On Graciousness: Words of Wisdom from an Opera Legend

Our work with iCadenza and Cadenza Artists has given us the honor of getting to know many exceptional people in the field. A particular standout is opera legend, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

Flicka, as she as known by friends and fans, collaborates with another astounding mezzo-soprano that we work with, Laurie Rubin (who, for countless reasons, deserves her own blog post!). The two of them recently gave a duo recital at the Ravinia Festival in Illinois.

As you may have heard, we will be releasing our first ever book in the coming weeks, called Awakening your Business Brain: An iCadenza Guide to Launching your Music Career. In this book, we discuss several components that enable musicians to thrive professionally.

A few weeks ago, in preparation for the book launch, we sent it to Flicka to ask what she thought of it. Given her remarkable career, we were curious to learn whether she would consider it a useful resources for up-and-coming singers.

We waited with baited breath to see how she would respond. Fortunately, her response was very positive!

Among other kind words, she said “I think any artist would profit greatly from reading your book and I admire very much the careful and caring way you have put it together.”

But, she also shared some insight into an area that we neglected to cover in the book. We realized it was so important that we wanted to share it with you here. In Flicka’s words:

“One very small ingredient in the ‘pie’ of career might be the addition of graciousness.

In this current world of verbal shorthand for nearly everything, I think an effort to frame everything with great courtesy would go far for artists, managers, and everyone in the performing world.

When I began at the Met there was a gentleman named Francis Robinson, who really was there to bring artists, administration, press—everyone—together into a lovely world of simple grace that was so dear and entertaining and valuable.”

While she mentions it as a “small ingredient,” this brief note in her email made us pause and think about just how important graciousness is.

Perhaps that is the word for that special something that some people have—when, after you meet them, you think, “Wow, she is so GREAT. She made me feel special.”

How can we incorporate graciousness into our daily experience, not just in our personal lives but in our professional activities as well? Some ideas:

— Treat everyone you encounter with warmth and respect. Look into their eyes, communicating to them that they matter, regardless of who they are.
— Do the small things that take almost no time and mean so much for others. A smile, a sincere “thank you,” remembering personal details about the people you meet, sending a personal note or email to express gratitude.
— Recognize that treating others with this extra bit of care and grace often says more about you than the “more important”-seeming stakes at hand. Plus, it makes a far more lasting impression, truly framing anything else that you do

It may sound more in the line of old-school etiquette, but think back on the times when you’ve felt truly treasured—whether by someone you know well, or by a stranger.

As Julia often reminds me, paraphrasing Nancy Kline, author of the fabulous Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind, a person will remember how they felt in your presence, much more than they will remember what you said.

In business and art today, we tend to be very self-focused. I don’t mean self-absorbed or selfish, but just very concerned with how we are doing, how we are coming across, evaluating and reevaluating our decisions and actions.

There can be a perception that in order to succeed, especially for women, we must put on the armor and build walls around ourselves as protection for the battle ahead.

But then, the question becomes, what do we want to be known for? And how do we want to go through our experience of life?

Do we want to constantly brave the battlefield, or can we cross the same rocky terrain with warmth and friendship, even in unlikely places?

Are we willing to treat our lives like a race to an elusive (and possibly imagined) top, as lone warriors, or are we interested in the journey and those journeying alongside us?

Flicka’s legacy is that of an astounding artist and musician, but also of a person whose reputation for kindness, generosity, and humility precedes her and has often been newsworthy in and of itself.

From my view, that’s a great example to follow.

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