The story of the two salesmen who went down to Africa in the 1900s: They were sent down to find if there was any opportunity for selling shoes. And they wrote telegrams back to Manchester. And one of them wrote: “Situation hopeless. Stop. They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote: “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.”
– from Benjamin Zander’s presentation at TED
One of the most cringe-inducing questions you can ask a singer who has graduated from school is “What are you doing now?” There just aren’t enough awesome singing opportunities/careers for every awesome singer, and it can take years of auditioning while working some side-job to reach a point where the side-job can go away. Even knowing how much this question sucks, I can’t help but ask it when meeting new singers. It’s part of the ritual. It’s the second question singers ask each other after asking “What repertoire do you sing?” After all, we’re curious about one another and freaking out about our own futures; we are looking for inspiration and leads.
Benjamin Zander‘s discussion about music and the human spirit is inspiration for singers and non-singers alike; in the above video from TED.com, he addresses a group of roughly 1,600 people who are not necessarily musicians, and I can’t imagine anyone remaining unmoved by the closing. Anyone who is stuck answering the “What are you doing now” question or who worries about finding a job in a too-expensive, inaccessible art form only patronized by an aging, unsustainable crowd could use a dose of his confidence in the ability of classical music to survive. He points out that as musicians we must create long lines rather than emphasizing each downbeat. Similarly, as human beings striving for change we need to focus on a vision rather than mechanical plodding or insignificant distractions. He uses the example of a bird flying over the fields, not caring about the fences – like the musician who knows to ignore the bar lines when shaping phrases.
We had the courage to pick music as our field of study; we should have the courage to follow through and create a market for ourselves and our talents. As Benjamin Zander says, everyone loves classical music… they just don’t know about it yet. It’s a Glorious Opportunity.