Sunday, August 26, 2012

Viennese Manifesto

    I found myself in a beautiful room full of barely familiar people debating if I had made the right life choices to get here.  From the vaulted ceilings the sound of some horn concerto reverberated through the room and as I listened, some mood in the room suddenly became tangible.  Everyone was debating.  Back and forth - should I have been a music major?  Should I have even come to Vienna?  Am I really good enough to be here?  What did I expect?

 Beautiful Wien.  Some of these buildings are older than any
place I've ever been inside of the United States.  The classical
front of the city is beautiful, but so intricate that it's intimidating.
And, for me, foreboding.

    Listening to other musicians, no matter their instrument or level of advancement, presents such questions of self doubt.  In a new environment, one where you don't speak the language, don't understand the polite customs, can't distinguish the impolite customs, are so inevitably alienated by simple barriers, internal struggles such as these become common place.  Inside and outside of the realm of music.  But I suppose, for me, being so committed to this specific area it becomes almost painful.

    I can't say I've yet to answer these questions.  If anything, my new living situation in Vienna has been more questions on top of questions.  I left Duluth with the intention of finding myself.  I find now that every day the concept of 'self' that I had pre-concieved was imperfect and false.  All it took was one bad audition and a lot of self-support to realize this.  This step, this very first step and I already find that my own self has become much more clear.

    Let me explain to you this bad audition.  I'll preface it by saying that I don't consider myself the 'best of the best' in anything.  I had a rough summer at home, preventing me from practice and I know that there is a lot of work ahead of me through the next year of Study Abroad.  I called these givens.  However, I did not expect that the kind of criticism that they deliver here in Vienna is one-of-a-kind and oh-so-harsh.

    We all have our first set of auditions in the music room.  It's not a concert or recital hall - it's a moderate pretty room with paintings of angels on the ceilings and carvings of cupids everywhere that happens to have a piano or two off to one side.  A panel of music staff sits dead front-center and you walk up there, announce your name and what you're performing, and then perform.  They email you later that night to tell you if you're going to have to re-audition again.

Room 10.  Giving the room a number seems a shame.  Call it the ballroom.
The palace that we're in used to, get this, not be a place to live, it was a 
place used SOLELY for parties.  
    Short story - I got the email.  There weren't many of us that did, and we spread across disciplines but we showed up the next day (looking slightly shameful, I might add) to maybe shed some light on ourselves.  Maybe make a case for why we should be accepted into the music class that none of us was told was competitive and most of us needed for credit.

    I had dyed my hair darker that afternoon (not on purpose, the dye was supposedly the same color as my hair according to the box) and I was greeted by the voice-area specialist with a comment on that.  I walked into the room, less nervous for the second time, and spoke a little about my experience prior to coming to Vienna - that I had been trained as a jazz singer before I got to college, began my career as a classically trained singer, and then now I'm here - and then I was asked to sing.

    What I sang, the repertoire I had, was scrutinized.  I was told my voice was "immature".  I was told that it was in its "baby stages".  I was told that the repertoire I had chosen was much too difficult.  I was told that I shouldn't be singing most of this for the next 15 years.  Toss it out.  Start new.  Here's your opportunity: you're in the class but I'm giving you easy things.  Jazz.  Musical theater.  Is that okay?  Yes, good, fine, nod, smile.  You're not going to be in the opera scenes.  Yes, good, fine, nod.  You realize that all of the other students are at a much more advanced level than you?  Nod, yes, smile, smile, smile.  Try to keep smiling.  Try to hold on.  Smile, nod, smile.

    Leave the room, burst into tears.  Is this how it is in Vienna?  We can't meet you where you're at with your education, start over?  Abandon all hope ye who enter here.  It's a rough world, and you're not good enough.  Well, fuck.

    I mean, well, fuck that.  I knew that just going to school in Vienna wasn't going to be enough for me.  I knew that from the start.  The undertones from my audition that said "perhaps you don't belong here" also tell me that "perhaps you're going to have to make a place for yourself here".  I never claimed to be a classical singing specialist.  I never claimed that I wanted to go back to just jazz.  And never have I wanted to do musical theater.  But, no door ever closes.  They become new opportunities.

    As I see it, this is my chance to do better than even I expected.  To make things tangible like who I am and why I'm here.  To make myself a place.  Why should I be surprised when circumstances force me into it?  I feel the start of something already and it is... liberating. 

    Amongst the Viennese building fronts, there lies an array of graffiti.
The youth culture and the old culture, mixed together in forced harmony.
And oh, the music they make.

    The purpose of this blog is to act as a reflection space for my musical and non-musical experiences.  It's so that I (and others interested) can follow my progress through a city that seems, when seen from a distance, to be impenetrable and explorable.  So vast that there is no start and no end.  And when it's all over, I hope that I will have squeezed enough juice out of it that my experience is rewarding.  I can already tell that it's going to be quite a ride.

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