Singing for My Supper

I’m getting paid to sing!!! And I am really concerned as to why this is something I need to announce…or any musician should need to announce or brag about. You don’t see lawyers or chefs posting on social media, “Hey guys! Guess what? I’m getting PAID for the work I do!” That would be really jarring and obvious to people. And yet, when I recently posted something on Facebook about getting a paid singing job, my lovely friends encouraged me and liked my photo and said “congratulations” as if it was this big accomplishment.

The sad truth is that it is a big accomplishment for a musician to get paid. Why is that? Why has that always been a trend? Mozart died poor and was buried in a common grave and he was…perfect. He was the most perfect composer. My eyes well with tears thinking of every piece of his music. It. Is. Perfect. Truly. He was the original example of “only the good die young”.

But it truly begs the question: Why are musicians and for that matter any type of artist in general not paid/paid well? Is it because we like our job? Because we enjoy it? Why should I be punished for loving what I do? There are certainly moments I DON’T love it. Music theory, rhythm practice, monotonous repetition, having a difficult lesson, nerves, or screwing something up in front of a large audience…these are all things I do not love about what I do. But it is a job so I have to do it. The difference between the job I do and the job almost everyone else does is that I am usually not paid. So I spend hours a day learning, practicing, repeating, physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally taxing myself, but I don’t deserve to get paid. Why?

I hesitated writing this because I thought, “So many other singers and musician bloggers have talked about this to death”. But…THAT’S EXACTLY WHY WE NEED TO ADDRESS IT. Why is this STILL happening?!

I think it is a lack of education. That is my personal opinion. People see the final product of something and assume that’s it: Two to four hours singing about love on stage in a pretty costume. Because I don’t have a 9-5 job, I’m not considered legitimate. But a lot of times musicians are working from 9 until midnight! Or beyond if you have a show opening that given week! Weekends, holidays, summer, day, night, all the time. I recently learned a large role in a very short amount of time and was losing sleep over how overwhelmed I was. I was spending hours upon hours studying it on my own and coaching it with an amazingly generous pianist friend of mine to learn it in time for a sing through of the whole opera. When the day finally came, I jumped on the underground frantically looking over as much of the music as I could before I got there and thought, “Thank god I don’t have a job so I can go to this on a Thursday in the middle of the day”. And then stopped myself like: WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO YOURSELF?! I’m so used to not being taken seriously that this is how I refer to myself. How dare I not appreciate the time and effort I put into this to create a good final project?  What is the difference between me preparing this role and someone preparing a presentation for a board meeting?  One difference: I HAVE TO SING MINE.

I see people on Facebook asking for money to go to a summer music program to further their career. I doubt I will ever see an accountant or baseball player trying to raise money amongst their online friends. And I have no animosity towards other people in their chosen careers, if anything I envy them. They know where their next paycheck is coming from.

The famous joke about actors is:

Man 1: What do you do?

Man 2: I’m an actor.

Man 1: What restaurant do you work at?

It’s true. I did work in a restaurant! I spent so much of my time having a day job that I would neglect studying and singing for dangerous amounts of time because I didn’t know how to balance having two jobs at once. And why should I? Does anyone ever ask a CEO, “Hey, where do you work when you’re not working?”

Funding is another issue artists face. In 1981, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2009, the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) came under attack by various presidents and congress members (surprise surprise by conservative republicans) and at one point Newt Gringrich wanted the NEA to be eliminated all together along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcating. So that the United States could spend more money on war and rallies telling people that gay marriage will anger Jesus. I’m stopping myself now.

In an article from 2014 discussing funding for the arts around the world, we learn that there are ten countries that have better funding and protection for the arts than the States and one of them is MEXICO. The United States provides 1/40 of what Germany provides in funding for artists. In 2007, this roughly equated to $20 per German citizen compared to 41 cents per American citizen.

How is that acceptable? $245 billion the US government has spent on bailing out banks and in 2013 arts funding was .28 percent of the government’s non-military spending.

What do we need to do to convince you that we are working? Or more importantly, what do YOU need to do to understand that what we do is work.

I’m hoping that this new chapter in Germany will be lucrative for me, it is already off to a wonderful start and I am encouraged to see an obvious appreciation for art here. I guess what so many of us struggle with is that if we lose the battle on the paycheck even when we stand our ground, we do it anyway. Because we love it. And be honest, you love it too. You love the drama, the music, the photographs that tell a story and capture history or a beautiful sunset. The costumes at the ballet and the makeup on the movie stars. You love it when sopranos sing high notes as they are dying on the stage at The Met or when the busker who does a surprisingly good cover of a James Blunt song brightens your walk to the subway. You cannot escape it, it is all around you. And that is because whether we are paid or not, we have to express ourselves which is the blessing and the curse.

I need to stop writing so I can get back to work…yes, it is work.

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Berlin!

We made it! We are in Berlin and have been for a little over a month. Do I need to change the name of my blog? I really don’t want to…someone suggested Fraulein Venus or something along those lines- HA!!

