December 12, 2012

"Best Before" dates: A talk with Lake Diva, Wendy Neilson

DECEMBER 17, 2012

ATHLETES do it. DANCERS most certainly do it. SINGERS? Meh... (insert shoulder shrug - and avoid eye contact)


The “TALK” about CAREER #2.

I know it’s sacrilege to
THINK, let alone TALK about preparing to leap to the next branch of your career....especially if that BRANCH does NOT lead to a stage. While avoiding this conversation, we say things like,

“Yup...busy busy...gotta buy a new score...yup....I’m on hold for a few gigs right now, so, I can’t really say...premiering this new work (for 9 pennies) but it’s totally feeding my soul...”

(and I totally believe you)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we:
sling beer, coffee, or cupcakes
fold sweaters
take photos
temp & type
play or conduct
sing for Jesus
create summer programs
sell makeup/jewelry/Tupperware
deliver the mail
spin, poke, or yoga-fy
and even coach
others to make their dreams come true.

We will do ANYTHING that is FLEXIBLE enough to fill in the financial gaps
between gigs and will abandon it all when those magical feasts of opportunity are presented.

Well, for me and my circle, the conversation of 
CAREER #2 is definitely happening. Every time I turn around I encounter fellow divas and divos who are taking on ENTIRELY NEW CAREERS. It’s not broadcast, there’s a lot of, Don’t mention this to anyone until I actually find a job.” but it’s definitely happening.

No question, my December birthday, followed by the New Year forces me to ask:

• what’s working
• what’s not
• what has changed about me
• what has changed about the industry
• and what, ultimately, needs to give?

To avoid turning the blog into AN ODE TO A MIDLIFE CRISIS I spoke with someone who has been on bigger stages than most of us dream of, and has slowly, but surely, created a sturdy branch into an accidental CAREER #2.

cue the canoe! 


New Brunswick native and Lake Diva, 
, is a former alumnus of Toronto’s COC ensemble, the Metropolitan Opera roster, and a highly sought after soprano who has sung worldwide creating an exceptional stage career spanning 25 years.

When asked about whether she 
deliberately planned her current 2nd CAREER branch into teaching she admits, “it wasn’t entirely intentional” but, a slow evolution of teaching at summer programs
, ensemble residencies, master classes and, finally, a discussion with the University of Toronto & COC Opera Ensemble would equate to a full time teaching position in Toronto.

“Teaching was good luck, rather than good planning.”

Wendy’s choice to complete her Master’s degree was done with a PLAN B in mind, aware that,
“..there were VERY FEW singers who ONLY sang for a living
and an even slimmer percentage who would have a BIG career.”

She was conscious of her colleagues at the Met whose calendars were only half full (let the scramble begin). Knowing that her single income family (her husband would be a stay at home dad with their son in N.B.) would, potentially, never have a steady paycheque, some thought needed to be directed toward the future.

What does she say to her students regarding this topic when considering paths other than the stage?

“It’s not about failure (if you choose to change paths) it’s about decisions."

Figuring out (hopefully sooner than later) that you might not actually want to make a living doing this. The 1st or 2nd year out of school is a good time to start asking the question:


• married
• kids
• house
• hotels
• matching cutlery
• dull knives
• Europe
• sing only at home
• eat when you retire


Not surprisingly, she suggested asking the same question in your early 30’s and 40’s.

Your needs and desires evolve, so why shouldn’t your career? Always keeping in mind IF the self-employed, ever evolving income, is something that you can also live with. There is a LOT of freedom in the arts but there is also much less security. Simply saying, “Next year will be better” just isn’t realistic.

ME: Well, how do you decide which new wave to ride?!

WENDY: It’ll be the one that knocks you over.

In a conversation about the standard benefits of being employed by the University, the Lake Diva said, half-jokingly, to the Human Resources representative,

”I’m sorry, you’re my first steady employer in 25 years so, SPEAK SLOWLY.
I don’t want to miss anything .....BENEFITS? Pinch me!”

Last but not least, we mustn’t forget the “best before” date on your voice type. Preparing for the changes your voice MIGHT go through is why having a PLAN B should not be seen as a choice to:

• give up
• or give in
• but
• a choice to SIMPLY be prepared.

