Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Fat Lady

Today I went to the regional finalists auditions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. It was rather inspiring to see these young, talented people so clearly full of hopes and dreams. It was also, honestly, a bit intimidating. How they put themselves out there for everyone else to judge is beyond me. It’s very raw, intimate and personal, even on a stage in front of an auditorium full of amateur judges—and three professional judges.

Each candidate came with a repertoire of five arias. The first one they sang was of their own choosing, presumably the one with the most difficulty while still showcasing their strongest talents. For the second number, the three judges elected what they wanted to hear of the remaining four choices, often asking for only a certain section of the piece. Although they know not what they will be asked to sing, these artists determine their own repertoire so presumably they’re comfortable with any of the judges’ choices.

Their talent, their career ambition and their dream are all focused with laser-like precision: I want to be a mezzo-soprano at the Met! It struck me as the antithesis of what we ask of our applicants. I bet a lot of those candidates on the stage today belting out Puccini or Mozart couldn’t begin to work their way through a high school chemistry lab or a textbook for advanced functions. But they don’t need to; that’s not where their laser is focused.

But we expect that. We expect our applicants to be across-the-board capable and strong. We don’t forgive a failing grade in one subject as long as they have laser-like focus and success in another subject. We want strong students across the curriculum and they better also come with a special talent or passion or skill because just being smart isn’t good enough. If you can’t make a team, cut the auditions for drama, or write for the newspaper, you may find yourself doing the doggy paddle in the wait pool. Good grades in all subjects isn’t enough for your local admissions committee. What else you got to offer?

When is it okay to pursue one thing at the expense of all the others? I don’t know. It’s not even university, is it? The first year or two of university is filled with required 101 this and 101 that. We’re still being stretched and not yet allowed to focus. I guess it really comes at graduate school when you can finally hone in on that MBA or M.Ed. or counseling degree. But why is that finally deemed the appropriate time?

All I can guess is that the talent and passion and vulnerability I saw today would most likely not have been possible if those young people were not allowed their passion and their laser-like focus. You don’t get that talented and you don’t get to be a finalist for the Met when you’re trying to be equally good at everything.

But why don’t we nurture that? Instead, we just deny admission to that.

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