Mixed Metaphors – Droughts, Deserts, Riding the Waves

My mother used to call me Miss Malapropism, long before I knew what the word meant or how to use it inappropriately. With this in mind I give you my apologies in advance as this entry in my blog will undoubtedly involve a mixed metaphor or three.

Since moving back to London from Berlin in the beginning of 2010 I found the transition more difficult than I could imagine. I had spent the previous 6 months being supported in my new voice type change by my teacher, mentors and a wonderful scholarship. I also felt that Berlin – a city that is still rebuilding its visibly scared architecture and home only to 3/5ths of the population it was built for – was the perfect place for me to have the space to rebuild and renew my singing. However, after all that space I was not ready to be crammed back into the city of London.

Having been out of London from the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis I had missed the worst of the Credit Crunch, but the effects were unmistakable on the commute into the City of London. The grey drizzle of London’s weather was reflected in the faces of commuters as they faced another day in offices reeling from redundancies, not only fighting for a space on the tube, but fighting for their jobs and livelihoods.

Having never had a problem finding temp work to supplement my singing work, I was shocked that with 4 recruitment agents I could only scrounge up 5 weeks work in the first 15 weeks of the year. I have to admit I was filled with doubt about the likelihood of me being able to remain in London or even in the Northern Hemisphere. While I dreaded returning home to Australia without fulfilling the promise of the work I had done in Berlin, I did not know how I could survive as a nomad going from friend to friend and couch to couch. The circumstances concerning my time in Berlin had been so serendipitous and all flowed so easily. In comparison moving back to London had no sense of flow – the city was financially in drought and I was too.

Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way” suggests that the artistic life involves periods of drought and with this drought comes doubt. With these doubts and droughts in mind I had enough savings to do one of two things “up stumps” and move home or take up an invitation I had received while in Berlin to travel to the desert.

So I headed to the Sahara.

My time in Berlin changing voice type had been a period of intense study that helped me to be more flexible and adaptable than I had allowed myself to be in my singing life. In exploring this change I often felt vulnerable, but I also felt free to try new things, to be courageous. This opening up has had some far reaching effects including that I decided to open myself up to the possibility of something else, something far removed from the daily discipline of singing – taking some time off and HAVING A HOLIDAY! (not to mention traveling with someone I barely knew – but that is a whole other story!)

While taking a camel ride out of the Saharan desert I was able to observe the shifting sands of the Erg Chebbi desert and notice that even in the desert, which looks like a still sea of sand, nothing stays the same, there is constant ebb and flow.  I can say that watching the sun creep over the seemingly endless waves of sand one still morning was worth it.

As soon as I arrived back in London everything changed again. A part-time job in a law firm run by opera loving employers enabled me to consolidate my new soprano repertoire and eat!  With the basics of food and shelter covered again I was able to start to audition and perform again.

My first audition as a soprano was for master classes with Sir John Tomlinson at the Royal Academy of Music and ended in tears of relief as the panel, which included Sir John Tomlinson, agreed that I was indeed a soprano. As a member of the masterclasses, it was inspiring to absorb the attention to detail that Sir John Tomlinson gives to every vowel in each language he sings and the support and “nourishment” he gives every note. He was clearly passionate about process of his life’s work of singing. My acceptance into the masterclasses was a turning point for me in accepting that I am a soprano. This acceptance and ownership of where I have come from and what I have achieved has seemed to be as important to the process of a vocal transition as the actual technical work!

While participating in the London Master Classes we were also able to sit in on the conducting classes run by Benjamin Zander, an incredibly charismatic conductor who as well as being the chief conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and teaching conducting, also travels the world giving lectures about “The Art of Possibility” – using his experiences as a musician and conductor to inspire leadership in many other sections of the community. When talking about the intense week and a half we were all having at the Master Classes, Ben reflected that we were all surfing an immense wave and that once the masterclasses were over there would be a period of waiting for the next wave to come along – a period of sitting on a (metaphorical) surfboard waiting.

As you can imagine for an Aussie like me the surfboard metaphor resonated deeply. Doing the audition and working on the master classes was a little like catching a beautiful, wild, salty wave and riding it to shore on my new surfboard, fashioned during my time in Berlin (I told you there would be metaphors!). I had no idea whether my surfboard would hold up under pressure or whether I might end up falling off and being rolled around in the surf or God forbid whether I had chosen a “dumper”!

For the record, surfboard rides pretty well – like all good boards it needs regular applications of wax (o stop me now, before I go on to remember the teenage boys in the camping ground who would spend disciplined hours on their boards), but I am definitely enjoying the ride. Additionally, rather than being stuck in the middle of a drought I much prefer the idea that I am waiting for the next wave while enjoying the calm ebb and flow from atop my surfboard.

Regardless, one thing I have learnt over the last 6 months, whether I am in desert or on the ocean, if you just stop and look around both have exceptional views.

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