If I accomplish anything today with this blog I hope it is that we are:

• more forgiving of ourselves, and others who choose to make changes or branch out
• speak our minds on this topic without feeling guilt or failure.
Think about how much more we would accomplish....just sayin’...

Until this year, I would never have imagined anything BUT the stage - and no one, truthfully, has encouraged me to do otherwise. But, my 
gut is talking and, if I’m being perfectly honest, it's time to shake things up a bit and,


Thanks for reading and,
for spending time with me at the Cardinal’s Nest!


December 08, 2012

Chickens, #hashtags and other fables

DECEMBER 8, 2012

When I first started auditioning for opera companies, the internet was in its infancy, social media was non-existent and email was a thing you used in the computer lab once or twice a week. 

I couldn’t simply “google” it, and the only info I might have on a company, school, or program, was the brochure found on the bulletin board at the Music Faculty saying, “DO NOT REMOVE.” Thus, scheduling auditions for companies outside of my hometown involved:

• sending a snail mail resume, photo & recommendation letter(s)
• calling a week later to follow up to see if they had received my request
• later scheduling an audition with the assistant to the General, or Artistic Director (who would remain a mystery “POWER OF THE OPERA UNIVERSE” until game day.)

It was all very civilized and slightly standoffish but, in a good way: 
We all knew our place. #pishposh #cheerio

Auditions TODAY? 

Assuming that I have already followed, clicked, googled and YouTubed:

• My agent (and I) send everything electronically (and quite often have a reply within an hour)
• I make sure I FOLLOW and LIKE their company in every capacity possible
• research online, that the Artistic Director loves cats, Rick Mercer, and has an affection for wine and quilting. 
• restrain myself from casually mentioning that I “liked” photos of their bathroom reno (which might put me into a stalker category instead of contralto) and pretend that I haven’t seen them wearing a feather boa and a lampshade on their head at their last cast party...

My BEST electronically influenced audition encounter was when a music director said to me, 
“Oh, It’s you... I just ate your CHICKEN!” 

I politely said, “Umm...I beg your pardon?” 

“your pianist forwarded the recipe for Chicken Marbella, It’s AWESOME. 
So....what would you like to sing today?”  

You just never know where your:

• email
• post
• photo
• or tweet 

will next reveal itself. 

I often wonder if we are truly aware of the impression we leave when we MISJUDGE our social media footprints and potentially influence our professional $ relationships (she says as she writes out her life on a blog).  #irony

Granted, the lines of e-professionalism have the potential to become pretty blurry in artistic communities, as we are not fans of censoring our opinions or expressive nature. 

But after:

• witnessing MORE THAN AWKWARD conversations on TWITTER
• receiving EMAILS intended for OTHERS (this is a biggie)
• reading easily MISINTERPRETED comments and photos on FaceBook 

I wonder (yes, myself included) if we really know what the heck we’re doing, as we’re so busy trying to LOOK busy, ultimately not paying attention to the message we're actually sending! 

 *aside: I don’t get Instagram. 

How many MORE places does one really need to post one’s self, taking a picture,
accessorized by the back of one’s phone, in a mirror? 

In general, I would venture to say that there are 2.5 camps in our performers’ circle who depend on their social media footprint to connect: 

#1  Those looking to BE HIRED: Singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers etc.
#2  Those looking to DO the HIRING: General Managers and Artistic Directors
#2.5 Those who do BOTH: Directors and Conductors

If you are in CAMP #1. You may want to ask yourself:

“Will this email or post, in any way, cause people to question my credibility or talent as a performer... will the producers trust me with their $$$ show? 

If you are in CAMP #2. You may have considered:

“Will this email or post, in any way, cause people to question my credibility or talent as a producer...will the donors still trust me with their $$$ money?”

If you are in CAMP #2.5 

You may want to play it safe and just post pictures of your pets until camps #1 & #2 sort out their e-drama.

Clearly, today's blog has been handcrafted with scientific evidence (my eyes and ears) realizing that we are all doing our best to be:

authentic and thought-provoking 
• funny and wonderfully engaging 

As we figure out how to make social media, and our electronic connections WORK in our FAVOUR (‘cause let’s face it, it’s here to stay) let's remember what my friend P-LO always says, no matter the media you choose: 

“If you wouldn’t post those thoughts on a BILLBOARD 
then don’t post them on the internet.”