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Macro Learning

When I look back over this year of blogging for Grad Life, I am struck by the incredible challenges and changes that you, my readership, have witnessed.  Perhaps some of my journey over the past year has rang true for you on your journey, and perhaps you have been inspired by some of my experiences.  I hope that is the case.

When I was caught in the flow of the past year, I must say that I was mainly frustrated, discouraged, and impatient.  I did not recognize the experiences that I was having – the travel, the missed flights, the rejections, the hopeful time between the audition and the results, the learning of new repertoire and the learning of a matured voice – as learning experiences.  As much as I tried, I could not always see the value of these experiences immediately.  What I have realized this summer is that, even though my experiences surely did have immediate educational value, the greater value is in these experiences as a whole and their effect on me as a human being.  What I have learned is how I respond to difficulty, and how to recognize signs of stress or of grief in myself.  What I have learned is how I can bounce back from some difficult emotional experiences with joy and renewed passion.

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Learning to Learn

Lake Orford

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m off to Orford Arts Centre Academy.  I will be a student of Denise Massé, who is one of the French diction coaches at the Met, and I’ll be studying one of my favorite opera roles with her – Marie from La fille du régiment.  These are the kinds of experiences that are just as valuable as a degree program, because they provide the opportunity to make connections with professionals in the field without the time commitment of a degree or training program.

I have, however, run into a little problem which exists in my mind and in the way I learn.  I have blogged about it before, but in a different form.  At the beginning of the summer it was manifesting itself as a resistance to getting a real job as a recent Masters graduate.  Now, I can feel a resistance to artistic suggestions.  What I mean to say is, I have become a bad student.

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Where did summer go?

Where did all the time go?  This summer seemed so immense only a month ago, and all of a sudden we only really have a few weeks left until it is time to start thinking about fall again.

What have I accomplished so far this summer?

  • I have profited from Montreal.  I attended the Jazz Fest, the Francofolies festival, random street festivals that I didn’t know existed before, gone to a free tango class, biked all over the island at all times of day and night, had poutine, did yoga on the Lachine canal, got bagels from St. Viateur so often that I am now friends with the employees and get my bagels for free, went to house parties, climbed the mountain, tried the flying trapeze, attended Tam-tams and Piknic Elektronik…. and Much more.
  • I have gained amazing exposure through singing in the metro.  The amount of social and musical confidence I have gained through this experience is unmatched.  I have never in my life performed so often in such a short amount of time.  I have been featured by a small TV station, met agents, recording engineers, other musicians, circus performers, and music lovers.
  • I have built a very healthy lifestyle.  I have found a way to eat mostly local, organic food, exercise consistently, and know when I need sleep.  Hopefully I’ll bring this skill into the following year.
  • I have rekindled my desire to make music, learn, and work hard in this amazing life.  After a hard year of papers and study, sometimes the last thing you want to do is continue to study.  But there is so much to learn in this world.  And, most of the learning is experiential – all you need to do is step outside your comfort zone, and make ‘Yes’ be your magic word.

Doing

*This is cross-posted at rwoodmass.wordpress.com.*

“What I knew for sure from this experience with you is that we are all called. Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. Every time we have seen a person on this stage who is a success in their life, they spoke of the job, and they spoke of the juice that they receive from doing what they knew they were meant to be doing. …Because that is what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you and hope that you will take from this show. To live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living; I understand that. But you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.”

-Oprah Winfrey, Farewell

I am currently living the 25th year of my life as Rebecca.  These past 25 years of my life have been wonderful, full of discovery, philosophy, and experimentation.  I am young and full of potential, but I am no longer a child, and it is time for me to start putting all my youthful passion and dreaming into action.  It is time, as Oprah says, to ‘get about the business of doing it’.

Alot of people talk about ‘what they do’, especially in the business of art.  In fact, there is alot of talk in general, and I suspect not nearly as much actually ‘doing’ as there is talking.  The reason I suspect talkers talk more than they do is because I am one of those people.  I paint – but do I really paint?  I dance – but how often do I really dance?  I sing – but do I really put in the daily time required to be the best that I can be?

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Clarity

‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’  -Thomas Edison

I think most of us have a small, seemingly impossible dream or desire that could turn into an amazing opportunity.  It could be an opportunity to make money, but more likely, it is an opportunity for happiness and fulfillment.  Thomas Edison recognized that no amazing thing happens without a large amount of hard work and dedication.  Human beings are lazy, and we like to complain.  Perhaps it would be a valuable lesson if we could get over our fear of having less and working more – it may even lead to a more fulfilling life.

I have been experiencing this personally this summer.  Right after graduation, I found myself enjoying the life of no work, all play.  Part of this had to do with a sudden feeling that if I had a Master’s degree, I should not have to stoop to get a lowly summer job, especially not in a restaurant or café – ewww.  As you know from my previous post, I decided to busk instead of get a job.  Initially, I was terrified of the act of busking – it was something new that I had never done before.  How would I know my efforts would be appreciated?

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Summer Job

I don’t want a summer job.

