year of yesMy partner and I have been binge watching the new show The Other Two on Comedy Central and, without giving away too much, the character of the mother (played by the forever funny Molly Shannon) continues to justify her plans and actions by proclaiming that this is her ‘year of yes.’ 

Just about every scene following this proclamation results in something hilarious, cringeworthy, or both. And this got me thinking about the factors involved in deciding how to say yes, as well as the strategies necessary in saying no to a role or opportunity, both in school and in the professional market.  This reminded me of an article I wrote for Classical Singer Magazine a few years ago called, Saying Yes: The Art of Assessing and Accepting a Role in College and Beyond. 

Making difficult choices

Young performers face a multitude of decisions as they embark on their educational careers. So the prospect of being cast in an opera or musical seems like the easiest decision to make—if you’re offered a role, you should smile, be grateful, and say, “Yes.” Right? Not necessarily. Sometimes we’re put in a situation that feels both luxurious and troubling—we’re offered a role and we feel excited and grateful, yet concerned. This complex and complicated assortment of emotions is absolutely operatic. It requires thoughtfulness, imagination (contemplating how our lives will be affected), and frequently difficult decision-making.

The experts I reached out to for this piece were a former teacher of mine, mezzo soprano Catherine Cook (San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Conservatory), and pianist, coach, and administrator Kevin Murphy, of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and Opera Theater. Professor Cook was quick to point out that a learning experience shouldn’t be at the expense of a singer’s vocal health or get in the way of their development. “College time is precious—don’t waste lesson time wrapping your voice around a role that’s not for you. “‘No’ is a complete sentence,” Cook advises, quoting her manager of many years. 

“For young singers, it’s important—right from the beginning—to feel like they’re in charge of their own voices and their boundaries,” Murphy says. “Saying yes to a role is easier than saying no. Say no if it doesn’t feel right or sit well from the beginning—always be looking out for your own throat.”

When to say yes, and when and how to say no are tricky, yet critical elements in maintaining a sustainable and successful career. Sometimes your ‘year of yes’ needs to be peppered with strategic no’s in order to maximize the positive moments and minimize the cringeworthy ones.

To read the entire piece on the Classical Singer Magazine website, click here.

Happy singing!