How to

How to Deal with Critics – Advice from a Professional Opera Singer

It’s a tough issue. Critics are important as they keep professional organizations in check in a way. They are, ideally, professional ears that will call out a company who is putting out sub par work, to hold them accountable. But no critic is perfect, as is no one, and from the outside they have a distinct advantage but also a distinct disadvantage. They get to see the whole picture, fresh, arguably zero bias. The disadvantage is that they haven’t seen the process and arguably less intimate with the work because of it. They see things from the outside, they have to intuit, lay down immediate judgements rather than through deep score study and experience: the experience of actually creating something, actually performing a piece, with all the fallibilities of performance.

For the performer, the best thing to understand is that criticism is the lowest form of art. It takes zero risk, there is no starting point, there is no zero point. Everything they need is in front of them already premade. They just have to describe it. There are of course master critics and it reaches its own level of art and magnitude but it still is an inferior art form with distinct limits. At its core they are feeders, they feed off of the creative work of others.

Never be afraid of the critic because most likely they will not understand you. It is potentially controversial but I tend to feel that only artists can understand other artists. Only people that can create and create at a high level can see, literally see the depths of what another person is expressing. A good comparison would be to a sport. I can watch football and get enjoyment out of it, I can watch and watch and develop my knowledge of the game and how it works. But my perspective will be ultimately and fatally two dimensional compared to the three dimensional perspective of someone who has actually played the sport. It has to be. If I have not exerted the effort in doing I can never fully understand by watching alone. There are obviously hybrid critics who have experience performing and I suppose they would have better input, but the question becomes to what level have they performed. What is the depth of their experience.

You are superior to the critic, always remember that. Through and through you are superior, you are making, you are taking the risk of failure, of putting yourself out there, of being imperfect. You are triumphant, even in your failures because you had the balls to work for it and do it. I never read reviews. They have no bearing on what I do. I know what went well and what went wrong. I have eyes and ears that I trust and I listen to them. The opinion of some ghostly figure in an audience carries no weight in my mind. My critiques come from the artists I respect. The artists who are equal to and better than me.

How to Find Your Artistry – Advice from a Professional Opera Singer

This article deals specifically with the singing performer but can be applied to most other genres and styles.  I speak from my own experience, these are my feelings, my thoughts and opinions on the subject from my perspective.

The challenge can be, where do I begin.  There are of course naturals who just find their own voice right away and don’t need much interfering.  But this was not my case and I kind of had to build from the ground up my experiences with artistry and find my own system to approach making things, creating.

I believe that one should approach a musical score, a blank canvas, a script etc. with the mentality of “I don’t know”.  I don’t know what I am about to make, create. It means relinquishing the reins to the character inside the music or words or still life etc.  Let it tell you who it is.  The irony of creating is that you speak while it speaks.  You paint while it speaks. You play your instrument while it speaks.  You both listen and act (as in take action) at the same time.  The character will tell you its context. It will feed you its emotions and mentality; all its pains, all its love, all its happiness, all of its frustrations. If you’re playing the cello, let the melody tell you what to do. Don’t impose dynamics, don’t impose articulations. The artistry lies in lack of “artistry”.  Don’t shape. Let the character tell you what to do.  And you don’t know the character, none of us do.  The character speaks for itself.  If we impose we ruin the moment, we ruin the individuality of the moment.

Now how does this relate to the performer, the human put in the circumstance of expressing someone, something.  The character you are reading, perceiving boils up inside of you.  It calls upon all of your own experiences, your own pains, your own feelings, your own life as clay. It boils up inside you.  You change, the performer changes, it’s one of the great thrills of performing.  It is intimacy. Your artistry and performance come from your blood, not from your mind.

Again, the irony is that the performer or artist is discovering as the audience is discovering, at the very same moment.  The beauty of this is that the performer can go into a performance essentially without fear, without nerves, without anxiety.  Their job is no longer to replicate something they have done in practice, some high point in rehearsal.  They don’t know as much as the audience doesn’t know. So you are equal to the audience, not a slave to them.

On educators.  There is a real problem with educating the performer, the artist. The simple answer for an educator is to tell; do this dynamic, this is the more appropriate color to use, this is who the character is, now play it that way.  The student loses the critical experience of finding this out for themselves, for deciding this for themselves, for making this decision, intuiting this decision and finding a way to act on it.  The student never learns how to problem solve.  From my perspective answers cannot be given because there are no answers.  It is up to the student to decide and the educator’s job is to help show them how.

Every piece of poetry, every instrumental piece of music, every still life, every medium has a character; a deep deep soul from which the abstractions flow.  And of course as these principles apply to characters they also apply to us.  To our own nature.