Zen and the Art of the Opera Audition: High Country

Second in a series of audition season posts inspired by a recent re-reading of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

“Few people travel here. There’s no real profit to be made from wandering through it, yet like this high country of the material world all around us, it has its own austere beauty that to some people make the hardships of traveling through it seem worthwhile. In the high country of the mind, one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions.”

We are a small subset of the arts community, we practical people. I know you’re out there… You crave a life in music, but the crazy ambiguity of it all sends you over the edge. Things like the “thin air of uncertainly” and “enormous magnitude of questions” keep you awake at night. And the constant exercise of putting your most vulnerable self out there for dissection and criticism during audition season is the final straw.

What to do? Well first, eliminate all uncertainty where it doesn’t belong. Be compulsive about your travel details, business correspondence, and calendar. Become so comfortable with your audition package arias that you don’t carry around a useless layer of anxiety about memory slips and scary tessituras. Sit quietly and think about which aspects of this audition process cause you the most angst, and then wage war against any of them that are preventable.

And then do the unthinkable. Acknowledge that the hardships of traveling in this “high country” actually are balanced by the beauty that can only be found here. And then look for some of it in the audition room. Make inspired, fierce music in the face of bad acoustics, out-of-tune pianos, sore throats and disinterested panelists. Because, as Phaedrus said of the high country, “There’s no real profit to be made from wandering through it.” The act of spending our days with art is one of its chief rewards. Don’t deny any shred of it to yourself. Even in the audition room :)

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