What’s it’s like for singers to talk to non-singers.

December 3, 2010 at 1:04 am (Music) (, , , )

My friend Marcy made this and it has gone totally, insanely (at least for something in the classical music world) viral.  I think EVERYBODY should watch this- singers because they’ll laugh their asses off, but moreso non-singers so they’ll know what we have to freaking put up with from their ilk.

Usually I hate these videos, because every single one I’ve seen follows the exact same format: one “normal” person, representing either a certain profession/viewpoint, or just being “everyman” to someone else, and another “annoying” person being totally unreasonable and asinine.  They are sometimes funny and sometimes not, but the thing that gets me is how one-sided and formulaic they are.

However, this one is just really, really, really good.  I have had SO many versions of this conversation, and getting most of these questions and comments is basically like being bludgeoned with a blunt object.  Over and over.  So I wanted to share for everyone’s sake.

I thought if I’m going to post it I should at least make some commentary:

“You have a nice voice” OMG.  I respond exactly the way the character does: “I should.”

“All operas are in Italian, right?” I hear this so much.  I guess you can’t blame people for not knowing that, though.

“Sing me a song from Lulu.  I’ll recognize it from commercials, maybe.”  This line had me ROFLing.  For those that don’t know, Lulu is a “modern” opera, essentially atonal, and the arias sound something like this:

I myself love the music, but “Sing me a song from Lulu” isn’t something you’d hear every day.  Still, it makes me wonder what that commercial would be selling… hmm…

“You sound like Sarah Brightman.” Yeah, take my word for it, never tell an opera singer this.  We know you mean it as a compliment, but- ouch.

“Pavarotti is my favorite opera singer.” Wow, I cannot tell you how many people who don’t know anything about opera but want to pretend they do say this.  Of course, Pavarotti was amazing and it’s totally cool to have him as your favorite singer, but if he’s the only opera singer you’ve ever heard of, just admit it.  Oh, also I love, “My favorite opera singers are Pavarotti and the other two guys in the Three Tenors.”  C’mon, if you’re gonna fake it, try harder.

“Just sing me a high note.” Arghh, this one is so annoying.  While I know many singers who use the “do for me for free what you do for a living right now” defense, I prefer to say, “I’m a professional, you have to pay me.  I’m expensive.”  Hey, you never know, maybe I’ll get twenty bucks out of it!

“I did not think they had opera there.”  I definitely hear this a lot.  If you don’t think your nearest small city has opera, google and check- and then GO TO IT!!

“It is a connection.”  Marcy was brilliant to put this in there, because people say it about everything they can think of.  We appreciate the thought, and if you legitimately have somebody who can get us somewhere we will be eternally grateful, but at the end of the day, we know how it works better than you do- trust us.  Oh, and I probably know more people who work at the Met than you do.

“You should be on American Idol.”  I hear this so much that I finally auditioned for them one year just so I had a comeback.

“You’re to skinny.”  This is a HUGE one, but the response in this is brilliant!!!!!!  Omg.  Usually I just pull out a copy of Opera News from my purse and show them the pics of the singers.

“That does not seem right.  I had no idea people were paid to sing in church.”  I can’t tell you how much I hear this.  So let me explain it in a new light.  Think of it this way: churches use both volunteers and professionals.  If you bring a specialized skill set, you get paid.  This includes construction workers, engineers, architechts (I am speaking from experience, my father used to be a church building consultant), organists, priests (!!)- and highly trained and experienced singers.  Not to mention, high-level liturgical choral singing requires its own skill set, apart from that of other classical singers (especially the ability to sight-read and to sing with no vibrato, which many opera singers can’t or won’t do).  I agree with Marcy’s response that church work has kept me away from my family during holidays- plus, forced me to give up Saturday nights out for as long as I can remember (as far back as high school).  That’s a big deal when all your friends are musicians.

I like how it sounds like she’s saying “I have worked at McDonald’s as a stripper.”

“I’m afraid I can’t.”  I love how people will rave about my singing to my face, then NOT buy my album- or come to any of my shows.  I guess I appreciate the compliments, but they would seem more sincere if there was some follow-up, even in the form of $10 towards a CD.

Some big ones that I would have included:

“You’re a singer?  You’re so lucky!!”  Some people seriously think you are just born with a great voice and then you audition for something and become successful.  Genetics do play a part.  Unfortunately you never really learn how much of a part until you’ve already invested your whole life in singing for years.

“I never go to the opera because I can’t understand what they’re singing about.”  They are SO surprised when I tell them there are subtitles.  I hope once I tell them, they are out of excuses and they go.

Have a great night everyone- and, GO TO THE OPERA!!!!


  1. Ellen said,

    Another great post! The video is “blocked in my country for copyright reasons” but I got the gist from your commentary. I’ve heard all the remarks you mentioned in real life, but the scary part is that some of them came from professional musicians. I can’t tell you how many times someone I auditioned for commented on my small frame. And just recently I was singing with a pianist here whose first remark was “you have a big voice”. Well, I made my living as a Walkure at the Met, so it kind of goes with the territory, no?

  2. Gramilano said,

    And from backstage at La Scala –

    to a very famous American soprano who had had a few problems at the beginning of the run: “I was so worried for you before the high-note after what happened last time”;

    and to an English soprano: “You were fatter last time”;

    and to an English baritone: “I could see that you were nervous even before your aria because your top lip was all sweaty”.

    All said immediately after a performance when the singer is at her/his most vulnerable. Some think they’re doing you a favour being honest, and others just don’t think. Punto!

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