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What do Opera Singers DO all day long?

That question has been asked of me by many a person, and many a non-opera singer (of course). I'd like to use this post to debunk any and all myths associated with being an Opera singer and rid the minds of the masses of the perception that this career is easy, or that there is enough to do to maintain it in only 3-4 hours per day. 

If you have Opera singer friends, or family members, then you already know that Opera singing is really a very time-consuming and demanding profession. Just ask my boyfriend- I've got plenty of work; he nearly has to pry me off the computer at night just to get me to sleep. So, what is it that takes up all of this time, you might ask? Well, let's hack away at this answer categorically, shall we?

First, there is the necessary musical preparation that takes at least 3-4 hours per day (and I am talking here just about sitting at the piano and going through your music note-by-note). Normally for me, I practice singing full-voice for approximately two hours per day, and that is only after I've warmed up (which normally takes around a ½ an hour) and then sometimes when I am extra good (but which I should actually do ALL the time) I will also do an hour of yoga before my warm-up (to get the body really warmed up properly). Therefore, you can already see that singing is the sort of profession where things are quite mixed up together categorically speaking (we've already dealt slightly with staying fit, musical preparation, and focused concentration for long periods of time). Keep in mind that this should all be done after having had a healthy balanced breakfast (except for the yoga- try to do that on an empty stomach, to which I say, HA!--because it never happens in that order for me somehow, if I want to get anything else done in the day).

The other categories which take up a large part of my day include a multitude of “electronical information thingamajiggers”. I spend about 5-6 hours per day on the computer: doing research for auditions/competitions, applying for said auditions/competitions, keeping you all up-to-speed through composing Blog entries (at which I have lately been horrendous-but in my defense- I was spending more time on the audition/competition application part of this category), and checking various social media networks (email accounts, one personal and one professional, Twitter, and the infamous Facebook) to make sure that I'm not missing an important piece of news from a friend/colleague and to let everyone know, between Blog entries, that I'm still alive over here. Keep in mind, once those audition applications are finished being typed up, or formatted, or re-formatted, or scanned and saved, or printed out, or ALL of the above, then they also must be collated, filled-out, organized, prepared, put together, and taken to the post office (a.k.a- more time consumed)!

Beyond those two large chunks of the day (I'm already up to 8-10 hours there solely with those two absolutely necessary parts of opera singing) I should also normally spend time on the following things: eating lunch, eating dinner, cooking said meals (hopefully in a budget-friendly and healthy way, if it is possible to accomplish both at the same time) and then doing additional tasks related to the first category's activities. Namely, paying attention to how I am doing health-wise purely physically (by meditating, doing more yoga, going on a solo walk, or checking in with my Alexander Technique progress). 

There is also often work to be done (when learning new music, which at this stage in my career is most of the time) in terms of translating music (if it's in a foreign language) and writing in International Phonetic Alphabet to my scores (this is important to remind me of the correct pronunciations at all times). I should also spend time watching the videos of my most recent voice lessons and coachings to determine if I'm doing something well in those videos (if so, good Julia!), or to determine if I am doing something horribly wrong... or standing in a ridiculous posture... or making a face that is just plain ugly during singing and unnecessary (if so, bad, bad Julia!). 

Of course there is also my mental health that I need to monitor in this profession, as there is quite a lot of stress that accompanies singing (more on that in another related Blog post) which needs to be gotten rid of in a healthy fashion, otherwise that terrible four-letter word happens, and I'm sunk for audition season (in this case, I'm referring to the word 'S-I-C-K', for those of you now imagining more colorful four-letter-words). I often like to relieve stress by reading a good book (the titles currently falling under this category are as follows: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and Desert Queen—recommended by the stupendous Lauren Flanigan—by the author Janet Wallach) or writing an email to a friend, or calling a friend, or, simply taking a nap! 

Then there is always the obligatory personal life (who needs it?!) that gets in the way (I mean, …... that keeps me balanced) and which needs tending to on occasion (I mean, who would want to live with me if I never talked to them?). And which, honestly, if there wasn't a sort of “safe haven” for me to escape all of the things associated with this career choice of Opera singing, I would really not be able to do this. It is like the famous saying, those who work hard play hard. Well, I wouldn't really call my personal life 'playing hard', but I would liken it to a soft landing after a long day.  For me with the demanding nature of this career it is important to have someone to come home to who is comforting and reassuring. In all sincerity, my personal life is one of the most important factors in my Opera singing success plan, because it gives me a sense of grounding and separation from my career in my down time (and, if I didn't happen to get a positive result out of that last audition, I won't have as high a proclivity to feel like my life's over; Bonus!).

Therefore, there is quite a lot, as you can see, to keep me occupied with this career of Opera singing. 

