As OperaWorks’ founder and former artistic director, this statement comes from a deeply personal perspective. I share this to illuminate how the very core of OperaWorks’ mission came into being in 1987.
The impetus to create a place where singers could make music in a positive and nurturing environment came out of my own musical education and professional experiences. I began piano lessons at age four and concluded 24 years later with a masters degree in piano accompanying and acceptance into a top opera apprentice program. Since then I have served as music director of apprentice programs and assistant conductor/chorus master in opera companies across the United States.
I noticed a pattern in my education that was typically Play—Stop—Correction—Play Again—Stop—Correction—Play Again, etc. without any positive feedback – only what I was doing wrong. Hearing an occasional encouraging word would have given me some hope but, after years of relentless corrections from well-meaning teachers, my self-confidence was destroyed.
I have discovered in my work with singers in opera companies, young artist programs and schools, that what I experienced in my training is common for musicians at all stages of their careers. When singers are stopped and corrected with no positive feedback in a lesson, coaching or rehearsal, they begin to erect a defensive wall in order to protect their artistic souls against the criticism. Over time singers simply leave the wall in place. It is a challenge for singers to perform freely from their hearts when their confidence and self-image are so damaged.
OperaWorks’ training programs began 32 years ago as a response to my debilitating experiences, and remain at the heart of OperaWorks’ activities. Although our curriculum contains innovative classes designed to develop complete performers, it is the manner in which the classes are taught that has had the most profound effect. When a singer is stopped in a coaching or class, the first words they hear will be positive before the teacher suggests a change. The three seconds it takes to say, “That initial breath was better” keeps the defensive wall from coming up and the music flowing. Our faculty has worked together for many years, and they were sought out as much for their generosity of spirit as for their expertise. We work together as a team for the sole purpose of empowering singers to fulfill their potential.
The Summer and Winter Programs serve as havens for artists who, free from the expectations of others, can explore how they hear the music, how they want to move, how they see themselves as artists. Here singers are encouraged to try something new, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. They discover things about themselves in the process that surprise them: that their technique does not need constant monitoring; that they are creative, expressive, musical; that they move well; and that they are inspired performers. These are the artists who are no longer afraid to let their voices be heard.
To provide an artist with a place where they are valued as a person and performer, to challenge them to be better and risk new things, to see them let down the walls and realize how good they really are and how much they have to offer the world – that is why OperaWorks exists.
~ Ann Baltz, founder and artistic director