching…”

“When will I hear back? Probably never. Unless it’s a three-line letter thanking me for my time and wishing me all the best.”

“Why wouldn’t they want me? Too tall. Too short. Too fat. Too thin. Too blonde. Not blonde enough. Wrong voice type. Right voice type, but no space for me. Too young. Too old. Too expressive. Not expressive enough. Singing the wrong repertoire too early. Singing the right repertoire too late…”

To avoid embarrassing episodes of word vomit, I tend to avoid answering these questions, and if I do–I don’t really answer them. And why? I’m afraid. I’m afraid of disappointing them with my answers.

That? That’s not fair. It’s not fair at all! These friends of mine deserve answers–maybe wholly unsatisfying answers, but they deserve to know something.

It’s my job, and the job of every singer, I think, to own our craft and art. Part of that owning comes in laying bare my own personal insecurities, my own fears, my own questions.

So, next time you ask me a question and I don’t give you a real answer? Do me a favor. Push me.