And that wasn't even mentioning the time associated with completing applications for grants (for those of us who don't have rich relatives who are willing to pay for everything..... or who have recently won the lottery.... or inherited a large amount of money) as well as taking time to do things completely unrelated to Opera (which most people with normal 9-5 jobs would do on a thing called a 'weekend', which is, I'm told, completely devoid of work associated with one's career, to which I say, I've never seen this....'weekend'- what's it like?). In other words, the entire explanation of why Opera singers are sometimes paranoid, uptight, cranky, crazy, and generally spread-too-thin, has just been covered. If you have any questions, please re-read the above. :)  And then, if you still have questions- ask someone with time on their hands...in other words: not me, nor any other opera-singing friends you might have.

Please, Dear Reader, do take this all with a lighthearted understanding. I do actually LOVE Opera singing, it's just that sometimes one has to present the cold, hard facts of how difficult a thing is, in order for those who aren't in one's shoes to appreciate just how hard one is working (even if most people with 9-5 jobs would like to believe that an Opera singer is someone who just 'sings' all day, to which I say, LIKE THAT'S SO EASY!).

Hopefully this was informative to those of you who weren't expecting an introspective on my life's work.  And, without irony, if you do have any questions, please, as always, feel free to comment! I'd love to hear from you!!  And if you want to compare relative difficulties of your career with mine, that would be superb! I would love to hear about someone else working so hard (it would make me feel better)! ;)

Comments

  1. Dearest former roommate!

    Give me more of this! That is a very good description of a profession so hard to describe to a lot of people. But actually - don't you think that there are still some things to add?

    -to me (and since it is not a very long time ago that I started to live like you describe) there are additionally to the ones you write about the following to be pointed at as well :

    the fact to having to give very personal things from you always when you work, get critisized by other musicians not only on the music but also on your character that seems to influence the work (=music) you do... very hard to deal with but building the character at the same time.

    the fact that (now Im only working as an extra at the opera house, but as a Soloist it is the same) when you got concerts and operas to work in you have to be available for the production all the time, cannot leave town spontaneously, cannot plan your week, because the plan for the rehearsals is being communicated one day in advance by the operahouse... (very sad when wanting to see friends and having to post pone etc.)

    the fact that actually rehearsals can be at any time of the day and that you kind of will never have just an easy 9-5 schedule, but sometime will not be able to eat at the times you should etc.

    the fact that to achieve a career you have to be willing to just move on all the time, even if it might hurt, even if you might fall: you have to go for it and you can be sure that you will get hurt again and since you are a singer you have a lot of emotions and they get hurt and you get more sensitive the further you go and the more complicated you get after some time which makes living by your side even more difficult (also called a phenomenon like "Diva...")

    DEAREST-you inspired me :) I could go on for ages, or better would even prefer to chatt with you about that topic with a cup of tea sitting on our beds... ;)

    FINALLY - one thing left to say: why do we still wanna do this? if we sell it for being such a "difficult" thing, why should we do this?

    Because, music, acting, art, emotions, people, sound, energy, singing, applaus, fun, laughing, good regisseurs, nice colleagues, and much more make it worth while - being part of a very powerful artform

    LOVE,

    yours,

    Hiromi

    p.s. also forgot people we have to deal with who think that they would know what kind of privatlife would support our singinglife best and do not hesitate in any occasion to let us know; colleagues on stage we have to communicate very clearly that they should please distinguish between a role and real life (aka: dont touch me when not necessary...); grumpy artists who do not know how to behave professionally etc. etc. ayayay :)

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  2. Hiromi, you are brilliant and I TOTALLY agree with everything that you said above. There are so many things to consider about artistic sensibilities that we, as artists, have inherently included in our psyches and emotional toolkits, that being one of us is difficult, let alone living life by society's standards of what is normal and expected of us as 'responsible adults'....Oy! There is still much to discuss about this topic and I will be posting a part two sometime quite soon! Til then, thanks so much for reading and for responding---your thoughts are so salient and were so wonderful to hear!! Hugs to you and hope you are wunderbar! :)

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  3. I like this blog and you forgot to mention the time it takes to learn Italian, German, and French in a basic conversational way so that communicating with conductors is possible. Also, if you are in a production, rehearsal schedules can be a bitch with many hours of staging, singing, costume fittings and perhaps even learning how do do a few fencing moves (mainly for the men but pants roles have this pleasure sometimes.) Keep it up. We stick together.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely right! That's so true about rehearsal schedules being incredibly difficult and needing to learn at least Italian, French and German conversationally- so true! IPA is really only the beginning of what you need to sound like in order to be singing professionally- I totally agree! And I do think it helps too in with communicating with Conductors in Europe especially since in Italy, France and Germany in the smaller houses you'll be better off if you're speaking the language, though sometimes I think Conductors speak a different language altogether that only they understand ;) lol.

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