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What a blog competition can teach you about mankind

Ooooooooouf. Phew. Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmpppphhhhhhh. 

Sorry. I had to do those noises you make when you're doing yoga or exercising and you suddenly realize you've been holding your breath for the past 5 minutes and you have to let it out. Except instead of five minutes I've been holding my breath (and driving my boyfriend insane) for the past four weeks, and now I can finally exhale. I exaggerate a bit for comic affect, but it has been a rather harrowing but also rejuvenating experience entering and then finally winning (!!!) this Spring for Music Blogger Challenge

In addition to the cash prize (which is always welcome when you are a freelancer and income is sporadic), I gained some interesting insights about myself and other people. First, I was utterly amazed by the support I got from the people in the operatic community, especially during the last round when I finally decided to actually campaign a bit and let people know what I was up to and ask them to vote for me. In the first three rounds I posted about the competition on facebook, and that was about it. By the last round, I had wised up and realized that quasi facebook campaigining wasn't enough, and I needed to be more proactive, so I sent out emails to people, I joined twitter and tried to rapidly gain as many followers as possible, and I asked people on facebook to help me get the word out. And unlike my unsucessful campaign for Student Body Activities Director in 11th grade (my campaign speech consisted of a tap dance - I cannot imagine why I didn't win), it seemed to work. But more than that, I was incredibly moved by the fact that people took a geniuine interest in helping me, and got really involved in campaigining, asking friends and relatives to vote, and making me feel an unbelievable amount of support and friendship from all over the world. I have said before that one of the absolute best parts about having chosen this job is the people I am lucky enough to meet and get to know, and this competition was real evidence of that. I had people from Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Russia, and all over the U.S, and Canada not only rooting for me, but sending me notes of encouragement, sharing the competition with their friends, and watching each day as the votes were counted. That sense of community, despite the fact that my friends are scattered around the world, was absolutely the best part of this whole experience. 

And while all this was happening, I got contacted by the Huffington Post, asking whether I wanted to be a regular contributor to their Culture section. I said absolutely, sent them one of my articles, they chose it as their lead story the next day - and suddenly I had an even wider audience. This is actually a dream come true scenario for me because one of my passions is the idea of spreading understanding about the arts and culture, and opera in particular (since it's what I know) to a larger audience by showing them that it's not as difficult to understand and appreciate as they've been led to believe. I hope my articles in the Huffington Post will be able to accomplish that in some small measure - and I've already gotten ideas for many more articles based on the comments that have come in from my first article. I'm excited about this new chapter. 

Another interesting by-product of this whole shebang was the things I was able to observe and learn about varying people's attitudes within this industry. First of all there was the whole idea for the competition, which I personally think was brilliant. It drove people in hordes to the Spring for Music website, and got bloggers all over talking about the competition. The fact that there were people bitterly complaining about the existence of this competition and it's merits is laughable to me. That kind of intellectual snobbery is exactly the kind of thing that keeps regular people from possibly gravitating towards these forms of art that might intimidate them already. My whole deal is that yes, there is certailnly a great deal of scholarship involved in the study of classical music and other "fine" art forms, and that is definitely an important element of what we all do. But as this now viral video reminds us, music engages so many different parts of the brain that even people who have become basically non responsive can literally reanimate their brains with the help of an ipod. And shutting people out and looking down on those that are deemed less scholarly is the perfect way to make the fine arts totally inaccessible to a huge swath of the poplulation - which keeps our industries from growing and keeps us from having jobs! How is that doing anyone any good? I really wanted to include some of the specific quotes and tweets complaining about how either the competition or more specifically I lacked "intellectual relevance," but Michael convinced me that it would be "churlish." True dat. 

But the reason I even thought to include those comments and tweets is that, if I feel marginalized by these people, who obviously are worried that their art forms are being corrupted by people less intelligent and intelletual than they are (I mean - come on folks, I'm not Katherine Jenkins or Jackie Evancho - I did go to Juilliard for heaven's sake!), imagine how a regular person who doesn't know Beethoven from Rembrandt must feel! It just doesn't behoove us to shut people out and make this an exclusive club that you can only enter if you qualify for Mensa. It doesn't help our art forms grow and it certainly doesn't help us gain what we desperately need - a wider audience. I understand that you don't want things dumbed down - I don't want people to confuse what Jenkins and Evancho do with what I do either - but you can't expect everyone to know everything that you've had the privelege to learn. Shame on you, you artsy fartsy intellectuals. Don't shut the door on the rest of us - we need high culture just as much as you do - probably more. 

