Receiving even more feedback and comments on the master class discussion, and yesterday’s entry saw a significant increase in readership (about 1,500 hits for the day). Clearly it’s a hot button for people on both sides of the fence.
I’ll jump back in tomorrow for a final post on the topic. Then I’m putting up the heat shield and getting out.
A comment a few days ago from a “Non-Anonymous Opera-Singing Blogger” has prodded me to address a subject I sidestepped last week when I mentioned Canadienne’s blog. The Canadienne is a soprano who writes about the opera business from the perspective of a new professional singer, and she does so with humor, self-deprecation, insightfulness and honesty.
The news is that she is taking a hiatus from writing. As you can imagine, there’s an array of reasons for this decision.
A Fool’s Errand?
Regular blogging, while not without its rewards, can be exhausting. We who do it are generally not writing for a living, and blogging gets done in our spare time. It’s a monster that demands to be fed. I’ve climbed onto this train for a year, and I’m determined to see it through. But regular posting can become a chore.
There’s more, though. Canadienne is feeling besieged. She says she feels overexposed, and that every note she sings is now subject to the criticism of every reader. By their own design, performers are on public display. But a surprisingly small percentage of them are exhibitionist at heart. Many are among the most private individuals I know.
Has Canadienne invited criticism by speaking openly in a public forum? I’m sure she knew what she was doing. And I’m equally sure she wasn’t looking to train the spotlight on her performances, but to empathize with colleagues, to offer useful information for students who might aspire to a singing career, and possibly to allow audiences to gain perspective on the often non-glamorous life of a successful soprano.
Singers and actors feel criticism more deeply than many other kinds of artists. Their instruments are their bodies. Their tools are their eyes, their throats, their lungs, their muscles. And it’s an act of courage – almost defiance – to allow anyone with internet access to share their destructive comments about your recent performance with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Although I haven’t named the Canadienne (in keeping with her blog profile), her identity isn’t difficult to figure out. She’s hardly anonymous. And she’s thinking about changing that. Will it make her contribution less valuable? Probably not. Will it make it more difficult for her to write about what really matters? Undoubtedly so.
I’ve been asked if I believe that singers who blog are creating a career liability for themselves. The answer is, of course: It depends.
A friend who’s an amateur singer tells me that she follows several singer blogs, and that some are dangerously unprofessional. That’s a sure way to make enemies, and the jury’s still out as to how potentially harmful blog trash-talking can be.
We all apply filters, those of us who hope to be both professional and truthful. It is my intention to be honest – almost blunt – because I have a strong personal distaste for pretense. But uncharitable reactions, potentially destructive criticism, and raw controversial opinions have no place in public postings that refer to our professional lives.
I am not doing this anonymously. But even if you are, please consider that some of the same ‘filters’ should still apply. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and cyberspace is not a benign place. You may think you’re anonymous, but ours is a small and somewhat inbred business, and I’d be surprised if you could remain anonymous for long.
Every paragraph I write passes the following test. I imagine that I am reading it from the perspective of the following people: a colleague, an aspiring singer, an amateur musician, a classical music fan, and an arts patron. That doesn’t mean that every sentence is relevant to all readers, but it does assure that it’s not inflammatory. If important ideas don’t pass the test, they’re not jettisoned, just reframed.
Political bloggers get most of the attention, but arts blogging is exploding. Mainstream media are marginalizing arts coverage, and what little gets through is frighteningly skewed. There’s so little opportunity for public discourse.
Other bloggers’ writings have revolutionized my professional life. In 20 minutes a day I feel as if I can stay in touch with some of the most important ideas and relevant news in my business. Sure, I’m selective about what I read, but the selectivity is of my own making, and I’m not forced onto a steady diet of one or two paid music critics. I work in a fairly isolated environment in a small suburban town, I prefer to spend most of my free time with my family, and I’m not a naturally gregarious person. So it’s pretty easy for me to get out of touch.
Our music will stay vital only if we keep the debate alive and invite everyone to the party. We need a diversity of opinions, a sprinkling of spirited disagreements, and lots of room for impassioned responses to the music. Disagreement and heated discussion are good for our music. I want to argue about last weekend’s live concert or opera broadcast the way dedicated sports fans go at it about their favorite teams. We will thrive on almost anything except neglect, apathy, and mute acceptance.
Thank you for responding to my comment… this is very helpful. Do you mind if I link to this entry on my blog?
I agree that arts blogging is a revitalizing force in our industry. Further than spurring discussion and criticism, blogs are also the media of choice for a growing group of young people. Having a blogging “arts scene” makes us more accessible to this younger crowd, without any musical/artistic compromise. What’s great is that most people directly involved in a performance come at it much more casually and with more excitement than this generation expects to see around classical music. It’s more exciting than a pre-symphony talk any day!
Now, if only the Met would start offering “broadcasts” for free download, we’d be set. :)
Canadian Basso –
Yes, happy to have you link. Thanks for your comments and for your involvement in these important discussions.
Hi, Kim – I’m a singer very much in the throes of trying to decide whether to continue blogging or not.
I really respect Campbell Vertesi and his honesty and myself enjoy participating in and contributing to the blogging arts scene, thinking and arguing and discussing music in the way others do sports, as you point out.
Still, I struggle with the blogging DMZ that is personal honesty vs. writing-for-an-audience. So far, the best I can do is assume an alias, although, as you say, it’s fairly transparent.
I too get comments like the one I received from Canadienne herself off-the record, naming the teacher I’d written about only as X X-X as openly as if I’d named her full out. I guess the music world is very small!
Some bloggers on my blogroll like Geraldine McGreevey manage to say what they think and don’t seem concerned, as do other non-singing musical types like music critic and writer Jessica Duchen.
I remain not completely convinced that even an alias (after 3 months of using my own married name) can protect me from the Wrath of Whatever.
If I do decide to shut my blog down (my readers would hate that, and they have been my support and lifeline in the transition back to the professional music world!), but if I do decide to shut my blog down, I might even go on to re-establish my career under my maiden name.
For instance, I might even one day audition for Wolf Trap!