I often joke that as a brunette soprano of average height, the only thing that could every set me apart from the pack is my work ethic. I have never been afraid of hard work, as the saying goes, and I am generally happier when I am being productive than when I am overindulging in leisure.
In a masterclass this afternoon I was worked hard. I sang one of the arias I have been singing forever, and I tried to incorporate all of the notes that I have gotten on it all week – clean up some of the diction, focus the tone, and that perennial bit of wisdom: stand up straight. The opportunity that was pointed out to me today is one I have heard before and not worked hard enough at: to sing through the end of each phrase keeping breath support strong until the very end. The work doesn’t end when I have begun the phrase but when I have finished it.
Even though I love hard work, there is always a part of me that thinks “why can’t it be easier? I already work hard! I sacrifice so much for this, why does it always demand more?” When I reflect honestly on it, however, I can’t imagine not working so hard. In all areas of my life, I can’t imagine not always trying to improve in some way. In singing, in teaching, in being a friend, in virtue – the only sin is not trying to get better.
If I truly believe that what I am doing is good, that it is something I am meant to do and that serves the world, then it’s not work – it’s what I’m wired for. All the work we do to become who we are isn’t work when it is oriented toward our own success and completion. And all that we do, even if it has nothing to do with singing, or teaching, or whatever it is at which we are capable of excelling, makes us more who we are if we are willing to fight for this fundamental orientation toward growth.
Last night we had no rehearsals or coachings, and we all went to the home of a generous trustee who filled us with burgers and salads and snacks. We played volleyball and lay in hammocks, watched the sunset over a lake and sang around a fire pit. Being with others and growing in fellowship is as important an element of artistic growth as diligent practice in a tiny practice room. As the moon rose I was able to relax away from my own work ethic and allow my companions to guide me along in the path to better which I am always seeking.