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Did you bring your Dragon to a Wizarding Competition?

Take Courage! You brought your amazing dragon to the wizarding establishment's search for a fabulous wizard.  Leave off being angry with the wizarding establishment! Find the places where your dragon may take flight! Monica Schober

The International Brahms Competition takes place annually in the picturesque southern town of Pörtschach am Wörthersee, in the province of Kärnten, Austria. There is a monetary prize and unlike most competitions, there is no age limit. This was the opportunity for me. It was time to learn what participating in a song competition had to teach me. This past August of 2016, I was among the singers, their collaborative pianists, and a large number of instrumentalists welcomed by this delightful town and the very gracious competition staff. It was an intense, self-affirming and informative experience.

I sat through the first day of the first round of competition. The tension in the room was palpable. The judges were accomplished in their classical voice related fields - all of them educators, including two vocal performers bearing the highest rank of singer in Austria - Kammersänger(in). In the interests of transparency as soon as a contestant completed their first round of three songs, the judges held up two cards, one rating technical prowess, the other rating artistic interpretation. The singers and their collaborative pianists accepted their verdicts in front of the entire audience, an exercise in self-restraint and graciousness. It was also a prime opportunity to compare my impressions with those of the jury.

A glorious, mature French woman gave such a heart felt, on pitch performance of Brahm's music in her deeply accented German that my heart ached. She got very low marks. A magnificent, young  Icelandic soprano gave a clarion performance. She reminded me of Kirsten Flagstad and I felt exhilarated. Her marks were lower than I would have given. An extraordinary gentleman who had learned his solid vocal technique and presentation style many, many years ago, sang with a warm, strong baritone voice. He brought his life experience to those songs and I felt comforted. His scores were low. And so it went. What moved me did not move the judges and I became more and more comfortable with that.

Outside the competition venue, the Pörtschach Catholic Church, where Brahms himself would have spent time during several summers composing in that idyllic setting, stood participants trying to sort out their experience. Some were old pros at this, regulars on the competition circuit, and there were neophytes. There were those who did not recognize their objectively measurable vocal technical difficulties. Some were frustrated. Some were philosophical. Some felt betrayed by a system they had worked so hard to penetrate or even understand. Some stood confident in the knowledge they were what the judges valued. Others nervously hoped their scores were enough to pass them into the second round and a few walked about, keeping themselves distant from those who had not scored as well as they had. Some were under the impression that the winners of competitions are pre-ordained, that in spite of jurors recusing themselves when they have influence over a singer's career, favorites had been determined before the competition began. And there were those who cast about for assurances, questioning whether they should continue singing at all.

The next day I would sing in the second half of the first round. I realized my performance style was not going to be to the juror's taste, and it was unlikely that I would proceed to the 2nd round. This was liberating. I dropped any impulse to conform to win and sang my heart and soul. Had I been inclined to make the adjustments needed to fit in (as one soprano who moved on to the next round confessed to doing) I could not have been done it overnight.

My jury scores were fair to middling (nowhere near what was needed to progress in the competition) except for my scores from KS Prof. Helmut Wildhaber.  Perhaps the vestiges of my Viennese lilt didn't bother him. His career as a singer at the Vienna State Opera meant his recognition was deeply satisfying to me.

My pianist collaborator was shocked. I should have proceeded in the competition. My technique was solid and my vocal mechanism was in very good form that day. German is my first language and I clearly knew what I was singing about and I had a clear viewpoint. The audience consisting mostly of singer colleagues ( a very tough audience indeed) chuckled in the right places and a text I received from a fellow competitor confirmed my audience's appreciation: "I thank you for your music. It has shown me how deeply one can feel music." I was not shocked. I had been observing the patterns and I understood why I and the others whose performances I had so much appreciated were not passed into the next round.

You see, classically trained singers are like rare magical creatures. When a call goes out for magical vocal creatures they come from everywhere to work their resonant magic, to be heard and seen and appreciated.  A vocal competition is a form of vocal "sorting hat" like in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. The "sorting hat" jury for this competition were looking for fantastic wizards. They sorted out all vocal wizards not yet ready to proceed on the wizarding vocal path, those who were technically under-qualified, who sang off pitch, who could not make it clear that they understood what the poems they were singing meant.

AND the jury sorted out ALL the OTHER NON-WIZARD MAGICAL VOCAL creatures as well - those not suited to the wizard path, no matter how fabulously magical they were. Vocal dragons, unicorns, magical spiders, mermaids and fairies thought and hoped this was an opportunity for them. It wasn't.

In the end, the jury picked the magical singers that might one day sit at the table for top wizards. They chose splendid singers. And shall we agree that great vocal wizardry is a wonderful thing?

It's important to note that there are qualifications and requirements that the organizers of the competition have no way of articulating. There is no way to say "We prefer singers who sing with this sort of vibrato, this amount of gesture, follow this form of pronunciation out of the myriad inflections of German that depend on origin, singers who limit themselves to this level of emotional display, etc. - anything outside these forms will be sorted out." It takes a singer's trial and error, or the brave and knowledgeable advice of an industry expert in non-wizarding magical creatures to know before signing up, (and yes, forgoing other work, paying the fee and travel expenses, expending heart and vocal resources) that a competition under the aegis of the vocal wizarding school is not designed to further them in their endeavors. There is pain, outrage and in some cases, ultimately resignation in singers' ranks because the requirements cannot be articulated.

Many magical vocal creatures despair, they suffer, they give up, because the institution for creating and furthering vocal magic through the vocal wizarding school cannot accommodate them. There are few qualified to mentor the rare vocal dragon or unicorn, and it's hard to find your way without a support system. The Harry Potter series' Wizarding School, Hogwarts, has a mentor of magical creatures. Keep your eyes open for that mentor of magical vocal creatures who recognizes you for what you are, can show you how to husband your resources and how to shine in a world starved for your unique kind of magic.

I invite you to join me in being in active relationship with your Resonance and Light™. I love you and wish you great flights in the realms of vocal magic-making.

Advocating for #Kindness in all aspects of how we resonate with ourselves and others.


"I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me." J. K. Rowling

Fully embody your voice and release yourself into your unique resonance. Find the foundation of your resonance. Learn ways to get your conversation to support all the affirmative work you do and resonate your highest intentions. Find new relationships with the stories that resonate through your life. Bring your resonance to a new level at© Monica Schober, Resonance and Light™ 2017 All rights reserved.Please link back to this blog post and credit to to avoid copyright infringement. Thank you.


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