Zen & the Art of the Opera Audition: Climbing the Mountain

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

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed… To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision getting started in a career in opera as a mountain that begs to be climbed. More like a rock face that needs to be scaled. Complete with periodic slipping and falling,with the rope that saves you being woven only out of  solid training and the support of your inner circle.

But doing it with little effort? And without desire?

The effort we’re trying to avoid is the desperate kind. The exhausting effort of trying to move too fast, to be something you’re not, to be motivated by fear.

The audition that avoids desperate effort is one that plays on your current strengths. You don’t need to show us what you think you’ll sing eventually; just deliver the best things you sing now. Control the things you can, and don’t waste effort trying to manipulate the things you can’t.

And oddly enough, a desperate desire to win the audition is one of the things that will surely keep you from reaching your potential. Do your best to tamp down your desire for your dream career, for your dream job; cast it aside in favor of investment in the moment.

The most reassuring part is that the sides of the mountain are where things grow. I’m not really sure that the top – the perceived destination – even really exists. But if it does, it’s not where you want to live your life. Grow, learn, live, and make your music on the path.

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