Never Sure

Rahree and I have an annual audition tour magazine addiction. Neither of us tends to read magazines for fun (you can’t count Opera News, really…) the rest of the year. But in October/November, our carry-on luggage bulges with things like Vogue, Scientific American, Real Simple, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, Wired, and Oprah. It’s Ms. Winfrey who prompts today’s rambling post.

O has a regular feature called “What I Know for Sure.” While I enjoy most of the musings in this column, I confess that the idea of Knowing Something for Sure has always bumfuzzled me. I am the poster child for never being sure. Not that I can’t summon up confidence when it’s time to act, or that I lack the courage of my convictions. It’s just that I’m really never sure.

So this New York Times article called my name last week. The thought that overconfidence can be a hazardous thing is sweeter than I can describe. The ultimate target of the article is the wreck that is our financial system, but the implications are much broader.

The idea that my colleagues and I can cross the country every year and accurately (some would say almost scientifically) single out the best emerging talent in our industry is optimistic, charming, and somewhat naive. Yes, there’s a level of decision-making that’s kind of linear, involving somewhat objective parameters like intonation, language skills, stagecraft, articulation, timbre and projection.  But once those (not insignificant) criteria are met, who is really qualified to pick and choose among the numerous artists still standing?

We relish disagreements among the panelists, for it demonstrates that not every one of us responds to art in the same way. And if three of us have varying opinions, imagine how widespread the range is among thousands of audience members. (Well, you really don’t have to imagine if you’ve been around opera fans very much… they don’t hesitate to tell you flat out :)) As much as we wish that someone could have the definitive answer to who will be tomorrow’s “stars” (whether it be Simon Cowell, the Met, or Len Goodman), it’s just not so.

Not only must the wide variation of consumer tastes be considered; there are career variables that none of us can see in an audition. “Lucky” breaks, unforeseen hurdles, lifestyle choices, mental and physical health, work ethic, perseverance. And truly, once the compulsory skills are vanquished, these other factors come barreling at the performing artist in way that leaves you breathless.

So if you’re the kind of person who is wired to take comfort in knowing that your decisions are right and inevitable, I applaud you. And if that security helps you sleep at night and gives you the courage to get through each day, I envy you.

I, meanwhile, will wonder at every turn if I’ve done the right thing. And oddly, I will not be tortured by it. For really, whether it applies to those on my side of the audition table or the brave people up there in from of the piano; the only thing that matters is that we are doing the best we can. Always seeking, never satisfied, and full of wonder at it all.



Wonderfully put, Kim. It’s a luxury to be able to comprehend things with such open-mindedness. Unfortunately it’s way too easy to fall prey to the pressures of wanting to please others, whether it be as a singer or as a General Director. In the grand scheme of things I feel like it’s crucial to understand that it’s not necessarily how we do something, but why we do it that’s vital to nurturing true happiness.

As factual as the labels ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ seem to be at times, I like to keep the perspective that those two adjectives are still opinions depending on who’s casting judgement. Thanks for sharing this!

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