Berlin! IMG_6509

It’s amazing. I’m loving it. I think maybe I’m in the honeymoon state, but I don’t see it wearing off any time soon although one of my friends told me the other day how intense the winters are. I told him I went to school in Upstate New York and this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. He put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in, locked eyes with me, and told me in hushed tones, “You don’t understand.” I felt like I was in “Game of Thrones”.

For now, the sun is out, it’s getting warmer and there is so much to do and see! My first impressions of the city are as follows.

Beer. It is everywhere. The moment we got to our friend’s apartment in Berlin, they handed me a beer.

Arrival Beer

Arrival Beer

It’s too easy.  To the point where I went with a friend to her friend’s house who was away to check on her cat and ended up drinking a beer. It’s so cheap and accessible.

I will so drink so on a boat

I will so drink so on a boat

People walk down the street with it. Something that would be considered red neck in the states is so normal here. Everyday, all day, people on the U-Bahn (subway) have a beer bottle in their hands. No matter what day of the week or time of the day, beer is a flowin’.IMG_6567

The history. There are moments of extreme wonder and joy at all of the modern architecture and futuristic aspects.  And then there are extremely sobering moments remembering the history here. The Stumbling Stones (http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims) placed at the feet of homes where once upon a time not so long ago families were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz.IMG_6520

IMG_6523There are memorials to the people who died trying to jump over the Berlin Wall and monuments all around the city marking where it was. It is a lot at once. I’ll go from nearly skipping down the street to weeping within a span of minutes. Trying to not only imagine the Holocaust which is something truly beyond my realm of reality, but then seeing pieces of where the Wall was and being able to casually stroll through it back and forth makes me feel almost ungrateful in a strange way. I can walk from one side to the other. I’m a foreigner in this country that endured not only the horrors of World War II, but also the oppression of the Wall. And I choose to be here and can walk to and fro…

The way the culture is here, however, is balanced in respect to what happened. People are kind, helpful, joyful, intelligent….they enjoy their lives and have a functioning society while still having beautiful tributes to their dark history. It’s not abrasive and intrusive, but it’s also not hidden. I think it is something that is so heartbreaking for them. Even people who weren’t around during World War II carry a sort of residual guilt from it all. But you see people out in the many beautifully kept parks on the weekends with their children, playing sports, reading, spending time with their dogs…it’s a sort of utopia that sprang out of disastrous tragedy of the past.

Part of The East Side Gallery

Part of The East Side Gallery

Things work now. The public transport is out of this world. Clean, on time, zero tolerance for violence. There are always a few drunkies roaming the trains asking for money, but it’s not an affront. There was a really amazing moment I was touched by- we went to Mauer Park on Easter Sunday to walk around and see the famous flea market.  There was this Roman theatre like stage and a street performer who was simultaneously doing stand up comedy in German, using a diavolo string thing, and dancing. People were going insane. There were well over 200 people watching and OF COURSE drinking beer.  And there were a couple of homeless guys walking through the stands collecting empty bottles. For them, they can take them to a bottle return and make some money and the park isn’t littered with bottles people leave behind.. It was really nice and fascinating to watch.  They weren’t asking for money, just happily taking everyone’s bottles and laughing at the performer and people were more than happy to pass the bottles off.

Big crowds

Big crowds

Communicating is horrifying. You learn one phrase and then the response is rapid German. No no!! Stop! Also unlike in Italy when you don’t know how to say an exact word or phrase you can describe it or get close and they will level with you and help you out. Here, if you do not say it perfectly they don’t help you out. They look really confused and stand there silently.  I tried to order three pieces of bread and literally pointed to them, said the German, and held up 3 fingers and for some reason it was out of the question.

The food. I won’t lie…this I miss Italy for. Now, it is so much better to have every food

Valerio cradling the pasta and asking it why it doesn't taste better.

Valerio cradling the pasta and asking it why it doesn’t taste better.

nationality to chose from in one square mile, but…but the produce and the pasta…I can’t. Poor Valerio, every time he makes a pasta here whether it be with zucchini or tomatoes and pancetta, he will take a bite, drop his fork

Hey, beer.

Hey, beer.

in a much dramatic manner and exclaim, “But this tastes like nothing!” Unfortunately he’s right. The pasta is not good quality and a lot of the produce is not either. They don’t take vegetables and fruits out if they aren’t in season so they are being imported or grown in bulk. So that’s a little sad. But my god is the pork good. Berliners know what they are doing when they make sausage.

The music. Finally. FIN-ALLY. It is so overwhelmingly joyful to be working with talented musicians I respect and admire. I am singing so much that there is not time for much else. Except beer. Where I had to try and drag people out to play concerts or rehearse in Lucca, here I go from one rehearsal to the other with people who are so excited to be singing, learning languages and technique, and putting on concerts whenever they ca. I feel alive again in singing. I have a phenomenal voice teacher who is super intense and wonderful and has a voice that could knock a house down. I feel like I am in school again and I am more than happy to be a student of music.

I think Berlin is going to be a great new home. Did I mention how cheap the beer is?

The Tor!

The Tor!