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Seven Irritated Opinions

by | May 31, 2021

Before I get to the actual opinions, I have to point out that in the history of all music, no one has ever asked a soprano for their opinion. Better minds than mine have broken down the whys that go into that particular dynamic – it has something to do with patriarchy, misogyny, and the kinds of things that women are allowed to do in music (and in general, if I’m honest.) This means that in 2021, there are millions of little pockets of angry women who have been biting their tongues since birth.

If you haven’t read Zach Finkelstein’s excellent piece on systemic discrimination against women in opera, you should. The data backs up all of the things the angry little voice in the back of my head has been screaming for years. In the wake of 2020, I’ve decided to create an outlet for all the things I’ve been thinking, but not saying. There’s not much left for women in opera to lose. What are you gonna do? Not pay me?

White Men are mediocre musicians.

Now, before you get mad at the wrong thing, I don’t say that because I think they’re born that way.  They just end up that way. Social conditioning and a sense of entitlement are two pretty powerful tools, and unfortunately for us all, we’ve ended up in a system that allows them to succeed without developing basic skills like collaboration, communication, collegiality, counting, and consent. They’re also overwhelmingly fully funded throughout their education, usually at the expense of more marginalized communities. I can’t singlehandedly tear down the systems. But I can stop pretending like they’re bringing something special to the table.

Opera is Classist, But Not the Way You Think

In the music industry, we spend a lot of time talking about how “stuck up” and “pretentious” opera is. We also spend a lot of energy talking about outreach, education, and creating points of entry for audience members. This is all good and fine, but it’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about it how we fail musicians who come from poor backgrounds. Music education centers the wealthy at every level. Opera companies invest money into sending young artists to elementary schools, and they talk a a big talk about instilling a love for music in low-income communities, and in bringing joy to underserved populations. Apart from the obvious issues with that deeply problematic narrative, investing in music education creates a whole different problem. Poor people who love classical music. I can hear you now. “But why is that a problem?” Well, Jessica, it’s a problem when a poor kid can’t afford voice lessons. It’s a problem, when a poor teenager scrapes together enough money to audition for school, but then they can’t afford the “optional” summer programs. It’s a problem when a poor adult graduates with a hundred thousand dollars in student loans, only to discover that you’re supposed to spend 5 years making no money, and also your cheap headshots are costing you auditions.  Using music education for poor kids is a grab for grant funding, and it does no one any good unless we actually invest in systems  to support musicians who don’t come from generational wealth.

Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash

Your solfege system opinion is irrelevant

Yes. yes it is. I don’t care how good it is, or how well you thought it out. You like the system you like because it’s what you learned and it’s what works for you. It is not better, it is not worse, and your insistence on talking about makes me want to throw you in an infinite wind tunnel.

We shouldn’t make musicians be entrepeneurs

I know why we’re doing this. I still hate it. Being a performer is a lot of work. We should not also have to be web designers, contractors, hairstylists, makeup artists, social media geniuses, content creators, and marketing pros. Yes, I understand that the reason everyone is screaming “TAKE BUSINESS COURSES IN GRAD SCHOOL” is because we are functioning in a state of capitalist collapse and everything is bad, but forcing musicians to fill the gap is bad, and setting that expectation just means that we are putting all our energy into learning to be small businesses and not changing the abusive, shitty system that put us here in the first place.

Young artists programs are scams

All of them. They serve to make the institution look better, provide little to no value to the actual young artists, and are wildly racist, fatmisic, and classist. All of them. Figure out something better. I don’t have the time to give you examples, because I’m bus trying to be four small businesses in a trench coat.

Perfect pitch is fake

I said it, I stand by it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is insecure.

Stop making excuses for abusive leaders

Your favorite conductor is an asshole. You can keep working with him, but stop justifying lateness, rudeness, bad preparation, and treating musicians like garbage. There’s never an excuse. I don’t care how big of a genius, how bad of a day they had, how traumatic their childhood was, how sad they are because their popsicle didn’t get to the room on time. They’re a grown person in a position of power and they can do better.

Ok. That’s all my irritated opinions today. I’ll have more tomorrow, probably! If you wanna pick a fight about solfege systems, please do it on twitter.

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