I think the worst career advice I have received was the advice to get a masters degree in vocal performance. Let me be clear, I’m not opposed to getting advanced degrees in the arts. If that is the path you’re destined for, God bless you! I will say this, though. Applying for and auditioning for graduate programs was a tremendously rewarding experience. I am really glad I spent two years looking at programs and auditioning for graduate schools. I am also extremely grateful that I did not accept any of the offers I received for graduate programs.
I always kind of knew that what was keeping me from performing on stage was not an advanced degree. What was keeping me from performing on stage was my lack of experience in stage performance. It’s quite a conundrum being a young singer. You have the ambition, the drive, and will power but none of the experience necessary to solidify your craft. I watched a lot of my friends try and legitimize their craft by getting advanced degrees, because that’s what you ‘have to do’ to be taken seriously in opera. I also watched those friends become more and more bitter because they were jumping through all the requisite ‘hoops’ and still not getting performance opportunities.
It wasn’t until I attended a summer program in 2006 that I finally found an environment where I thought I could thrive as an artist. It was the first time in my life that I was told to play, have fun, and express my own instincts. It was the first time I felt like a ‘colleague’ instead of a ‘student’. I remember telling my friends in the program that I wished there were a graduate program where I could continue exploring on my own terms. To which, my friend replied “There is, Amanda, its called LIFE!” That was the greatest advice I have ever been given. The next year, I moved to Los Angeles to continue working with some of the faculty from the summer program. I made life my ‘graduate school’ through collaboration with people who supported me and brought out the best in me.
Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve learned a lot from shedding my ‘student’ mindset and moving into a ‘colleague’ mindset. It’s not that I’ve stopped learning; it’s that I’ve stopped asking for permission to be the singer I want to be. I’ve stopped trying to legitimize my craft by jumping through hoops; I’ve stopped taking myself so seriously. And I have learned more than I ever dreamed possible. In some ways, I feel like I never would have had the opportunity to write this blog if I’d never been told to go to graduate school.
That’s the funny thing about advice. You will always learn something about yourself by soliciting advice. Sometimes the thing you learn is that what someone else thinks you should do doesn’t really align with what you ultimately want. I think it’s important to solicit feedback and advice, if only to help you clarify what your values and desires are. But ultimately, you’re the one living your life and you’re the only person who can know what the right path is for you.