[Editor’s note: During a recent conversation with amazing soprano Karen Hogle Brown (pictured right), we learned that Karen spent a good chunk of her summer this year attending OperaWorks‘ summer intensive program. As Karen is fully established and in demand, we asked her to write about the importance of continuing education throughout a career. Here are her thoughts on the wisdom she gained, and how her lessons might help all of us. Karen will be performing in an OperaWorks concert in South Pasadena this weekend, showing off her newly-acquired operatic improv skills: click here for details. LDG]
My summer at OperaWorks
We’ve all had the ‘summer plan’, right? We plan on learning that big piece of music we’ve always wanted to do, or starting on that next big project while we have a little more time between seasons. Meanwhile, the summer comes and goes, and afterwards, we don’t know where all that “extra” time went.
My summer goal, for years, has been to learn several new arias, get myself in better shape vocally, and create a plan to start conquering some new goals for my singing. Unsuccessful with this annual project in previous years, I needed a new approach and some guidance, so when the auditions for OperaWorks’ Advanced Artist summer program crossed my path, I thought I’d give it a go, particularly after hearing other people’s success with the program. Not only did OperaWorks do exactly what I had hoped, but I came away with so much more than I had anticipated.
My experience with this program not only changed my outlook on singing and being an artist, but it gave me actual strategies and tools to carry with me, to redesign not only my outlook on singing, but the way that outlook functions on a daily basis. First, the structure really helped: having a dedicated time and place to be every day, for several weeks, made it harder to succumb to other distractions, which is invaluable to a busy person like myself. Second, while I had always tried to continue my technical education by continuing with voice lessons and such, the OperaWorks faculty addressed many other issues for the individual artist that I had completely overlooked. During the workshop, we were encouraged to use a variety of learning styles – e.g. visual, aural, kinesthetic and cognitive – in order to find our dominant. I had studied these theories before, and had always thought I was an aural-dominant learner. As it turns out, I’m actually a strong kinesthetic learner, meaning I learn well by using body movement. This information was invaluable to me, as it clarified how I should approach every learning situation, particularly if it’s something I am having trouble with. I now know that I need to feel music, physically and emotionally, to make it sing within me, and this insight empowers me to be the best version of my artist self.
Once this strength was established in my mind, there were so many kinesthetic tools introduced to me throughout the weeks. For example, the use of Alexander Technique to quiet my overworking, stressed out body, or the use of yoga to ground myself and lower my center of gravity. We also used numerous other tools to unlock additional musicality, e.g. musical analysis, the science of how the brain works, conducting, improvisation, movement, acting, character analysis. All of these tools empower me when tackling a new piece, a new role, or even a problem with an old one: I know that I have a number of different ways of approaching it.
One of the biggest problems in professional life is ‘the rut’. We can easily fall into routines that distract us, or spend our energy on gigs that can lead us from our path, or use the same old solutions to “fix” a problem (and wonder why they aren’t working). We’ve heard the adage that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results”. Yet we tend to reach first for the things we already know how to do. It’s important to try new things, learn new solutions, so try something new and perhaps even scary, like improv. Fill your tool box again for your own problem solving, and for those you teach. For that, we must reach beyond the normal routine and open ourselves to new educational opportunities. Not only do I feel less “stuck” after this experience, but it felt incredibly special to dedicate my time to my own self and truly get on the new path I have wanted to follow for so long.