Earlier this year, I auditioned for Audivi, a Detroit-based professional choir under the direction of the very kind and capable Dr. Noah Horn. He asked me if I would be willing to perform with them in the opera chorus for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s production of Puccini’s Turandot. I figured it would be a good chance to spend some time with family and sing with some wonderful people. If you’re in the Detroit area next week (June 8 & 10), please come on out! You even get to hear this beautiful aria:
One of the challenges singers face in the classical job market is whether to be a specialist or a generalist. Should they specialize in opera or professional choirs, early music or contemporary music, straight-tone or full-voiced vibrato? The answer, in my opinion, is complicated.
The answer boils down to several questions, to which the answer can vary according to the person. 1) What do I enjoy? 2) What am I capable of doing well? 3) What can I make money doing?
What do I enjoy?
Artists need to enjoy what they are doing. If they don’t enjoy what they are doing, the art will suffer because their hearts and souls are not fully engaged. The art might be technically good, but it won’t be great. Also, artists need to enjoy it because there will usually be a lot of rejection before success comes. Arts business is not for the faint of heart.
What am I capable of doing well?
Singing early music (music written pre-1750) typically requires a singer with a smaller, lighter voice. Singing the operas of Richard Wagner typically requires a big, heavy one. Often, the singer’s instrument determines whether or not a singer can do that specific kind of music. The vocal generalist is somewhere in between. S/he can sing well in multiple categories, but will frequently struggle to find a niche.
I’ve found myself to be somewhat of a generalist in this regard. My voice is pretty loud, and I can sing with full vibrato for those Puccini operas. On the other hand, I can sing straight-tone and light vibrato for early music and choral music. What’s more, I enjoy the variety. I get bored doing one type of singing. “Variety is the spice of life” is kind of an unofficial motto for me. Take a look at my Singer Page to see what I mean.
What can I make money doing?
Sometimes, specialization and generalization boil down to which will make more money. Like everyone else, singers need to pay rent, electricity, etc. Some singers can kick enough backside and take enough names in early music or opera that people are willing to fork over enough cash for them to live on. Others need to do early music, contemporary music, opera, oratorio, and professional choirs in order to make a living. They cast their nets widely in order to pay the bills.
How people fall on these questions will determine where they should spend their time and energy. I recommend trying a bunch of different types of music and figuring out what you are good at. Then, pursue that/those type(s) as diligently and intelligently and artistically as possible. Take risks. Grow. Life might just surprise you.