Scared fearless: Why you should choose artistic projects that shake you up

While I’m inspired almost daily by our incredible Listers and all they do, one particular conversation last week has stood out in a big way, for the passion this woman expressed, and the way she described the feeling of diving into a project that was intimidating, challenging and full of the unknown and uncontrollable.

This soprano started out helping a friend with a new composition, insisting that she was just there to help record the demo.  Once into the project, however, it was clear that she was the singer the composer wanted, and she ended up learning the whole role, performing it successfully abroad, and now has a whole new bundle of projects ahead.  The difficult score and foreign language (not one of the “big four”) made this an especially tricky proposition considering the short timeframe — due to a sudden performance opportunity that the composer could not turn down, she had only a couple of months to internalize the one-woman show.  But with careful, steady work, lots of coaching and a healthy dose of chutzpah, off they went, traveling many thousands of miles to a land where she knew no one and didn’t speak the language.

This may sound normal to opera folks, as it is so often what we are expected to do.  But in reality, only a handful of professional singers ever get opportunities like this, and even more rarely when it involves singing a lead role in a new work.  Even for those who travel often, there is usually rehearsal time and collaboration and a cast to hang out with once you’re there.  In this case, none of that was true:  she was the only cast member, traveling with the composer but no one else she knew in a huge city on the other side of the planet — it takes guts to dive into a project like this.  But once committed, she described that feeling of “I just had to do it”, and how much that can do to clarify the mind.  This is also a woman who knows the value of pushing one’s boundaries, for no one does their best work when they’re dwelling in the familiar, doing what they already know they’re capable of.

It is that stretch is what we should all strive for — not the fame, or the money, or the adulation that supposedly accompany the creative life.  Those may or may not come with success, and aren’t essential to good art, anyway.  When setting goals and planning our upcoming commitments, the aim of an artist is to find work that is at once so inspiring and terrifyingly beyond our current level that we must do it, and give it everything we’ve got. That is the difference between an artist and a talented technician: putting the work first, not just getting through this one and then getting the next gig.  If you’re too caught up in the nuts and bolts, and/or not feeling seriously challenged by a good portion of your work, it’s time to find a project that will shake you up and scare you to death.

We must create as if our souls depend upon it.

(Because for artists, they do!)

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