But I would rather not end this post on a sour note, because the people that really matter to me - those of you that were kind enough to support me and encourage me not only during this competition, but since I began blogging - far outnumber the negatives. YOU are why I keep writing and you are what inspires me to keep coming up with new ideas. And you know what? There was one dude complaining about me that had one thing right - I should blog more often. So thank you to him and to you all. It's a great time to be an artist - we have so many challenges, but we therefore have so much purpose! 

And one more thing; if you're in New York - please check out at least one of the Spring for Music concerts - the tickets are only 25 bucks and they've got some cool music programmed. See you there!  

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Reader Comments (9)

This post was very satisfying to read, like eating mashed potatoes on a rainy day. Yummy.

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpat

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend. He was heaping disdain on people who read romance novels and the like. I argued that people reading anything at all was a good thing. He believed that reading nothing was better than reading "junk." I heartily disagreed - and still do. Thus I bite my tongue (hard!) when someone at the office, knowing I'm an opera lover, excitedly tells me about the "wonderful opera singer" they heard on a TV program - and I find out it was really the latest "opera-pop" type. Instead I try to encourage their enthusiasm for the music itself rather than criticize their enjoyment of the performer. (Interestingly, they often confuse the two, thinking it's the so-so singer rather than, say, Puccini's undeniably beautiful "O mio babbino caro" that has moved them so.) Jenkins et al may make my skin crawl (I give Evancho herself a pass as it's surely not her fault), but, albeit with mixed feeling, I'd rather people were listening to anybody singing opera arias these days than listening to no operatic music at all.
Of course in a more perfect world, they'd be listening to *you*!

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMirto_P

I am so glad to have found out about your blog via Facebook during the campaign to win this contest. (I am also a singer and so many of my friends know you that it's weird we haven't met!) I really enjoy the way you write about art & music in the modern world and it's great to see you getting attention for it!

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermelissac.

Congratulations! Happy to see the Africa vote contributed. Looking forward to the Huff Posts ...

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristoff

Congratulations to you! I have so enjoyed reading your blog- I started reading right after the experience you shared with us about the van in the Berkshires, and being all dressed up as Queen Dido- and having to chase your water bottle down the road. I was in the chorus for that concert, and I have thoroughly enjoyed keeping up with you and your career via your blog since then. Wonderful that you have been recognized for your witty, down to earth style of writing, and I look forward to reading more in the future!

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I've enjoyed reading your blog for awhile. I came across it because I've recently gotten interested in opera. I'm happy you won this because you deserved it. You're a real writer and I really appreciated the way you share all the parts of your journey, including the bumps in the road. I particularly loved your recent Valentine's Day article (keep it in my purse). Good luck and I look forward to further posts from as they said from "the front lines."

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervf

rats, messed up last line.
Well ,we can't all be writers!

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervf

What comes first. The singer or the audience?

Singers basically think of themselves, but they should also be thinking of their potential audiences, many of whom don't understand much at all about opera.

Singers should actively pursue enterprises dealing with the education of opera for audiences. History, evolving singing techniques, great artists of yesteryear. Growth of opera houses, funding and so on.

They should become active offstage with lectures, blogs, essays and similar forms of communication. They'd probably learn a helluva lot themselves.

April 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd Masel

Just a quick not to tell you I so enjoy what you and the boys do for your art form on Opera Now. As the schlub in the second balcony who cannot sing, is not really aware of any of the fine points of an exceptional performance, usually comes for a good stifled sob after two to five hours--yes, an Opera Now fan who also loves Wagner and takes all of the slights personally--and loves to hear a tenor and a soprano reaching for their top notes together, it is nice to read someone who stands up for our enjoyment, even if it is not accompanied by any coursework or impassioned insights. I will come back for more of your blogs.

Thank you and congrats on the Huff Po gig.

May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Sprague

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