I had hoped this weekend’s Lotte Lenya Competition finals would provide some career-path clarity. After all, standing up in front of a panel of judges and curious audience members twice in one day should shed a little bit of light on how it feels to be nurtured, appreciated, and scrutinized all at the same time–in a nutshell, how it feels to be a performing artist. If it feels bad, then maybe it’s time to change directions. If it feels good, then maybe it’s time to punch up the efforts and take advantage of the momentum.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and clarity rarely comes with want.
After the singing was over on Saturday night, the judges disappeared to continue the “lively discussion” they had started earlier in the day, promising to return with a list of winners. The audience shuffled about, awaiting the results. The singers nervously chattered in the green room, awaiting the results. A couple of shufflers walked by some chatterers and stopped. “You,” the lady who showed up to Kilbourn Hall on a whim said to one of my colleagues, “you made me cry. I have no idea why; it must have been something in the music, or what you did, but you made me cry.” Bingo. Job well done, dear contestant.
When the judges returned, the audience welcomed the 15 singer-actors with applause. It was an applause filled with a similar kind of “You made me cry” affection. Ah, I think we did our jobs, dear contestants.
After introductions, each of the three panel members said a few (and sometimes more) words. Then more applause. And in the end, everyone–audience, judges, directors, administrators, singers, accompanists–seemed to be singing, “there might be a box, but we’re not sure what it is, so don’t worry about fitting into it. We like what you’re doing. Keep working on it. Keep expressing the music according to its style. Keep expressing the drama that inspires the music. Keep inspiring the music with the drama. Keep letting the story come out of you and keep telling it. Keep stirring our souls. Keep us laughing. Keep crying. Keep us crying. Keep sharing the excitement. Yes, keep sharing.”
Inspiration came, mais hélas, clarity cameth not. “Everyone has her own path,” Lisa Vroman (and thousands of people before her) affirmed. Okay, great, but how do I get one and who’s going to give me the topo map? I want a path, I want a path!
And then I looked back and saw it. “Hey, there it is!” I thought. I don’t suppose I know where it’s going, but I’ve been making one all this time, and I think I’ll keep on…