Think about it, how difficult it actually is to listen for HOURS a day. I mean, really listen. Not listen while multitasking, putting your mom on speakerphone (Hi, mom!) while you do dishes, chatting on headphones as you walk across town. Nope. It's like you're at an acoustic show, or a recital. For DAYS. You and I have both struggled to stay invested in select 5-minute conversations - maybe they were trivial, maybe they were important...but you and I both know that we've tuned out in tiny chats. But going to that "I wonder what's for lunch..." place mid-aria is not an option for us when we're auditioning.
(I preface this whole stupidly whiny post by saying that I KNOW THAT I HAVE IT RIDICULOUSLY GOOD. It's an honor to sit in the room, to invest in the artistry of the next generation of singers, to listen to works in progress and try to gauge potential and present. There's something amazingly festive, celebratory about having people walk in every 7-10 minutes to deliver their strongest performances! I realize that my job is totally ridiculous, and that this gripe is the first-worldliest of all first-world gripes. But I want to do right by everyone who comes into the room. I want to listen, to focus, to hear and see nothing but them. I want to be captivated, to be transformed. I want them to know that someone heard them, tried their best to understand who they were as an artist and a person.)
But I struggle. Like everyone else in the modern western world, I'm tired. My colleagues and I have been living out of our carry-on suitcases for almost two weeks, unpacking and repacking every 2 days. My clothes have somehow expanded so that they'll never, ever fit back into my suitcase without some serious magic, or my ass (which has also expanded at a corresponding rate) sitting on the poor lid, forcing those zippers together. My lack of willpower has me opting for terrible food, and my subsequent allergies have my face blotching up like a teen. (And relatively, I'm having a pretty easy tour!) My muscles are stiff, except for the ones that are downright sore or injured. I'm trying to learn repertoire like a bitch, because we don't cast until we hear everybody sing, which means I'm cramming operas into my head every year at this time, and then they fall out as soon as we pick...so I'm currently re-cramming. We left one midwestern city yesterday evening, drove 4 hours to another midwestern city, and heard an epic day's worth of singers and pianists today. (I don't know how our pianists do it - they're amazing!)
And we're going to do it all over again tomorrow.
And then we're going to do it in New York.
And in our home theater.
There are a few reasons I struggle.
First off? Personal taste. It's not news that people have personal preferences for different kinds of voices. I have personal biases, of course (ask me which of the three tenors has the career that I respect the most, and which one I love to listen to, and you'll get two totally different answers.), but I can't let those personal tastes into the room; which means if you have a type of voice that doesn't resonate easily with me, I'm listening closely to both figure out where the bodies are buried (vocally/technically speaking), but also to reexamine my own biases to try to beat them down a bit. If your instrument is one that I naturally gravitate towards? I'm going to really listen to see where the problems are, because I can't allow myself to just wallow around in a sound that I like.
(Notice what just happened there? It kinda doesn't matter whether I like your sound or not, I have to stay invested to make sure that I'm not dismissing it for personal taste, or giving you a pass because I like your natural sound.)
Secondly? Volume. Not actual sonic volume, but number of arias per day. Time spent sitting in a chilly room in a chair behind a table, tapping notes into a computer. (Those of you who don't like office work but would like to cast people? Auditions are office work: we've got printers and computers and staplers and spreadsheets and files and databases, and we have meetings to talk about casting and productions...it's all office work. Weird, non-standard office work, maybe; but not really, in truth.) And it's just a fact that, if you're the third person to sing Quando m'en vo in an 8-hour span, you're going to need to sing significantly better to be considered over the other two ladies. (Or you could go with singing it significantly differently...but sometimes that's good and sometimes it's just entertaining.) There are a certain number of people that I can listen to in a day without having my ears roll up the welcome mat and slam the door. And some days, due to schedules and rooms and travel, we have to listen to slightly more than that magic number.
(confession: volume, critical mass is something with which I always struggle, even at home. I'm the girl with headphones constantly in as I exercise/run errands/walk around the neighborhood...often there's nothing on in the headphones, I just need to filter the sound. maybe lots of ear infections as a kid have given me a stronger predilection for quiet? Anyhow, this is all a lengthy justification for sitting in a hotel room in silence, writing a blog post, and is also the reason I invested in a tiny watercolor set; so I could have something to do while I was not-listening.)
Thirdly? Psychic energy. As much as it's possible from way back here at the table, once I make eye contact with you I'm sending out "I REALLY WANT YOU TO ROCK" vibes as hard as I can. Because that's what I want - for you to sing like the rock star you are! You've won an audition, after a tough screening process; I'm already in your corner, and I'm going to send you all the good vibes that I possibly can.
It's 10pm. I'm turning off the lights in this quiet room to do some serious recharging for tomorrow's auditions. And I'll leave you with one of the few songs that I can indeed listen to on a heavy listening day. The original, and the cover, are both great. (And slightly ironic, because the song is about talking which is exactly what I can't bear...mayhaps I'll record my own cover, but change 'talk to' to 'chat with.' )