Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebration of the Amateur

This week I read a very good article by Georgia Jamieson Emms, an opera singer with a website called "We Need to Talk About Opera."  The article is called "We Need to Talk About Children and Opera."
It can be found here:

In the article she talks about the sensation around child "opera singers" like Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen.  She describes how children can sometimes do a wonderful impression of professional adult sounds and often also have the vocal endurance to withstand the stressful techniques that are used to create these imitation sounds.  It is made clear that this imitation talent is quite different from the actual skill of singing opera, for which many years are necessary to properly develop a voice so that it can have the endurance and foundation for a career.  The technique used by the charming child imitators typically can't hold up into young adulthood.

Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of attention given to these children, with the word prodigy even getting liberally thrown around.  Impossible expectations are placed on them and it's a recipe for failure.  It's perfect, however, for the short attention span of the television talent show pop genre.  These child stars are most likely largely forgotten by the time their voices give out.

I see this phenomenon as one example of the larger cultural phenomenon of generally celebrating the amateur.  People seem to really want to believe that mastery and great achievement just pop out of nowhere and it's all a big fun ride.  In my eyes, the most precious part of the preservation of the classical music tradition is not the repertoire itself.  It is the principle, which must be carried forward constantly into the present regardless of how well the old works are being preserved or enjoyed -the principle of hard work, of not just resting on a talent but applying great effort to refine the talent to its greatest potential, of looking to those who know more and have more skill, of always looking to improve and learn, and of humble acknowledgement of the vastness of artistic potential that is so much greater than what any individual can achieve in a life.  I hope that we will all recognize this potential, always strive toward it, never think that we've already achieved it, and, above all, never settle for easy gimmicks even if they can provide commercial success.

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