So I had a post ready to go for today that was the next installment in the series I have been writing. But I decided to delay that post until January 1 and, instead, write a short post to publicly answer a question/statement that people constantly ask/present to me.
You’re a pianist, not a singer. You went to the “right” schools, the “right” programs, made the “right” connections; you could have had a very easy and comfortable career by just continuing to ride with the System. Why do you care so much that you are willing to speak up and go out on a limb for these singers?
It’s a fair question. I’m definitely going out on a limb, and I know people in the industry who have found themselves in a similar position, feeling the same frustration but deciding to use their intellect and psychological savvy to “work” (#werq) the broken system and use it to their advantage. Many of my colleagues in this boat are professionally situated in a position where they don’t have the freedom to speak out, and if they did, they would lose work. And they can’t be blamed. If I were in that kind of situation, too, I would choose the same route. That’s a big part of the reason why I have chosen to be largely independent at this point in my career.
But here’s why I feel the passion that I feel. I’ll try to explain it as clearly and succinctly as possible.
The world needs artists. The world needs singers.
This world – our world – is really, really broken. It’s scary to see proof every day of just how broken it is. How much hate and violence there is, how all around us we see other humans having lost sight of the good, of the beautiful.
Singers – especially opera singers, who perform without any kind of sound enhancement or protection – are brave. This is a constant. Why? Because singers, by the very nature of their art, go out on the limb that is their art, their voice, and have no capacity to look down at the limb that holds them. They can only look up and out. They send positivity and light to those who need it. They bare the deepest recesses of their souls, and trust that it is enough, trust in the power and strength of the limb that they are standing on. That is their job. That is what they do.
To highlight this, I want to compare it to what I do as a pianist.
I, as a pianist, am an artist just the same as a singer is an artist.
Here’s the difference: I can see my technique with my own eyes while I am playing. Singers can’t.
I can hear the sound I’m making exactly as the audience hears it. Singers can’t.
I communicate through my body, my hands, my feet, my sound. I have a whopping 9-foot piano in front of me that I can look at. I can look at my hands, my feet, the piano keys, the wall stage-left, the reflection of the hammers in the underside of the glossy, black piano lid.
A singer communicates, first and foremost, through their face. Through their eyes, through their mouth, through almost imperceptible yet unfathomably powerful movements of their cheeks, their eyebrows, their lips, that come from being fully inhabited by the character they are living on stage.
Being a singer is like standing on the edge of the highest cliff in the world, on tiptoe, with your arms spread wide, your head held high, your eyes open, beaming your energy to the furthest horizon.
Being a pianist is like being on the same cliff, but sitting down with your legs hanging over the edge, feeling the strength and safety of the rock with your thighs and your hands, beaming your energy to the furthest horizon.
In the context of collaboration, the groundedness of the pianist’s energy channels through the singer, giving the singer the freedom to all but lift off the ground and fly, knowing that they can trust that which is holding them up.
What I’m illustrating is the vulnerability of a singer’s art. All artists are vulnerable, but singers are vulnerable to a much more acute degree; and it is this visceral, unguarded, honest presentation of their uniquely flawed, uniquely beautiful humanity that gives other humans the incredible urge to experience singers singing.
Singers, ladies and gentlemen, have the capacity to change the world. But in order to bare their souls, in order to stand on the edge of that cliff beaming positive energy into a world overrun by negativity, they need to know that they are supported. They need to know that we – the industry – are behind them. That we care. That we have their backs. That we won’t turn around and push them off the cliff. That we exist to build them up, and give them the strongest foundation possible in order that they might operate with the most freedom and honesty possible. That other singers – other representations of positivity and light – won’t abandon their mission in the world and reduce themselves to gossip, to jealousy, to spite.
So this is why I’ve chosen the road that I’m taking, the road of speaking out and being a spearhead for change. Because almost every single day, a singer comes into my studio who has been abused by an industry currently defined by negativity and back-stabbing; an industry that, in fact, has an obligation to be a unified conglomeration of thousands of beacons of positivity, honesty, and humanity – of all different shapes and sizes, colors and textures, sounds and personalities – in a world that needs it now more than ever. It really is as simple as that.