I Should’ve Been an English Major

It’s that time of year… when a phrase is not a satisfying arc of pitch and dynamic, but a collection of well-chosen words. Seductive adjectives, strong verbs, and lots of punctuation!!

January and February bring vast wastelands of nothing but words. Or rather, big ol’ blank computer screens mocking me for lack of words. You writers know all about this. But I’m a musician. And an administrator. And for 6 weeks every winter, I beg God to make me a writer.

The curse arrives in 4 parts.

1) Copywriting 101

The dreaded blurbs.

Assignment: Communicate everything important about an obscure (yet fascinating) opera in about 4 square inches. Leave no important question unanswered, but don’t stick just to the facts because they alone can’t possibly inspire.

Caveats: Don’t assume too much lest the uninitiated patron feel excluded from the opera subculture. But don’t pretend as if it’s not opera. Using descriptors that are hip and sexy but have nothing to do with the experience itself isn’t helpful. Not that opera can’t be hip and sexy. But it’s not a rock concert or a Broadway musical, so we shouldn’t pretend that it is.

2) Feeding Back

Singers ask for our reactions to their auditions. How did they do, and why didn’t they get the job?

Folks who didn’t get through the screening process want feedback on their applications. Why couldn’t they get an audition?

We bring this on ourselves, by opening up this channel of communication. But it’s hard to put truth and compassion in hundreds of emails. What exactly is the appropriate vocabulary for this?

3) Legalese

Not as much my problem these days as it is Rahree’s and LaJefa’s. But I share the pain (or I try to). Writing contracts for all of the people who will make the magic happen in a few months. Becoming one with indemnity clauses and force majeure paragraphs.

4) Creative Writing

Not as heinous as the short blurbs, for there’s some space to breathe – a few hundred words per opera for the more forgiving medium of the internet. But writing descriptive copy for a young artist company that performs new productions of often-rare repertoire under the umbrella of an organization that presents a lot of pop/rock/jazz/alternative concerts…

What’s the main message here? And who exactly is our target audience for these web pages? Will too much irreverent language backfire on us? It’s one thing for the Met to err on the casual side, for the sheer weight of their legitimacy keeps the message from getting too flip. But we deal exclusively with emerging professional singers, and we self-identify as a “young artist company.” One of the downsides is that potential patrons think our singers are just “students.” We don’t need to take ourselves too seriously, but we do have to be careful to maintain a professional sheen in our message.

January Bookshelf

Words in, words out. At least that’s the theory. Here’s the past month’s reading list.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
I always knew that the secret of happiness is low expectations. Now it’s official. Love this book.

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross
Finally. I pre-ordered it; it traveled around the country during the audition tour; and I finally got to it. Not in a linear fashion, I admit – I hopscotched shamelessly. Now I have to go back and do it from left to right.

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
My brief history as a music therapist becomes more relevant every day.

Heat by Bill Buford
Amazing how much the kitchen of a 4-star restaurant feels like backstage at the opera house.

Opera 101 by Fred Plotkin
I’m teaching my first intro mini-course this spring, and I’m try to see the forest for the trees,



Thank you, Anonymous. After a solid day of doing almost nothing but struggling to write feedback emails, I was feeling anything but cool.

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