All year, I was supported by my Teaching Assistantship, my scholarship, grants, and bursaries, and my *ahem* parents.  I am in the mood to make music, to be a poor artist, to declare my passion and refuse to do anything else.

What to do, what to do?

I have no idea how much money I can make in one week just by busking in the metro, but this is the current plan.  If I absolutely must, I will look for a part-time job, but how fantastic will it be to make money doing what I am actually certified to do by McGill University?

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Insanity

In grad school, you are supposed to Specialize.  When I went into this whole thing, I thought I wanted to specialize in Mozart and Strauss.  These composers’ musics are perfectly suited to my voice – so that is what I pursued.  However, in hindsight, I think my specialization was INSANITY.

From day 1, in typical Rebecca Woodmass fashion, I took on far too many projects.  However, because of my organizational skills finely honed over time, I managed to convince myself and everyone around me that I, in fact, did not take on too many projects.  I did them well – but imagine how amazing my performances would have been if I hadn’t taken on too much?

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McGill is Awesome

Me in front of the Schulich School of Music

A lot of people enter their universities with awe and wonder, and exit disenchanted and apathetic (or angry).  I will admit to having been one of those people in the past, and I think it is normal.  After all, we are paying the universities big bucks to teach us things, stretch us, force us to do work that we otherwise would never do, and hold us to high expectations and guidelines that we would never place on ourselves.  It is destined to be a love-hate relationship between students and their institutions.

Although I am not under the impression that McGill is perfect in every way, I have really appreciated this institution throughout the process of my Master’s degree.  Here’s why:

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Post-Post-Grad

So – that was that.  My master’s degree.  Was I dreaming?

I have been recently hit with the common post-grad-school realization that I can do ANYTHING I WANT!  I have no familial obligations, no contracts, no school, no… ah wait.  The financial obligations are massive and heavy coming out of this endeavor.   This new stage of life is exciting, terrifying, and very different than anything I have ever experienced.  It is time to find balance – a balance of risk-taking (after all, we are still young!) and responsibility (after all, we are going on our thirties!).  It is time to find a way to work, play, make money and spend it all at once.

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How to eliminate grocery shopping from your life while still eating healthy and sticking exactly to your budget

Flyer from PA

Recently, I have been really feeling the pain of a knee injury that kept me limping for a week this week.  So, I had to think of creative ways *not* to move, which is usually the opposite of what I try to accomplish.  However, I discovered something amazing today that I wish I would have known when I moved to Montreal.

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Everything but…

Photo by Gordon Adler

I have been feeling very keenly lately the urgent need for variety in life.  All year, as my posts have reflected, I have been intensely focussed on one current, ongoing goal, which has really taken all of my energy.  The broader questions I have been asking myself lately have been:

  • What is really going to make me happy and healthy?
  • What is happiness, anyway?
  • Are there things in my life that I need to get rid of?  Are there things I need more of?

One resource that has helped me alot has been Eckhart Tolle‘s book, ‘The Power of Now’. (more…)

Education

This reading week, I am trying to complete all the coursework I have left for the semester, so I can focus on completing my degree with excellence, joy, and sanity.  As this is quite an overwhelming task, I have been doing a lot of stressing, but also thinking about what life will be like after I no longer have scholastic deadlines and busywork to attend to.  Unlike many grad students, the bulk of my work is NOT writing…. it is singing.  Singing is what I do best.

It is a mystery to me why the education system is the way it is. (more…)

Opportunity vs. Money

As I draw closer to graduation, I find myself turning down opportunities.

I use all kinds of excuses – I (almost) have a Master’s degree and deserve to earn more; It’s not worth my time for that price; or the killer: What If Something Better Comes Along.  However, all too often, something better does not come along, and I am stuck with nothing to do.  This is not like a McGill Graduate: we are taught to grab opportunity by both horns and run with it.  I need to do more of this.

Recently, I applied to alot of things that do not pay well (summer programs and the like), but that I am likely to be successful in.  So, here comes a bunch of new auditions, new people to sing for, but also a newfound confidence that I will likely succeed!  Perhaps I am overconfident, but I don’t think so.  These opportunities are reasonable options, and look like the next step for me in my career.  They can also lead to more opportunities, which ‘doing nothing’ doesn’t generally do.

Although succeeding at something small is not quite the same at succeeding at something massive and unlikely, it is still a success.  I would be happy with one of those!

Peace

East Side GalleryAfter my angst-ey previous post, I bet you are wondering, dear reader, how things went in Berlin!

Things went fabulously – everything that could have gone wrong went right, and everything that could have gone right went wrong. I did not get the contract with the Staatsoper, but after a little youtube research, I found out that they were looking for a voice that had a little more heft to it than mine. I also missed 2/3rds of the flights that I purchased, blowing my audition budget completely out of the water, but rebooking meant I got to spend the night in London with an old friend before heading back to Montreal. I met the curator of the Tacheles (possible concert connection there), and some amazing girls who are possible roommates for my imminent move to Berlin. I made phone calls in German and re-booked my flights in German.

Most of all, however, I finally felt at peace about my future. Instead of shooting straight to the top like some of my very talented friends are going to do, I think my tactic for success is going to be alot different. I am going to make the slow climb. My new tactic is this:

  • Be myself, no matter what.
  • Do things other than singing and embrace diversity in my life.
  • Make every day beautiful.
  • Accept the unknown future as an adventure instead of something to be feared.

I can have a career if I just stick to it, get to know more and more people and show them my good work ethic. However, I cannot have a career in Europe if I am not in Europe – therefore, even though I did not get a contract over there, I decided my next step is to make the move. Learn German, teach English and yoga, and sing sing sing for as many people as possible.

I’m ready!

Throw me a bone…

How much control do we really have over our future?  In my life so far, and especially in the past few years, I have had a little bit of luck and a basic sense of control over my future, and the opportunities I offered myself.  It seems that I have always been successful in enough of my auditions that i could feel basically sure that I would continue to do so.
This year, the final year of my degree, I felt ready to go into the ‘big’ auditions that I would be taking on.  And why wouldn’t I?  I have the blessing of my incredible teachers and of one of the best opera programs in North America, as well as years of hard work and a fabulous repertoire list.  I have the ‘look’, good acting skills, and methods of dealing with my nerves at auditions.
Let me give you a little update on how things are going so far:

Snow, Silence, and Success

Do they come together?  They did this week!

Snow: For weeks, we endured the dry-ish, rainy cold.  No one who hasn’t experienced snow would believe it, but snow actually makes things seem warmer.  Maybe its the fact that you think its going to be cold because there is snow, and then its not so bad when you actually get out there, has something to do with it.

At any rate, we got a dump of snow that managed to stall all the busses that were going to my home.  After an hour and a half of waiting for busses and taking the metro to get to other busses that might bring me towards home, I decided to walk from the nearest metro stop to my house.  Not a very brief trudge, it ended up taking me a whole hour of trudging.  I even got lost once because I couldn’t recognize the city under all that snow.

Silence: Definitely has to do with snow.  Its as though if there is snow in the air, it acts as a shattered but still effective wall of silence, blocking or muffling all sound.  There’s nothing quite like it, and for someone who makes noise for a living, it is a welcome change from the everyday.

Success: Probably has nothing to do with the other two.  However, I finally had responses from some of the European houses I applied to, and they want to hear me!  This is always the beginning of success… Now, all I’ll have to do is convince them that they really want to get to know me better by having me sign a contract for the next year.  On the menu: a trip to New York in about a week, and a trip to Berlin in January!  So exciting!

Guest Post: Why Opera is Important

This post is reproduced with permission from Mark Ellis Gough, opera singer with Opera Lyra in Ottawa.  I feel he conveys a very important and convincing message, which is important for everyone curious about opera to read.  Thank-you, Mark!

Why Opera is important

By Mark Ellis Gough

When Ty Paterson asked me to write something for the Opera Lyra Ottawa Conductor’s Blog I wanted to write something that was important to me. I’ve decided to write a little blurb about how I feel about my art. The vast majority of this little essay is based entirely on my opinions and gut feelings and unfortunately has no academic clout whatsoever. This is unfortunate as I really want to convince my fellow arts lovers and theatre goers that Opera is an important, relevant, passionate, and beautiful genre. When I tell people that I’m an opera singer I’m often greeted with surprise, “Really? People still sing Opera? I had no idea!” I find this state of affairs unacceptable. The Operatic Arts are not in decline as some people think but they are evolving into a provocative medium for drama, comedy, and some of the greatest music ever written. I want to write a few paragraphs that will help convince you not only of the relevance of Opera to our cultural life, but that it is superior as an art form.

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Apologizing

Rebecca singing Despina in Cosi fan tutte

Rebecca singing Despina in Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Weimar, Germany

A colleague of mine recently initiated a wonderful peer-evaluating performance group.  We meet every week and sing new repertoire in front of a small audience of friends, who do not judge, but gives constructive comments about the performance.  There is no one present who has any control over our career, who can ruin opportunities, grant jobs or money, or has any immediate affect on our future.   It is a safe place to make mistakes, and to ‘premiere’ audition repertoire for the first time, which is notoriously nerve-racking and difficult. (more…)

Beauty

I am trying to stay focussed on the reason why I decided to make music for a living. Beyond all of the judgement of one’s peers, beyond the politics of being cast or getting an audition or not, beyond rude agents and ‘extraneous’ work (what I might call the requirements for my degree), it really comes down to music-making.

Enjoy Kiri te Kanawa performing Cantaloube’s Bailero from Les Chants d’Auvergne.

Bailero

Biking in Montreal

I am one of those crazy people.

You know, those people who decide that they would like to transport themselves using the dotted lines on the major roads of Montreal, instead of the approved bus, metro lines, or sidewalks. Granted, we do have a few paths of our very own, which are usually overrun with cars wanting to park, pedestrians with a death wish, and other crazy people on bikes. There is no doubt about it, anyone who chooses to bike in Montreal has to be a little off their rocker.

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